Preservation Hall Lessons - Reading Music and Note Values

Note Values

GRADE: K-2, 3-5
SUBJECT: Music, Math
TOPIC: Note Values, Percussion
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will read quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and apply the beats with body percussion techniques. 



  • Identify and describe quarter notes, half notes, dotted half notes, and whole notes. 
  • Make comparisons between music note values and the value of money. 
  • Read note values and play the note value using body percussion techniques. 



National Core Arts Standards

Music – Anchor Standard 2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
Music – Anchor Standard 4 Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.

Common Core State Standards

MATH.4.MD.A.2 Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Represent measurement quantities using diagrams such as number line diagrams that feature a measurement scale.
MATH.5.MD.B.2 Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Use operations on fractions for this grade to solve problems involving information presented in line plots.



Students should have some background in music, instrument identification, and the value of coins. Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson. Students with disabilities may benefit from Adaptive Movements in this lesson.





  1. Play the song “Rebirth Brass Band – Just a Closer Walk with Thee” or “Preservation Hall Jazz Band Just A Closer Walk Slow” on slide 3 of the presentation, Note Values. Share with students that the author of the song is unknown, but circumstantial evidence suggests it dates back to southern African-American churches of the 19th century. 


  1. Tell students they are going to listen to the song again, but this time to think of the instruments as a language to listen carefully to the speed and rhythm of each instrument. Ask: How are the instruments expressing themselves? Why do you think instruments play at different speeds and rhythms?


  1. Display slide 4 of the presentation, Note Values. Introduce students to the quarter note, half note, dotted half note, and whole note. Share with students that note values are the language of music. Explain to students that each note value indicates the duration of a note and musicians read note values like they read words. Note values are how instruments show expression. 


  1. Have students analyze the features of each note. Ask: What are the structures and shapes of each note? What similarities and differences do you notice? 


  1. Review with students the note value features and their purpose. Have students name instruments a musician would play when reading musical notes. Ask: How can we practice reading note values if we do not have any instruments? Allow time for students to explore and share their ideas. Tell students that their bodies can be musical instruments too! 


  1. Play the Body Percussion video on slide 5 of the presentation, Note Values. On slide 6 of the presentation, Note Values, introduce the four main types of body percussion: stomping once, “patsching” (slapping) thigh, clapping hands, and snapping fingers. Model for students how to use each body percussion technique. 


  1. Tell students that in this lesson they are going to learn how to read note values and apply mathematical skills to play note values using body percussion.



  1. Ask: What connections can you identify between music and math? Allow time for students to respond and make connections. Tell students they are going to learn to read music notes and apply math skills to make music. 


  1. Display the comparison table on slide 7 of the presentation, Note Values. Ask: Using what we know about money (fractions or decimals), what is similar about money and the note values we learned? Allow time for students to discuss the comparisons. Tell students that the value of a coin or dollar tells us what we need to count, and in the note values in music tell us how to clap. 


  1. Explain the relationship between money and note values. The quarter note = $.25, half note = $.50, dotted half note = $.75, and whole note $1.00. Have a discussion with students about the relationship between the values.


  1. Tell students that each note value indicates how many beats the musician plays. Show students the “Making a Beat” chart on slide 8 of the presentation, Note Values. Ask students to “turn and talk” to discuss the relationship between note values, the value of money, and the number of beats.


  1. Model for students how to read the note values and use body percussion to play the notes. Starting with the quarter note, clapping 1-2-3-4, half note 1-2-3-4, dotted half note 1-2-3-4, and the whole notes 1-2-3-4. Have students play along. 


  1. Allow time for students to break into pairs or small groups to practice the note values using one of the body percussion types. Display slide 9 of the presentation, Note Values, so students can reference the “Note Value & Body Percussion” chart. 



  1. Have students regroup with their partner or small group to write a pattern of rhythms using the note values: quarter note, half note, dotted half note, and whole note. 


  1. Facilitate through each group, assessing students’ knowledge of each note value. Have students independently respond to the writing prompt on slide 10 of the presentation, Note Values: What are the values of each musical note? How do music note values relate to the value of money?


  1. CHALLENGE: Ask students to choreograph a body percussion performance at recess or at home. Have students write out the note values related to the choreography and performance for their peers or family. 



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Louis Ford, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer
Meredith Sharpe, Adaptations Writer



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