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In music, a whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head, like a half note (or minim), and no note stem (see Figure 1). Its length is equal to four beats in 4/4 time. Most other notes are fractions of the whole note; half notes are played for one half the duration of the whole note, quarter notes (or crotchets) are each played for one quarter the duration, etc. A whole note lasts half as long as a double whole note (or breve).
A related symbol is the whole rest (or semibreve rest), which usually denotes a silence for the same duration. Whole rests are drawn as filled-in rectangles hanging under the second line from the top of a musical staff.
The whole note and whole rest may also be used in music of free rhythm, such as Anglican chant, to denote a whole measure, irrespective of the time of that measure. The whole rest can be used this way in almost all or all forms of music.
The names of this note (and rest) in different languages vary greatly:
|Language||note name||rest name|
|Dutch||hele noot||hele rust|
|German||ganze Note||ganze Pause|
|Greek||Olokliro (ολόκληρο)||Pafsi oloklirou (παύση ολοκλήρου)|
|Italian||semibreve||pausa di semibreve|
|Japanese||全音符 (zen onpu)||全休符 (zen kyūfu)|
|Lithuanian||pilnoji nata||pilnoji pauzė|
|Portuguese||semibreve||pausa de semibreve|
|Polish||cała nuta||pauza całonutowa|
|Romanian||notă întreagă||pauză de nota intreaga|
|Russian||целая нота||целая пауза|
|Serbian||cela nota / цела нота||cela pauza / цела пауза|
|Spanish||redonda||silencio de redonda|
The French and Spanish names for the note (both meaning "round") derive from the fact that the semibrevis was distinguished by its round stemless shape, which is true as well of the modern form (in contrast to the double whole note or shorter values with stems). The Greek name means "whole". Chinese, Japanese and Korean names mean "whole note".
Michael Miller wrote, "[t]he most basic note is called the whole note because ... it lasts a whole measure ...".
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory, 2nd Edition by Michael Miller