Quarter notes are some of the most common notes that every pianist will learn how to play and usually very early on in their piano studies.
We count and play quarter notes a very specific way and once we learn how to do that, we can play much more music than beforehand, and we've gotten a great start into counting and understanding how rhythm works in music.
Why do you need to learn how to count and play quarter notes?
Rhythm plays a significant role in music; and that is, that it organizes notes into a way that our brains can make sense of. Without rhythm, music wouldn't make sense. It would be like trying to talk without knowing the alphabet; much like a new baby does.
If you are at the point in your piano playing that you are learning quarter notes, you probably already understand how to count and play whole notes and half notes.
Let's take a quick review of both of those types of notes just to make sure they are clear.
Step 1: Quick Review of Whole Notes & Half Notes
A whole note (image 1) is simply a circle over the note in the music. It can be over a line or a space on the music staff. A whole note gets 4 counts total, and when we play it on the piano, we hold it for 4 counts before we go on to the next measure.
A half note (image 2) is similar to a whole note in that it is a circle over the note, but now we have a stem attached to it going upwards. A half note gets 2 counts total, and when we play it on the piano, we hold it for 2 counts before we go on to the next note or measure; instead of 4 counts like we do with a whole note.
Whole notes get 4 counts and Half notes get 2 counts? Do you see a pattern here? Can you guess how many counts a Quarter note gets now?
Let's find out!
Step 2: Counting Quarter Notes
First of all, notice how different a quarter note is from a whole note. Not only does the quarter note have the center of it filled in, it also has a stem connected to it.
It is similar to a half note in that it has the stem, but different because the center of it isn't empty like it is in a half note.
Quarter notes are equal to 1/2 of a Half Note.
They get 1 count each and you play one quarter note per every beat in your music.
Whole notes get 4 counts each. Half notes get 2 counts each. Quarter notes get 1 count each.
The pattern here - is dividing in half. A quarter note equals 1/2 of a Half note. A Half note equals 1/2 of a Whole note.
Once you understand this pattern of dividing in half, you actually have the tools to understand 8th notes, 16th notes, and even 32nd notes!
Now let's talk about how we play quarter notes on the piano.
Step 3: Playing Quarter Notes on the Piano
First of all, play a Whole note on a Middle C, and count to 4 while you play that note, holding it down the entire 4 counts.
You can feel and hear the 4 beats in the Whole note while you are holding it down. Those 4 beats are the quarter beats.
All you have to do to change that Whole note to 4 quarter notes, is to play that Middle C 4 times - exactly with each of your 4 counts. It's like doing the complete opposite of what you do when you play the Whole note.
Try doing this a few times going back and forth between a Whole note and 4 quarter notes so you get comfortable with the differences.
Now - how many Quarter notes would you play for a Half note?
If we divide everything in half, and we play 4 Quarter notes for a Whole note, then that means that we would play 2 Quarter notes for a Half note.
It's as simple as that! Are you ready to practice this with me?
Step 4: Come Practice With Me!
As always, I invite you to play along with me in this video lesson on counting and playing quarter notes as well as Whole and Half notes.
These rhythm patterns are easy to learn and practicing with me will reinforce your knowledge and give you some great extra hands-on experience.
Once you are secure with these 3 types of notes, you'll be able to move on and learn how to play and count a lot more new types of notes and you're playing will just flow into a whole new level of experience.
Enjoy learning the language of music and achieving your dream of playing the piano!