Whole note

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Figure 1. A whole note and a whole rest.
Whole note Half note Quarter note Eighth note Sixteenth note Thirty-second note
Comparison of duple note values (whole note = 2×half note, etc.)

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, that is the whole 4/4 measure (or bar). 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—hence the British name, semibreve), and twice as long as a half note, or minim. The symbol is first found in music notation from the late thirteenth century (Morehen and Rastall 2001).

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. 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 in more complicated passages, such as 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.


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 names of this note (and rest) in different languages vary greatly:

Language note name rest name
Arabic المستديرة سكتة المستديرة
Catalan rodona silenci de rodona
Chinese (中文) 全音符 (pinyin: quán yīnfú) 全休止符 (pinyin: quán xiūzhǐfú)
Danish helnode helnodepause
Dutch hele noot hele rust
Estonian täisnoot täispaus
French ronde pause
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)
Korean 온음표(-音標 oneumpyo); 전음부(全音符 jeoneumbu) 온쉼표(--標 onswimpyo); 전휴부(全休符 jeonhyubu)
Lithuanian pilnoji nata pilnoji pauzė
Persian نُت گرد سکوت گرد
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
Swedish helnot helpaus
Thai โน๊ตตัวกลม ตัวหยุดตัวกลม
Turkish birlik nota birlik es
Vietnamese nốt tròn lặng tròn
Welsh hannerbrif saib yr hannerbrif

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]


  • 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.