Tidbit #6 – the Absurdity of British Terminology

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that the British don’t call quarter notes quarter notes – they call them crotchets. In fact, the Brits have their own system of music terminology when it comes to note values. Their whole note is a “semibreve”, their half note is a “minim” , and their eighth is a “quaver”. 

But besides this being an informational post on British music lingo, this is also a post on the absurdity of it. I know that our own American terms get quite long, especially when it comes to sixty-fourth notes and one hundred twenty-eighth notes. But whatever our terms may sound like, they’ll never sound as hilarious as this!

Want to know what Europeans call a hundred twenty-eighth note?

A semihemidemisemiquaver.

Let’s go through this slowly. 😉

Semi, hemi, demi, semi quaver.

It can also be called a quasihemidemisemiquaver.

But wait! It gets even better. A note half the length of a hundred twenty-eighth note—which would, in American music terms, be called a two hundred fifty-sixth note—is called a demisemihemidemisemiquaver. Demi, semi, hemi, demi, semi quaver. Have you ever heard of such a thing before?

The really funny thing is, hemi, semi, and demi all mean the same thing: “half”. So, theoretically, you could call a hundred twenty-eighth note a semisemisemisemiquaver. Or demidemidemidemiquaver or hemihemihemihemiquaver.

I don’t know about you all, but I find this really funny! And ironic, too, that the shorter the note, the longer the name.

Speaking of short notes, I came across a tidbit of trivia which might be of interest to you – the shortest note ever to be written was a one thousand twenty-fourth note, which is one-eighth the length of a sixty-fourth note. (Don’t even start working out how many demis belong in there because they capped out! The British gave up when this note was used and now call it a one thousand twenty-fourth note like everyone else.) The piece which contains this crazy thing is Anthony Philip Heinrich’s Toccata Grande Cromatica. As you might expect, I couldn’t find anyone playing it on YouTube or elsewhere. If you want, I might be able to write it out in a program and then export the audio file to YouTube for you all. 🙂

If you want to learn more about British music terminology, you can read this. It is good to know some basic British music terms because plenty of people use them, no matter how absurd!

~ Maggie

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4 thoughts on “Tidbit #6 – the Absurdity of British Terminology

    • Hi!
      Yes, it is very interesting! (And sometimes confusing. ;)) It’s amazing how, even if you’ve played music for years, there is still so much to learn about it! One reason I love blogging is that I invariably learn something new when researching my posts. 🙂
      Maggie

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  1. There was a time when “The sun never set on the British Empire”…and “proper English” spoken was a sign of higher class & education. Leave it to “The Brits” to mess with musical notes too…LOL!
    Thanks for another informative post!
    Maybe like old seasonal TV shows, you can recycle these articles from the beginning….we older folks have forgotten half of what we read a year ago!
    Keep em coming…..but keep those college grades up too…ha…ha…ha…such busy young adult lives….love it, and love you two!:)

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    • Haha! It’s true… The British have their own dialect of English and we Americans have ours.
      Yes, if we ever run out of post ideas we can always recycle! But somehow we’re always thinking of new things to write about… My problem might be that I have too many topics to choose one! 😉
      Mm, yes, a new school year is right around the corner for us. Cammi and I will do our best to keep on top of our workload so we can still post regularly. 🙂
      Maggie

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