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Typically, a whole note is a note that lasts for four counts (or beats). It is quite easy to identify because it is the only note value that has no stem attached to it. Actually, it looks a bit like a donut.

Take a look below to see what it looks like on the piano staff:





whole-note-illustration



When playing a song that has four beats to the measure, when you see a whole note in any given measure, you won't find any other note with it (in that same measure), since the measure cannot accommodate more than four beats.

Let's do this... count in a steady fashion: |1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4| etc. Do this with the same amount of "space" in between each count - just like a second hand on a clock ticks each second very steadily (provided the clock doesn't need fixing!).

You'll notice that I separated each group of four counts or beats with lines - in music, we call these bar lines and the spaces between them are called measures.

Okay, now go to your piano or keyboard. Before you play anything, go ahead and start counting as you did above. Count | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | and when you're ready, play a key on the piano (any one) as you say "1" and hold it down for counts 1, 2, 3, and 4. You see, you are holding the note for four beats. You are playing a whole note!

Let's say you chose middle C on the piano keyboard. Here is what that looks like:

whole-note-middle-c



Play this middle C as a whole note. Simply give yourself a count of four as you did above - we call this "counting yourself in" - and start middle C on the count of one and hold it for four beats. By the way, when you count in, it really doesn't matter if you do it once, twice, or three times as we did above. Once is generally enough.

That's it! You did it!

The reason I had you count yourself in as I mentioned above is to establish the steady count prior to actually playing the note. If you've ever been out to hear a live band play, you likely heard someone (perhaps the drummer) count the band in before playing... "1 2 3 4" (then the music begins).

Counting yourself in also established the speed of the count - in music, we call this the tempo. That middle C above could be held for a very short period of time or for a very long period of time, depending on how fast your tempo is. But it's still held for four beats!

Play some more of them. Use both hands to keep it interesting. An idea is to place five fingers of each hand on the piano keyboard in an area of your choice and allow each of your fingers to play a key that lasts four beats as you count.

You can do this by counting yourself in and then playing a key for four beats and when you say "1" again, that's the exact time to play another key with another finger. Remember, between "4" and the next "1" there is as much time space as between any of the other counts. It's steady all the time, like that second hand on the clock.

Now that you've mastered the whole note, feel free to explore the other note values and give yourself credit for making progress!

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