How to Understand Note Beams and Play Them on the Piano

Have you heard of Note Beams in your piano music?

That is a common term for notes that have a line going either up or down from the circle part of the note itself.

They tell us what rhythmic value the note has in the music that we're playing.

You will find Beams on notes such as 8th notes, triplets, 16th notes...and really, any type of note that is to be played with the following note or set or notes.

It's important to understand how to read note beams in your music because that will allow you to play them much easier on the piano.

So let's get started by looking at why notes are beamed together to begin with.

Step 1: Why Are Notes Beamed Together?

Notes are beamed together to Form Beats.

They define the rhythmic structure of your piece or at least the section of the piece that you're working on.

Let's say that you have a measure with 4/4 time in it. This means that there are 4 quarter beats in that measure, right?

Now, in that measure, you have several different 8th notes and if you just played them as regular 8th notes, you'd have more beats than what your 4/4 time signature allows for. If you look at the beams next to each note, they will tell you how to group those 8th notes so that you do in fact come out with 4 quarter beats in the measure. How?

Some of the 8th notes are triplets and you will play 3 in one beat instead of 2.

Always look at the bar that connects the beams at the top of the notes! <---This will tell you how many notes to play in each single beat.

Whenever you have just one beam going across the notes, you'll be playing 8th notes. When you have 2 beams going across the notes, you'll be playing 16th notes.

Just to review: remember that there are two 8th notes in each quarter beat, and there are four 16th notes in each quarter beat. So the beams will group the notes according to whether they are 8ths or 16ths so they will be played correctly for the time signature.

Now if this is a bit confusing, don't worry because you'll get to see this in music and on the piano in the video lesson at the end of this!

Now let's see how being able to read your note beams easily will help your piano playing!

Step 2: How Does Knowing Note Beams Help Your Piano Playing?

This is really the most important part of this lesson!

Notes are beamed together...to show you where your beats are!

It's a little hint for you when you're looking at this measure filled with notes that don't really make any sense in terms of how to play them together and get the right number of counts in the measure.

Once you figure out how to look at, identify, and group your notes according to those sweet little beams, you're able to count the measure right away.

Again, just remember your basic counting:

  • quarter notes get 1 beat
  • there are two 8th notes in every quarter beat
  • there are four 16th notes in every quarter beat
  • there are 3 8th notes in a triplet

Try looking at some of your music pieces and read through one of them noticing the beams on the notes on say, the first line.

Make sure you know what your key signature is before you start.

Do you see a measure that has 8th notes and 16th notes in it? Remember that 16th notes have 2 beams and 8th notes, as well as triplets, have 1 beam.

Try to read all of the beams in the measures by just counting them as you fit them together in the whole scheme of things. Can you see how much easier it is to make sense of the rhythm and counting?

Now whenever you start a new piece or exercise, you'll be able to read the rhythm much easier by reading the note beams in each measure. They are landmarks basically along the way to help you know what notes fit into each beat.

The best way to reinforce all of this is to watch me point note beams out in actual piano music and play different examples of 8th notes, triplets, and 16th notes for you on the keyboard. Let's go to the keyboard now.

Step 3: Come Practice With Me!

Let's sit down together at the keyboard so I can show you visually examples of note beams in your music and how to play them while counting the beats on the piano.

I also go over triplets in this video and show you how to count and play different types of triplets so they'll be easier for you as well.

Once you've gone through this lesson and practiced with me in this video, your own piano playing is going to be beaming!

Counting becomes much easier as well as rhythmic understanding once you understand what note beams do and how you can use them to play your piano better and easier!

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