Learn to Read Drum Music – Part 3 – The Sixteenth Note

Hey drummers! Welcome back to my series on learning to read drum sheet music! This is part 3 in the series, so if you’re a beginner and stumbled upon this page out of order, click the links below to start at the beginning:

In this section I will be expanding upon what we’ve learned already. Next, I will be moving onto one of the larger topics, the sixteenth note (16th note). Don’t be afraid, it really isn’t that hard once you understand what everything looks like:

The Sixteenth Note

The Sixteenth Note

Introducing the sixteenth note! As you probably noticed, it looks similar to a quarter note or an eighth note with an extra flag on it.

A 16th note is the value of one quarter note split into four. If a quarter note takes up one beat, then you can split that quarter note into two 8th notes, or four 16th notes. Let’s put this into a visual format:

How to Divide a Quarter Note


How to Tell the Difference Between 8th Notes and 16th Notes

In western music, It isn’t very common to see a single 16th note by itself. Usually, we see them put together in groups like this:

Four Sixteenth Notes

If you look at the above picture, you can see that four 16th notes grouped together are connected by two beams. This makes sense because a 16th note on its own has two flags. If you group four eighth notes together, you only get one beam. This is because a single 8th note only has one flag instead of two.

to tell the difference between 8th notes and 16th notes, look at how they are beamed together.

Difference Between 8th notes and 16th notes


16th notes are not always put together in groups of two or four, but we will discuss different groupings in the next post.

How to Count Sixteenth Notes

Since the 16th Note separates a quarter note into 4 different sections, we have to add a couple syllables. Quarter notes are counted on the beat: 1, 2, 3, 4. Eighth notes keep those beats, and add the word “and” in between (Represented with a “+” sign): 1+, 2+, 3+, 4+. With 16th notes, we keep both the quarter note and 8th note counting, but add 2 syllables in between: “e”, and “a”.

How to Count Sixteenth Notes

You pronounce “e” like you would the letter, and “a” like “ah” (As in ah-ha!)

Counting Smaller Groups of 16th Notes

Quite often, you won’t see all four 16th notes in a row. Music is built around creating interesting rhythms, which means that we might see different groups of 16th notes.

If you only had the first two16th notes, if would be counted: “1e_ _ , 2e_ _, 3e_ _, 4e_ _”

Counting First 2 16th Notes

If you only had the last two 16th notes, you would count: “_ _+a,_ _+a,_ _+a,_ _+a”

Counting the Last Two 16th Notes

And, if you only had the 2nd and 3rd notes, counting would go: “_e+_, _e+_, _e+_, _e+_”

Counting Middle Partial 16th Notes

Keeping with that same pattern, you can also have just three notes in a row:

If you had the first 3 notes, they would be counted as follow: “1e+_, 2e+_, 3e+_, 4e+_”

Counting First 3 Sixteenth Notes

And finally, the last 3 notes would be counted: “_e+a, _e+a, _e+a, _e+a”

Counting Last 3 16th Notes

The 16th Rest

The quarter note has the quarter rest, the 8th note has the 8th rest, and now the 16th note has the Sixteenth Rest. A 16th rest looks something like this:

The Sixteenth Rest

Visually, it is similar to the 8th rest, but you add an extra node signaling that it is a 16th rest.

The 16th rest can take the place of any 16th note, with the only difference being that you don’t play the rest. Here are some examples of using the 16th rest:

Sixteenth Rest Examples

Usually, we will not find more than one 16th rest next to each other. This is because you can combine two 16th rests together to make an 8th rest. This makes reading easier and is less cluttered

We can clean things up if we rewrite the example above by combining some of the rests. The next example is played exactly the same as the one above, but is easier to read:

16th Rest Reading Better

16th Note Review

Hopefully you know what the 16th note looks like, how it is read, and what the 16th rest is. Now we get to review what you’ve learned by showing some reading examples.

We can start with quarter notes, 8th notes, and 16th notes without any rests:

16th Reading - No Rests

Next we can add quarter and 8th rests:

16th Reading - Quarter and 8th Rests

Lastly, we will add in a few 16th rests:

16 Note Reading - With All Rests

Let’s See What You’ve Got

Alright, so for the final wrap-up, let’s go through some 16th note reading without any help. If you’re having trouble, click here to see this example with the counting written above it:

16th Note Reading Final Exam


There you go! I know that things can get confusing when you reach this point. It was for me too. However, once you begin to look at these rhythms enough, pattern recognition begins to form in your mind.

Eventually, you will be able to read these rhythms without even thinking about it. That is the power of the brain. It may be difficult at first, but just stick with it.

In the next post, we will discuss different beaming and grouping patters for the 16th note. This is fun and can make 16th notes even easier to read.

So how did you do? Did you find reading 16th notes difficult? Or did you breeze through the section? Let me know in the comments section below!

Happy drumming!


  1. jordan zsays:

    Hi Duran, it looks like you put a lot of work into this! I really appreciate it, and hopefully you can see a payoff when i come for my next lesson 🙂

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