Whole note

In music, a whole note (American or "German" terminology) or semibreve (British or "classical" terminology) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head, like a half note (or minim), and no note stem (see Figure 1). Its length is typically equal to four beats in 4/4 time. Most other notes divide the whole note; half notes are played for one half the duration of the whole note, quarter notes (or crotchets) are each played for one quarter the duration, etc. A whole note lasts half as long as a double whole note (or breve).

A related symbol is the whole rest (or semibreve rest), which usually denotes a silence for the same duration. Whole rests are drawn as filled-in rectangles hanging under the second line from the top of a musical staff.

The whole rest, and occasionally the whole note, are also used in a more general way in time signatures other than 4/4; there they can represent the entire measure, regardless of how many whole notes would ordinarily fit in. For example, a whole rest may have a length equal to five beats if used in 5/4 time. If followed by a quarter note, however, it will have the ordinary value.

The whole note derives from the semibrevis of mensural notation, and this is the origin of the British name. The American name is a loan translation of the German Ganze Note.

The names of this note (and rest) in European languages vary greatly:

Language note name rest name
German Ganze Note Ganze Pause
Greek Olokliro (ολόκληρο) Pafsi oloklirou (παύση ολοκλήρου)
French ronde pause
Italian semibreve pausa di semibreve
Spanish redonda silencio de redonda
Portuguese semibreve pausa de semibreve
Polish cała nuta pauza całonutowa

The French and Spanish names for the note (both meaning "round") derive from the fact that the semibrevis was distinguished by its round stemless shape, which is true as well of the modern form (in contrast to the double whole note or shorter values with stems). The Greek name means "whole".

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