de redonda a garrapatea

I’ve been starting (never finishing) to learn music a few times, in three different languages. Seeing that it’s an endless process, I thought I may want to write something down before forgetting how, er, those things are called. Or, at least, starting to write things down.

Today, I just want to look at these: ♩ or ♪ or ♫ or suchlike. They are often called “notes”, which is not strictly correct. On its own, any such symbol represents only a note value. The symbols themselves are what is called in French figures de note; I don’t know whether there is a good English equivalent. To represent actual notes, figures de note should be placed on a staff which has a clef on it. (Not today.)

Let’s have a look at the “note” anatomy first. At the very least, it has a note head, which usually (but not always) has an oval shape. All notes shorter than semibreve also have a stem. Finally, all notes shorter than crotchet have one or more flags. When several eighth (or shorter) notes appear next to each other, they may be connected with a beam (or beams).


English French Italian Russian Spanish
flag (hook, tail) crochet coda флажок corchete
stem hampe (queue) gambo штиль plica
note head tête de note testa головка cabeza

Now that we know the note parts, we can learn the note values. As you can see from the table below, both American English and Russian use rather boring terminology. Anyone who knows how to divide by two can master it in a minute. British English uses much more intriguing words. Take “crotchet”: it sounds very much like French croche. But croche is an Old French word meaning a “hook” (crochet in modern French), something that croche (♪) has but crotchet (♩) lacks. Then there is a quaver and its fractions: semiquaver, demisemiquaver, hemidemisemiquaver and even quasihemidemisemiquaver. Whereas in French system, the names for these just reflect the number of flags: double croche, triple croche and so on.

So far, my favourite system is the Spanish one. The names are short and easy to remember: redonda (round), blanca (white), negra (black), corchea (has a corchete, i.e. hook) and semicorchea (half of corchea). Except maybe for garrapatea (from garrapatear “to scribble”, “to doodle”), although the chances to encounter one are slim. Somewhat confusingly, Spanish fusa (1/32), which is derived from Italian word fusa (“purr”), is four times longer than Italian fusa (1/128).

Naming the rests in British English, Italian and Spanish is easy. You only have to add the words “rest”, “pausa di” or “silencio de”, respectively. In American English and Russian, replace “note” with “rest” (“нота” with “пауза”). French, however, came up with an amazing system where the rest names have nothing to do with the corresponding note names. For instance, seizième de soupir is rather unlike quadruple croche.

American / British English French Italian Russian Spanish
note note nota нота nota
whole note / semibreve ronde semibreve целая нота redonda
half note / minim blanche minima половинная нота blanca
quarter note / crotchet noire semiminima четвертная нота negra
eighth note / quaver croche croma восьмая нота corchea
sixteenth note / semiquaver double croche semicroma шестнадцатая нота semicorchea
thirty-second note / demisemiquaver triple croche biscroma тридцать вторая нота fusa
sixty-fourth note / hemidemisemiquaver quadruple croche semibiscroma шестьдесят четвертая нота semifusa
hundred twenty-eighth note / semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver quintuple croche fusa, quintupla o fusilla сто двадцать восьмая нота garrapatea o cuartifusa
rest silence pausa пауза silencio
whole rest / semibreve rest pause pausa di semibreve целая пауза silencio de redonda
half rest / minim rest demi-pause pausa di minima половинная пауза silencio de blanca
quarter rest / crotchet rest soupir pausa di semiminima четвертная пауза silencio de negra
eighth rest / quaver rest demi-soupir pausa di croma восьмая пауза silencio de corchea
sixteenth rest / semiquaver rest quart de soupir pausa di semicroma шестнадцатая пауза silencio de semicorchea
thirty-second rest / demisemiquaver rest huitième de soupir pausa di biscroma тридцать вторая пауза silencio de fusa
sixty-fourth rest / hemidemisemiquaver rest seizième de soupir pausa di semibiscroma шестьдесят четвертая пауза silencio de semifusa
hundred twenty-eighth rest / semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver rest trente-deuxième de soupir pausa di fusa сто двадцать восьмая нота silencio de garrapatea

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