How To Rap – Music Notes Explained

When you’re first learning how to rap and you’re focusing on improving your flow you may get confused once you learn about music notes such as 1/4 notes, 8th notes and 16th notes. You may be wondering what’s the difference between them and why they’re important?  Now at the moment they may seem sporadic and random but hopefully by the end of this article you’ll understand music notes in a new light. Giving you the ability to hear things in music you may have never noticed before which will in turn enable you to work that much more effectively within it.

Zooming In

Now on the surface we measure music by time. For example “this song is 3 minutes and 30 seconds and the tempo is 89 beats per minute”. This is a zoomed out view of the song in it’s entirety.

If we zoom in just a little we can see the songs structure and how it’s divided into sections such as intros, verses, pre-hooks, hooks, bridges and outro’s.

If we zoom in even further we will discover that each section is measured by bars. For example the hook is 8 bars and the verse is 16 bars.

And if we were to peak under the hood of these bars and zoom in even further we will find that there’s a lot more precise measurements being made within each bar on a molecular musical level with something called music notes.

MUSIC_NOTES_EXPLAINED

Music Notes

There’s several different kinds of music notes but they’re easy to understand because they’re named according to how much space they take up in 1 bar which is determined by how long they’re sustained. Let’s take a brief look at each note and see what set’s them apart.

Whole NotesWHOLE_NOTES

The longest note in a bar is called a whole note because 1 whole note takes up the “whole” bar.  Since these are long sustained notes that take up so much space vocals or instruments that use them are typically placed in the background to leave room for everything else in the song. These notes are great for bass lines, vocal harmonies, strings, brass, woodwinds and electronic instruments: pretty much everything but percussion.  These notes tend to act as a blanket or foundation to build the rest of the track on top of.


 

HALF_NOTES1/2 Notes

The next note is called half notes because it takes up half the bar which means you could fit a total of 2 half notes in 1 bar. Since these notes are still sustained for a long period of time the same concept applies as I mentioned for whole notes. The only difference is that half notes are being played at twice the speed of whole notes.


 

1/4 Notes

The next note we’re going to look at is called quarter notes. They’re named this because quarter means one fourth which means there’s a total of 4 quarter notes in 1 bar just like there’s 4 quarters in a dollar.

We measure tempo by the amount of beats per minute and in most cases there are 4 beats per bar because beats are typically done to quarter notes.QUARTER NOTES

Quarter notes are also known as the 4 count and is what you tap your feet to in order to keep your rhythm and stay on beat. These are the first notes that you typically will see drums using. Often times in music you will hear the kick fall on the 1st and 3rd quarter note and the snare fall on the 2nd and 4th quarter note.

Vocals that use quarter notes typically are sustained, melodic and often contain harmonies. This can provide a good dynamic during a verse or hook.


 

EIGHTH_NOTES1/8 Notes

8th notes is where you typically start seeing cadence being first introduced by rap vocals and percussion instruments such as hi hats. As the name implies there are eight 8th notes per bar and these notes help start building a sense of speed and momentum in a song.


 

1/16 NotesSIXTEENTH_NOTES

I like to think of 16th notes as the sweet spot for most rappers. A large portion of rappers cadences tend to use 16th notes because these notes are not to fast nor to slow. There are sixteen 16th notes per bar and they really turn up the momentum for a track when used by rap vocals and extra percussion elements.


 

32ND_NOTES1/32 notes

The last music note that i’m going to discuss are 32nd notes because these notes are really fast! In fact they are a little to fast to be used for extended periods of time especially for most rap vocals. I mentioned before when discussing whole notes that since they’re so long and take up so much space they tend to end up in the background to leave room for everything else. Well you tend to get a similar effect when using 32nd notes for extended period of times because the space between the notes are so small they almost sound sustained. Of course the extent of this effect will be determined by the tempo of the song.

I like to think of 32nd notes as a place in musical time that you dip in and out of and not a place you reside indefinitely. Kinda like visiting your in laws.


Recap

In summery whole notes, half notes and quarter notes are great for creating vocal harmonies and 8th 16th and 32nd notes are perfect for rap cadences. Rappers cadences tend to consist mainly of 16th notes but periodically dip in and out of 32nd notes when a little more speed is desired. However feel free to use as many combinations of notes within a bar as your heart desires. You may use a half note for the first half of a bar and then go into using 16 notes and 32nd notes for the second half of the bar.

Please remember the purpose of this article is to help you understand music in a deeper way. But don’t forget that in rapping there are no rules only techniques and music is all about feeling and emotion. So don’t allow yourself to be held down and restricted by this information but rather use it as a tool and your emotions and feelings as your guide.

