Reading Music Rhythm - Free Lesson

Reading music rhythm is very important to piano playing. It opens up a new array of things that you can do on the piano.

Rhythm is made up of three types of notes: Whole Notes, Half Notes, and Quarter Notes.

What is Rhythm?

Rhythm is the heartbeat of music. It is the pulse of a song that the musician must follow that keeps the song moving.

It has a steady beat that repeats throughout the song. This steady beat is the pulse of the song.

How To Read Music Rhythm

Now that you know what rhythm is you can now start to read the notation of a song.

First you need to understand the concept of measures or bars.

A measure is a segment of music between two bars, that contain a certain number of beats. The most common number of beats in a bar is 4. There are other amounts of beats in a measure like 3 and 6, but for this lessons we will focus on 4 beats per measure.


Look at the image above and you will see the bar lines. These lines are what tell you where the 4 beats start and where it ends. There must be four beats within each of these sets of bar line.

Note Duration

Whole Note

To fully understand how to read rhythm of notes you need to think of them like a pie.

Remember when you learned fractions in school? It’s the same thing but a lot easier.

A Whole Note would be the whole pie, or the whole measure. To play a whole note you would play the note and hold it out for four beats.

IMG Whole Note Counting

A Whole Note is a circle with a hole in the middle. Try and remember that it has a “Hole” in it. It has no stem.

Whle Note Whole Note Counting

Half Note

A Half Note holds out for 2 beats per note. If a whole note had one note in the measure, then a half note would have 2 notes in a measure.

A half note looks like a whole note with an added stem.

Half Note Half Note Counting

Quarter Note

Quarter notes are given 1 beat per note. There would be four of these notes in one measure to complete the full measure.

The quarter note looks like a half note. But instead of having a hole in the middle of the circle it is filled in.

Quarter Note Quarter Note Counting

Understanding How Notes Work

Music Rhythm works by dividing the notes in half. Starting with the whole note you divide it in half to make 2 half notes. You then divide that in half and you then have four quarter notes.

You can divide those even further down into eight notes and sixteenth notes. These will be in another lesson.

Study the image below to see how these notes divide to make a faster rhythm.

How To Read Rhythm

Counting Rhythms

The best way to practice rhythms is to count them as you read them. As you read the note count out every beat in that measure. Make an emphasis on the note first beat of that note and little emphasis on the other beats in the measure.

For example if you were to count out a whole note you emphasize the 1 and give less emphasis on the 2, 3, and 4.

For a half note you would emphasize the 1 with less emphasis on the 2.

For a quarter note you would give emphasis on the one. The quarter note only has one beat per note so you emphasis that beat.


Reading Music Rhythm is the most important part of reading music next actually reading the note name. It’s important to know all note values quickly and easily. The reason is because the pulse of the song doesn’t slow down. The rhythm of the song rarely ever changes you need to know the note rhythms so you don’t get lost in the song.

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