Tag Archives: Introduction to music

Introduction to Music, Part 4 (Note values)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Note and Rest Values

Now that we know what the letter names of the Treble and Bass clef are, we need to learn about note and rest types and their values as well as an introduction to rhythm.

Note & Rest Values

Shown are the most common note and rest values that you are likely to run across in most music. There is one longer value and at least 3 faster note & rest values. A note’s value tells you how long the note lasts in relation to the other notes. It does not tell you how fast a note is. Read that again, it’s important. (How long the note lasts refers to how much time there is between the time the first note sounds and the next note sounds). All notes have a proportional relation to one another.

(For any readers familiar with the British system of crotchets, minims, quavers and my favorite, hemi-demi-semi-quaver, you’ll have to convert from that to this system which is typically used in North America and elsewhere).

Rests represent silence in music. Yes, silence is an important part of music. With rests, you have no sound for the value indicated. It does not mean to stop. The beat keeps going. That is, there should be silence for the amount of time the rest indicates.

The longest note or rest, the whole note is twice as long as a 1/2 note. The 1/2 note is twice as long as a 1/4. A 1/4 is twice is long as an 1/8 and a 1/8 is twice as long as a 16th. To put it another way, a 1/2 note is twice as fast as a whole, a 1/4 is twice as fast as a half, a 1/8 is twice as fast as a 1/4 and finally, a 1/16 is twice as fast as an 1/8. Whether you describe the notes in terms of longer or faster than one another, it is always twice as much as you move from one value to another. I recommend picking one or the other methods of describing the note relationships and stick to that while learning the note and rest values.

Try tapping a steady, non-stopping, steady beat on one leg while tapping out the various note values on the other leg. For example, you would tap one leg twice for every single time the other leg is tapped in order to indicate eighth (1/8) notes.

Next time: Measures and rhythm

Introduction to Music, Part 3 (More notation)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Piano Keyboard with LettersBasic Notation, Part 2

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To review from our last posting – Basic Notation, Part 1 – refer to the grand staff shown here.. We have staffs made up of lines and spaces. We have two clefs, the treble for the high notes and the bass for the low notes. Each line or space has a letter name that belongs to a specific pitch and a specific location on the keyboard. Those letter names can also refer to a specific fingering for your instrument. As you go higher in the staff (toward the top of the page), the letter names go forward in the alphabet (remembering to start over with A once you reach G). As you go lower in the staff (toward the bottom of the page), the letter names go backwards in the alphabet.

The grand staff is used primarily in keyboard music (piano and organ). It is also used in harp, some percussion and handbell music. We will use the grand staff for examples so that both clefs are shown. (Not every instrument reads the treble clef). We also show it so that you learn both clefs. Unless you play a keyboard or harp instrument, you will only see one clef in your music. Focus on learning that staff’s notes, but don’t ignore the other one. (Viola players, I haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll talk about the Alto clef later).

As you will see in future sections, some notes extend pass the staff in either direction. They have a little line going through them or just above or below them. These are called Leger Lines. Think of them as a 6th, 7th, 8th or more line temporarily added to the 5 lines and 4 spaces that are always present. Since the lines and space in a staff refer to specific pitches, it is impossible to represent all pitches with just 11 notes. (The 11 being the 4 spaces, 5 lines and 2 spaces on either side of the staff). So, we have to add lines and spaces above or below the staff to represent those notes.

Memorize all the letter names in the two staffs. Remember that the notes on the staff refer to a specific location or fingering on your instrument. For example, the first line in the Treble Clef, E, is the note E two higher than Middle C on the piano and only that “E”, not other “E”‘s on the piano. Use the sayings to help with your learning. Remember, as you go up, go forward in the music alphabet and as you go down, go backwards in the music alphabet.

Next time, Note and rest values and rhythm.

