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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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