A musical note simultaneously conveys both pitch and rhythm. Writing letters on a page would be an ineffective form of musical notation, because this would only convey pitch. In addition, there would be no way to distinguish between the various octaves when writing a musical letter on a page. Our musical notation system automatically conveys the exact pitch (letter and register) that is to be played and how long it is to be held for. This dual purpose of the musical note calls for specificity when discussing musical notation. Using the word “note” makes it difficult to determine if we are referring to the rhythmic value or the pitch. Referring directly with the use of the word “rhythm” or “pitch” helps to avoid this confusion.
A musical rhythm tells us how long to hold a note for. We read rhythms by observing the shape of the note. Each musical rhythm is portrayed by a differently shaped note. For example, a whole note is a circle. A half note is a circle with a line extending from one side. This line is called a stem. A quarter note is a circle that has been colored in and has a stem.
Pitch tells us how high or low to play. This does not refer to the volume of the note, it refers to the frequency. We read pitch by discerning the specific line or space that the head (the circle) of the musical note rests on. Each line or space of a musical staff refers to a different pitch. The details of musical pitch are discussed further in my video entitled Learning Music With Ray: The Musical Alphabet.
Some people get confused when reading a musical example in which there are multiple occurrences of the same pitch with different rhythmic values. Since the shape of the note is different, it is easy to assume that this is a different “note” (meaning pitch). Remember, using that word “note” can cause confusion. It is important to always distinguish between pitch and rhythm. In this example, the rhythm (shape of the note) looks different. This means that each note should be held for a different rhythmic value. However, if all of these notes are all written on the same location of the musical staff (same line or space), then they are all the same pitch.