Introduction: How to Play 16th Notes on the Piano

You've probably seen 16th notes in your piano music before, but might not have realized that that's what you were looking at!

They look very different from say, quarter notes or whole notes; and they are played differently too.

When we think about how to play 16th notes, it's important to remember that all rhythm is framed by tempo.

What this means is that however many beats we are counting per note and per measure, we have to count and play them at a steady speed.

Learning how to count and play 16th notes at a steady tempo will allow you to play a lot more piano music and faster notes!

First, let's learn how to recognize 16th notes in our music.

Step 1: What Do 16th Notes Look Like?

First, let's have a quick review of the notes that we already know if we're ready to learn 16th notes.

In the first image, we have a whole note, 1/2 note, quarter note, and an 8th note.

  • Notice that each note starting at the top with the whole note is simply divided in half to get the next note. We divide the whole note in half to get 2 1/2 notes...and so on.
  • Take a look at the 8th notes. See the tail at the top of it? Notice how there's just one? Just add on another tail at the top, and you'll have a 16th note!

16th notes are easily recognized in our piano music because they will always have 2 "tails" at the top of the note. (see image 2)

Many times we'll have several 16th notes connected where the 2 tails cover all of the notes in one beat. (see image 3)

Several groups of 16th notes together look like this. (see image 4)

Now let's see how we count these faster notes in the next step.

Step 2: How Do We Count 16th Notes?

The easiest way to count 16th notes is to give each separate note a verbal syllable.

There are four 16th notes in one beat.

To count each of those 4 16th notes, simply say "1-e-&-a", just like in the image.

An easy way to practice this before you attempt to play it on the piano is by clapping your 16th notes while saying "1-e-&-a".

Try doing this for a full measure of 4 beats; meaning you will clap and count out loud four 16th notes for each beat - for a total of sixteen 16th notes!

When you are comfortable clapping and counting these notes you're then ready to play them on the piano the same way. Let's see how you can do this in the next step.

Step 3: How Do We Play 16th Notes on the Piano?

Remember how you learned how to count 16th notes while saying those verbal syllables for each note?

You're going to do the same thing, but instead of clapping them you will play them on the piano.

  • Pick one note such as Middle C. Remember that you're going to play four 16th notes in one count.
  • Hit the Middle C key 4 times while saying "1-e-&-a". One note for each sound. See how easy it is?
  • Now try playing a whole measure of 16th notes on the Middle C, just as you did clapping. You will play four notes for each beat, for a total of 4 beats, and sixteen 16th notes. <That's hard to say fast!

Now there's a second part to playing 16th notes on the piano, and that is to remember to play them at a steady tempo.

The best way to learn to play 16th notes at a steady speed is with your metronome.

  • Set your metronome at a very slow tempo, such as 60.
  • Count 1, 2, 3, 4, with each beat of the metronome just to get grounded in the main beats of that tempo. You will be counting each quarter beat by doing this.
  • Now - count 16th notes for each beat of the metronome. "1-e-&-a" This is just what you did when you first clapped and then played the while counting the 16th beats.
  • If you have any trouble, just slow the metronome down to a tempo that is easy for you to count and play with.

That's all there is to counting and playing 16th notes! Are you ready to practice playing them? Check out the last step!

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

It's always great to have some real time practice on what you are working on in your piano playing.

This video not only goes over 16th notes, how to count them and play them in tempo, but we'll also learn about how to play them with other note values in the same measure.

Many times you'll have a mix of different types of notes, such as quarter notes with 8th notes, and 16th notes with half notes; not to mention the rests and their rhythmic values as well.

You can come back to this video as many times as you need to, to help you fully understand and embrace 16th notes in your piano repertoire.