Beaming in music is such an important concept as you will see examples of beaming all over your sheet music. Beaming notes makes music much easier to read and you will see why throughout this blog post.
Beaming can be used on any note that has a shorter length than a quarter note (crotchet). All notes smaller than a quarter note will have little tails, also known as flags and it is these that we use to beam together. If your note does not have a tail it cannot be beamed!
Beaming different note values
As we have seen, we cannot beam together any notes that do not have tails but let’s take a look at how to beam the common note lengths that you can beam. The common note lengths that can be beamed, are eighth notes, sixteenth notes and thirty second notes. So let’s see how we beam these!
If you have a single eighth note (quaver) on its own, we will keep the tail. However, when connecting two or more eighth notes we replace their tails with a single line.
If you have a single sixteenth note (semiquaver) on its own, we will keep the two tails. However, when connecting two or more sixteenth notes we replace their tails with two lines.
Similarly, if you have a single thirty second note (demi semi quaver) on its own, we will keep the three tails. However, when connecting two or more thirty second notes we replace their tails with three lines.
Beaming and Rests
Rests can also be included inside a group of beamed notes. The actual rests will never be beamed, the beaming refers to the actual notes with tails. The rest will simply be inserted between the two notes. By doing this, the music is much clearer to read.
Note that the rest will have to be moved down slightly to accommodate the beamed notes.
Sometimes two or more notes need to be joined together but their stems go in opposite directions (some are up and some are down). So how do you decide which way to beam the two notes?
The first thing you must do is work out which of the two notes is furthest from the middle staff line.
If we look at an example of these two E’s you can see that the lower E is furthest away from the middle staff line, meaning that you will use this as your guide. The lower E has a stem that is pointing up so we will then make the stem go up for both notes.
If you change this note to F’s you will notes that the higher F is furthest from the middle line meaning that the beams will be the opposite way around.
Beams do not always have to be straight lines as we saw in the examples above. This would be unrealistic as notes do not always go in one straight line.
If the music goes up, the beam will go in a slightly diagonal line upwards.
If the music goes down, the beam will go in a slightly diagonal line downwards.
You will also find that sometimes the length of the stems have to be made longer to accommodate the beams.
we know what the beaming looks like now but unfortunately it is not as simple as this. All beamed notes have to follow some standard beaming rules.
Primary and Secondary Beams
As you can see, notes that have more tails will have more lines within the beaming. These different lines have different names.
The primary beam connects the first and last notes in the beamed group. Any other extra lines are called the secondary beams. The secondary beam indicates if the notes joined are sixteenth or thirty-second notes.
The Beaming Rules
It is true that you can beam together any note with a tail. However, if you beam too many then your music can become very difficult to read and understand. To ensure the music is beamed together in such a way that is easy to read we must follow some key rules:
- Never beam across a bar line
All beamed notes must be contained within the bar lines. Remember a bar line goes either side of a measure (bar). If you have a note with a tail that needs to go either side of a bar line then you must draw it with a tail.
- Never beam across the middle of a measure (bar)
You must never beam across the middle of a measure, particularly if you are in 4/4!
- Sixteenth notes must always be grouped by beat
In a bar that is counted in quarter note (crotchet) beats you can have a maximum of four sixteenth notes beamed together. In a bar that is counted in dotted quarter notes (dotted crotchet) you can have a maximum of six sixteenth notes beamed together.
- Thirty-second notes are grouped by beat
In a bar counted in quarter notes (crotchets) there will be a maximum of eight thirty-second notes beamed together and in a bar counted in dotted quarter notes (dotted crotchets) there will be a maximum of twelve thirty-second notes beamed together. Because it will look very messy with all those lines, we join each group of four thirty-second notes with a single line.
Let’s look at these rules in the context of each different time signature. The rhythmic grouping of these notes is extremely important.
Grouping in 4/4 time signature
This is the most common time signature we see. To learn more about this make sure to check out our blog.
In 4/4 time signature, we will beam together two groups of four eighth notes.
Sixteenth notes in 4/4 will be beamed as follows:
Thirty-Second notes in 4/4 will be beamed as follows:
You must never beam together the second beat and the third beat in a 4/4 time signature. Let’s look at a few examples in 4/4 to see the correct beaming.
Grouping in 3/4 time signature
To learn more about the 3/4 time signature then make sure to click here.
3/4 has an odd number of beats and so there are a few ways that you can correctly beam together eighth notes. The two ways that you can correctly beam eighth notes in 3/4 are:
However, it is very important that you never beam as follows.
3/4 is a simple time signature and therefore each beat should be a quarter note. The beaming above is what we would see in 6/8 as 6/8 is a compound time signature and therefore each beat will be a dotted quarter note.
Grouping in 2/4 time signature
To learn more about this time signature make sure to check out our blog post here.
In this time signature you must never beam across the middle of the bar. This means you will beam the bar in two quarter notes.
Grouping in 6/8 time signature
6/8 is a compound time signature meaning it will have slightly different rhythmic grouping to that of a simple time signature. To learn more about compound time signatures make sure to check out our blog post on it here.
Compound time signatures have beats that are dotted, in other words each beat falls into three equal parts. 6/8 has six eighth notes in a measure, but this will be divided into two groups of three. Beats one and four act as the two main beats in this time signature. The beaming should reflect this.
This is also applied to when you use sixteenth notes as well.
And similarly when you beam thirty-second notes.
Other uses of beaming
Feathered beaming is used to show a gradual change in the speed of notes. In sheet music you will see one primary straight beam connecting the first and last notes in the group and then diagonal secondary beams. We call this feathered beaming as it gives it an effect that looks like a feather!
The secondary beams suggest a gradual acceleration or deceleration from the first note to the last note. Depending on which way the feathered beaming goes will tell you whether you will accelerate or decelerate.
We also see beams used to abbreviate certain notations and the most common example of this will be the tremolo. To show this you will have two notes beamed together with a primary beam and secondary beams or a note length with three beaming lines between it and the next note. See the two examples below.
- Learn more about music theory basics with our complete guide to meters.