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