Introduction to Music, Part 2 (Notation)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Basic Notation, Part 1

Piano Keyboard with Letters

You may be thinking, ‘why a piano keyboard, I’m not a pianist.’ Knowing the layout of a keyboard can be helpful in figuring out some elements of music. This will make more sense later, but for now, be familiar with the look of a keyboard. Note the pattern of the black notes. Plus, there are plenty of times when being able to play notes on the piano, even with one finger, can be helpful. You will find that most good musicians know a little bit of piano. But, the reason I show it here is to point out the letters that are used in music. (Tip: To get a better view of the examples shown, click on them to view the full-size versions).

In music we only use the letters A through G. Once you get to G, you start repeating the letters. As you go forward in the alphabet, you go higher in pitch. For the technically minded, pitch refers to how many times a second a note vibrates. Let’s take string instruments as an example. You can’t see it, but when any string instrument is sounded, the string vibrates. The longer the string, the slower the vibration and the lower the sound. The shorter the string, the faster the vibration and the higher the sound. As you go backwards in the alphabet, the pitch gets lower, as you go forward, it gets higher. In notation, as the notes go toward the top of the page (higher), the pitch gets higher. As the notes go toward the bottom of the page (lower), the pitch gets lower. A good tip is to memorize the alphabet backwards from G to A. While we used the example of string instruments, all pitches vibrate, no matter the source.

Music Staff

This is a musical staff. It consists of 5 equally spaced lines. The distance between the lines is called a space. There are 4 spaces in the staff. We number the staff lines and spaces starting from the bottom up. Music is written on this staff. In order to specify a specific pitch, we use clefs. The two most common clefs are the Treble Clef (also called the ‘G-Clef’) and Bass Clef (also called the ‘F-Clef’). As the names imply, the Treble clef is for higher notes and the Bass clef is for lower notes. Depending on what instrument you play, you will use on or the other, but rarely both. Only keyboard and harp players, of the more common instruments, need to read both clefs. Even so, learning both clefs is a good thing to do. If you want to compose or arrange music for other instruments, you need to learn all the clefs.

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Here are the Treble Clef and Bass Clefs. (Remember, click on the image to see a full-size version where you can read the letter names). Use the sayings shown to help memorize the notes. Remember the keyboard at the top with the one key marked ‘middle’? That is middle C. The first line in the treble clef is the E, two white notes higher than middle-C. The fifth (top) line of the bass clef is A, two white notes lower than middle-C.

Next time: More about basic notation

Introduction to Music, Part 1

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

A quick word or two before we get started

This series is designed to introduce you to the world of music. It is not intended as a music appreciation series for the non-musician, but rather it is intended for those who want to be musicians or want to improve their musicianship. It could be that you’ve never played an instrument or sung before and would like to. Perhaps you learned to play or sing by rote, that is, you copied what you heard and saw but don’t really understand why or what you are doing. Perhaps you’ve reached a point where you just aren’t improving as a musician. Hopefully this series can help all of you.

musical notation example (clef, key signature,...
(From Wikipedia)

There is much in the way of theory and how to read music in this series. If you want to learn to play or sing by ear or in a way that results in you only being able to play music someone else has already recorded or that you’ve heard, there is plenty of other material, good or not, that I would point you to. This series isn’t for you, it’s for the person who wants to be a well-rounded musician. It’s for someone who can read music and understand what they are reading and performing.

If you want to be able to play or sing any music, even music you’ve never heard, and do more than just play notes, actually make music, then you absolutely must learn to read music notation and you need to understand why those notes are there in the way they are there. In other words, learn the theory behind the music. That’s what the series is for. I want you to be more than someone who just copies what they’ve heard. I want you to be a well-rounded musician. This series is a very small step in the long process required to be a good musician.

If you are a musician, each instrument – singers, the body is your instrument – has different techniques necessary to play that instrument. String players have to learn how to bow properly. Guitar players need to learn finger positions. Brass and woodwind players need to learn breathing. Singers need to learn diction. Keyboard players need to use proper hand technique, etc. You can learn much on your own in this department, but the best players, even if they say they are self-taught, have had someone at some point in their career show them the technique of their instrument. A teacher is highly recommended. This series will not discuss technique or how to play an instrument.

For all the examples shown, you can click on the picture to see a bigger version.

Next time, we look at basic notation.