Yesterday I finally worked out how to create musical scores on my computer (using musescore). It’s something I’ve tried before, but couldn’t get the hang of. So now I’m going write out all the tunes I’ve composed. As I’m doing this, I thought I’d look into the names of some musical notes and their origins.
The commonly-used types of musical notes are shown in the image. Their names are different in British English and American English. The American English names are self-explanatory, and a bit boring. The British English ones are more interesting, so let’s look at where they come from:
- A semibreve is the longest note in common-use. The breve, or double whole note, does exist, but is quite rare. The word breve comes from the Old French brieve / breve (brief), from the Latin brevis (short) – in medieval music the brevis was one of the shortest notes. A semibreve is half the length of a breve.
- A minim is half the length of a semibreve, and comes from the French minime (minimal), from the Latin minimus (smallest, shortest, youngest), a superlative of minor (smaller) from the Proto-Indo-European *mey- (few, small).
- A crotchet is half the length of a minim, and comes from the Old French crochet (little hook), a diminutive of croc, from the Frankish *krōk (hook) or from Old Norse krókr (hook, bend, bight), from the Proto-Germanic *krōkaz (hook), from Proto-Indo-European *gerg- (tracery, basket, twist).
- A quaver is half the length of a crotchet, and comes from the Middle English quaveren, a form of quaven / cwavien (to tremble), from quave (a shaking, trembling)
A semiquaver is half the length of a quaver, and a demisemiquaver is half the length of a semiquaver. Shorter, and less commonly-used notes include:
- Hemidemisemiquaver or 64th note
- Semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver or 128th note
- Demisemihemidemisemiquaver or 256th note