How Did I Do?

Did you find this article helpful? Have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you so make sure you drop your 2 cents in the comment section below!

Comments

  1. Artur says

    Hey Cole.

    Nice one. This is helped alot. This was my problem in creating a beat for my songs. I never really had background covered, my beats were always missing something. Now I know it was the ‘foundation’.
    Yes, I could make a short loop, that sounds awesome. But, when putting it together with other instruments and percussions, it lost that edge.
    Now I’ll try these techniques and get past my beat creating problem :-)
    So thanks again for yet another VERY usefull segment :-)

    All The Best.

    Artur, PMC.

    • says

      Hey PMC,

      I’m glad that you found this article helpful from a rapping and producing perspective! That’s awesome! Wishing you the best on your beat making journey. Thanks for reading and commenting with such positive and encouraging feedback. Take care and i’ll talk with you soon! -Cole Mize

  2. triston says

    Good job! I had some experience with notes but wasn’t interested until now; you explained them so simple and you also helped me understand fruity loops better. This info is really helpful!

    • says

      Hey Triston, thanks so much for the feedback! I’m really glad to hear that you found this lesson easy to understand and I’m glad it was able to help you in Fruity Loops as well! Thanks for watching and taking the time to let me know I’m doing a good job! Keep up the good work and I will do the same!

  3. Ace aka MaJESTY! says

    you the best my man I just noticed that this is important even when your making your beats!!!!!!! thnx

    • says

      Hey Ace, exactly! This applies to everybody working in music! I’m glad you checked out my video and that you enjoyed it! And thanks for taking the time to show love and support! I sincerely appreciate it! Keep up the hard work bro!

  4. Rabih says

    Hey Cole.
    I’ve read the article and I find it very useful. It helped me to have a better understanding in the music notes. And I saw the video that you made, it was great and I like it. Thanks to you, music notes and working in Fl became much easier. Nice work!

    • says

      Hey Rabih,

      That’s awesome news man! I’m glad that you found this article and video helpful in understanding music notes and working in FL Studio. Thanks for all the love and support and wishing you nothing but the best in all that you do! Take care and keep up the hard work!

  5. says

    my boy cole,
    the perfect slot to place such a quite complex topic.
    now i am more confident when i dive into FLstudio/
    i still get knocked around a bit ,like a software rodeo/
    peace, i’m out. like a pop fly to center.
    Double-D

    • says

      Thanks Double-D I’m glad that you enjoyed this article and video and hopefully FL Studio will be a little less tough on you now :) And I see you spittin bars in the comment section! Thanks for all the love and support! I greatly appreciate it and I’m out like an inverted belly button. lol

    • says

      Hey Garry, I’m glad that you found this article and video on music notes helpful! Thanks for taking the time to let me know you checked it out and provide me with some positive feedback! My pleasure! Keep up the hard work and talk to you soon! :)

  6. Maryam says

    Thanks for this and all of your other articles, videos, & tutorials Cole. Been trying to figure it out on my own but it wasn’t working and I was getting just a wee bit frustrated. If knowledge is power, then the one that teaches you empowers you.. and no matter where my career takes me it’ll always be your foundation that I stand upon. So thank you for taking your own time to teach these and respond to us without a charge, cause time is everything and whoever volunteers their time for you has without a doubt given up a portion of their life for you. I hope your efforts are well-rewarded with internal peace and success in all that you do and in your life in general. Cheers, Maryam.

    • says

      Wow Maryam! I can’t thank you enough for your comment! I never get tired of reading feedback like yours! It’s very gratifying to know that my work is helping others and that it’s appreciated. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a warm and uplifting response. I’m wishing you the best in all your endeavors. Thanks so much for all the love and support! You Rock!!! :)

    • says

      Hey Marco, thanks for your question. I will likely cover triplets when I start teaching specific cadences in future videos. If you have any sources you would like me to check out that you think may be helpful for my future lessons feel free to share them with me. I would be more than happy to check them out and would greatly appreciate it! :)

        • says

          Triplets are just 1 of many subdivisions. Basically triplets and other subdivisions deal with rhythm. For example in the case of triplets there are 3 notes per quarter note section. I will most likely break down subdivisions in a video soon because it will help explain rhythm and cadence. So hang on tight :)

          • says

            It’s okay, I didn’t expect you to. :) Don’t worry, i’ll break it all down in future videos and make it really easy to understand. My pleasure! Thank you for all the support!

  7. Paris says

    Thank you for the detailed info, I started out writing somewhat talented but the mental grind was rough because I didn’t quite know how it was supposed to be structured, I just knew what did and didn’t sound good or “right”

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