How Many Beats Are In A Quarter Note? (Explained!)

how many beats in a quarter note

I love teaching people about music and opening a whole new world to them! 

It’s part of why I offered 12 years of my life to teaching elementary music, and it’s also why I continue to run this website! 

One of the questions I asked the most as a teacher and one I get the most is exactly how many beats are in a quarter note?

In 4/4, 2/4, and 3/4 meters, a quarter note gets one beat. We often start with this meter, which is why most people think the quarter note always gets the beat. But in other key signatures, this isn’t true. In 2/2 or Cut Time, the quarter note is half the beat, while in 6/8, the quarter note is 2/3 of the beat.

For such a simple rhythm, there’s a whole lot to unpack here. 

Let’s get into the details in the rest of the article. 

Quater Note Beat Value In Different Meters Chart

Meter Or Time SignatureQuarter Note Beat Value
4/4 or Common Time1 beat
2/41 beat
3/41 beat
2/2 or Cut Time0.5 or 1/2 beats
6/8 Fast2/3 beats
6/8 Slow2 beats

What Is A Quarter Note?

A quarter note is often called the building block of rhythm in music. 

For most kids, it’s the first rhythm they learn. 

If a student hadn’t received music in elementary and only received training when they joined band in middle school, this may not be the case. 

Often, band classrooms start with half notes and whole notes to help students produce a better sound on their wind instruments right away. 

Quarter notes are made of two parts (as the image at the top of the article shows): 

  • A filled-in note head
  • A single stem going up on the right side or down on the left side 

Despite being shown normally in its note head down orientation, the quarter note can be shown “upside-down” as well. 

In the “up version,” the stem has to go up on the right side. 

In the “down version,” the stem goes down on the left side of the note head. 

Further Reading: Note stem direction and rules in music

How Is The Quarter Note Related To Other Rhythms?

A true measure of a rhythm’s value is based on its relationship to the other rhythms and beats. 

The beat can change depending on the meter. 

The value won’t change in relation to the other rhythm. 

Here’s an example based on the quarter note: 

Let’s say the quarter note is equal to the number value 1. 

An eighth note is always half of a quarter note, giving it the value of 0.5. 

A half note is double the value of a quarter note, giving it the value of 2. 

From here, it goes something like this: 

Rhythm NoteValue ExampleRelationship to Quarter Note
Whole note4x4
Dotted half note*3x3
Half note2x2
Dotted quarter note*1.5x1.5
Quarter note1=
Eighth note0.5 or 1/21/2
Sixteenth note0.25 or 1/41/4

The value or beat of the meter will change, but the relationships stay the same, as the next section will hopefully show. 

*Read more about what dots in music mean.

How Many Beats Is A Quarter Note?

It’s easy to write off this answer as “1.” But this isn’t true. 

Rhythms have no beat value unless a meter gives it one, as indicated by a time signature. 

A time signature has a top number and a bottom number, both tell you something important about how the rhythm and measures work for that piece of music. 

The top number tells you how many beats are in a measure. The bottom number tells you what rhythm gets the beat. 

This rule doesn’t apply in every case, but it’ll help. 

Let’s look at the standard 4/4 time or Common Time. 

The top number tells us there are four beats in a measure. 

The bottom number left (4 or 1/4 if you replace the top number with a 1) indicated the quarter note crotchet gets the beat. 

So in any meter where the bottom number is 4, the quarter note gets one beat. 

In a different time signature, the beat changes, and the note values follow. 

Let’s look at 2/2 or Cut Time. 

The top number is a 2, so the measure gets two beats. 

The bottom number is 2 or 1/2, so the half note is now worth one beat. 

This means a quarter note is worth half of a beat. 

Further Reading: Cut time in music explained

Triple Meters Are Rule Breakers

Things get tricky when the bottom number is an 8. 

In 6/8, our formula from before tells us: 

  1. There are 6 beats per measure.
  2. The eighth notes get the beat. 

In this case, the quarter note is now worth two beats. 

This is true if the tempo is slow. 

When triple meter (anything with an 8 on the bottom) is played quickly, though, we actually group 3 eighth notes together and make the dotted quarter note worth a beat. 

In this case, the standard duration of notes for quarters would be 2/3 of a beat. 

Commonly Asked Questions

How Many Eighth Notes Are In A Quarter Note?

There are 2 eighth notes inside of a single quarter note. While the beat value changes based on time signature and meter, this relationship never changes. Quarter notes are always equal to 2 eighth notes. 

How Many Sixteenth Notes Are In A Quarter Note?

There are always 4 sixteenth notes inside a quarter note. This doesn’t change through meter or time signature. A single sixteenth note is worth 1/4 of a quarter note. 

How Many Eighth Notes Are In A Half Note?

There are 4 eighth notes to a single half note. This is similar to the sixteenth note: quarter note ratio. Like this ratio, the value relationship between eighth notes and half notes will never change. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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