Hand signals for notes

Note values are often explained using a diagram called a “note tree”.

However, to emphasize the math behind the symbols, I make a circle with my hand for a whole note, add the index finger of my other hand for a half note, make the circle into a fist for a quarter note, and wiggle my index finger for an eighth note (to remind that something must be added to the stem to make the eighth.) The principle is so sound, it often works very well with adults too.

This simple concept is very important and very powerful. Each time something is added to a note, the length of the note is cut in half. Although a knowledge of fractions is obviously an advantage, it is not necesary to use fractions to count. I developed this idea for children under seven, to help them understand how we keep track of time. However, some of my beginning adult students have found it an excellent way to instantly grasp the same basic information.

Summing up:

  1. Hand forming open-circle = whole note
  2. Hand forming open-circle + index finger = half note
  3. Hand forming closed-circle (fist)+ index finger = quarter note
  4. Hand forming closed-circle (fist)+ wiggling index finger = eighth note



6 thoughts on “Hand signals for notes

  1. I’m thinking about the hand signal for rest idea. First I was thinking, same thing but say “sh”, but that’s not copying the shape.
    I’ve always mixed up the whole and half rests, because they both look like hats, but one faces down and one faces up. The quarter rest is sort of straight (finger points up) while the eighth rest is a wiggly earthworm with a fat head?

    1. For rests I start with the 8th, which looks like many things, including a “y” with a dot, not as text but as we print it. Or a 7 with a dot. Then for 16th, 32nd, etc. just keep adding another top. That part is easy and intuitive.

      You just have to know that the zig zag is a quarter.

      For half and whole rests, it’s mostly about the position. A whole rest always is put in the middle of the measure. A half starts on the first beat it represents, so they look different. Also, a whole rest is always used for a whole measure, when nothing is there. It is in the middle of the measure. The position of the rest is what we usually see, not the placement horizontally.

      1. Is there even a reason for creating a hand signal that looks like it?

        The whole and half rests; now that we have notation software, we no longer have to worry about which one sits on the line or hangs from the line, and when we read music, your answer helps with that. Thank you.

        1. Hand signals for what – rests? No, there is no reason for them. I wrote I wished I had them, but I meant I wish it were easy to make signals as logical for them, but it is not.

  2. A note can be changed. It’s value can come from either changing the note or time signature. The signature’s bottom number will have to be changing as the top is b/m (beats per measure).

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