Whole note

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Figure 1. A whole note and a whole rest.

In music, a whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head and no note stem. Its length is equal to four beats in 4
4
time, that is the whole 4
4
measure (or bar). Most other notes are fractions of the whole note (e.g., half notes and quarter notes are played for one half and one quarter the duration of the whole note, respectively).

The symbol is first found in music notation from the late thirteenth century, and its British name derives from the semibrevis of mensural notation, which is the origin of the British name. The whole note and whole rest may also be used in music of free rhythm, such as Anglican chant, to denote a whole measure.

Description[edit]

Whole note Half note Quarter note Eighth note Sixteenth note Thirty-second note
Comparison of duple note values (whole note = 2×half note, etc.)
Drum pattern, quarter notes on bass and snare,
accompanied by ride patterns of various
duple lengths from whole note to 128th (all at quarter note=60)
Spoken content icon1 2 4 8
16 32 64 128

A whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a musical 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, that is the whole 4
4
measure (or bar). Most other notes are fractions of the whole note. Half notes last for one half the duration of the whole note, quarter notes (or crotchets) last for one quarter the duration, and a double whole note (or breve, hence the British name semibreve) lasts twice as long as a whole note.

A related symbol is the whole rest (or semibreve rest). It usually applies for an entire measure, but may occasionally mean a rest for the duration of a whole note, in longer time signatures such as 3
2
or 5
4
. (An entire measure rest is drawn centered within the measure, whereas a rest lasting for a whole note is aligned to where the note would be.) Whole rests are drawn as filled-in rectangles generally hanging under the second line from the top of a musical staff, though they may occasionally be put under a different line (or ledger line) in more complicated polyphonic passages, or when two instruments or vocalists are written on one staff and one is temporarily silent.

Other lengths[edit]

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.

History[edit]

The symbol is first found in music notation from the late thirteenth century.(Morehen and Rastall 2001)

Etymology[edit]

The whole note derives from the semibrevis of mensural notation, and this is the origin of the British name. The American name is a calque of the German ganze Note.

The Catalan, French and Spanish names for the note (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, Korean, and Vietnamese names mean "whole note".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Morehen, John, and Richard Rastall. 2001. "Semibreve". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.