Tag Archives: Tempo (music)

Introduction to Music, Part 8 (Symbols concluded)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicians, or improve their musicianship

Music symbols, part 2

Symbols (2)

As we look into more symbols a reminder of how we will talk about symbols in this series. I divide symbols into a few categories: 1) Articulations; 2) Accidentals; 3) Dynamics; 4) Tempo or rhythm; 5) Ornamentations and 6) Directions. All of these are shown in the example.

Let’s start with some more Articulations. Take a look at the image (remember you can click on it to see a bigger picture):
Staccatissimo – a very short staccato
Marcato – play marked – emphasizing each note.
Bowing directions – String players only. The first means an up bow, the second a down bow.
Accent – play the note louder than normal, with emphasis.
Tenuto – hold the note for its full value, emphasizing the note’s length
Roll – or arpeggio. Keyboard, harp, guitar only. Play each of the notes one at a time in quick succession, usually holding down the notes when done on piano

Accidentals

These refer to variations in the pitch of a note. Remember the piano keyboard with its 2 black notes and 3 black notes pattern, each separated by two white notes along with white notes in between each black note? The distance from one key on the piano to another is known as a half-step. On a guitar, a half-step is one fret to another. When you go from the note C to the next key to the right, the black key, that is a half-step and the black note is called C-sharp, written C#. To go from D to the next key to the left, the note is now D-flat (written Db). Between B & C and E & F, no matter the instrument, it is always a half-step. On the piano, this is easy to see because there are two white keys right next to one another. An accidental lasts for the entire measure in which it appears. So in our example, the two F# in the last measure of the first line are both sharped.

In addition to sharps & flats, we can have double-sharps and double-flats. These simply raise the note another half-step. Yes, we could write F-double-sharp as G, but there are reasons why you don’t always want to do that. That’s for a later section. We also have something called a natural sign. This cancels any accidental and makes it just the letter name, no flat or sharp. On a piano, a natural note is always a white note.

Dynamics

These refer to how loud or how soft a note is. From softest to loudest they are:
pp; p; mp; mf; f; ff. Pianissimo; Piano; Mezzo-Piano; Mezzo-Forte; Forte; Fortissimo. You can add a 3, 4 or more p’s or f’s to make the sound softer or louder, respectively. There are also symbols, as shown, to indicate gradual changes in dynamics. The crescendo and diminuendo symbols are somtimes written out and abbreviated, cresc. and dim.

Tempo
The tempo marking is indicated above the time signature at the start of a piece of music and whenever a composer wants to change the speed. In the example here, there is a tempo marking at the very beginning of the piece of music and another in the 3rd measure from the end. The 1/4 = 80 is a Metronome indicator. It means that there are to be 80 quarter notes per minute. Notice the ‘rit.’ and ‘accel.’ text at the last line. These are the most common indicators for slowing down and speeding up, respectively, that one will find in music.

Ornamentations
Ornaments are indications to the performer to embellish the given note. The squiggly line is a mordent, the one with the vertical line through it is an inverted mordent. A mordent is typically played, in this example, as a 1/32 D, 1/32 E then back to the original D for the remainder of that beat. A trill (tr) indicates to alternate rapidly (usually 1/16 or 1/32 notes) between the given note and the next note higher, keeping in mind the key signature. In some style periods, you might start the trill on the note above. In some situations, a flat or sharp sign appears after the trill. That indicates to flatten or sharp the trilled note as indicated. A complete discussion of ornamentations could fill an entire book.

Directions
The repeat sign indicates, in this example, to go back to the beginning of that line. If there was no forward repeat sign at the beginning of the line, then one would repeat back to the 1st measure. There are other direction indicators that tell the performer to jump back to a specific symbol (DS), others that indicate to jump back to the beginning (DC) and play to the word ‘Fine’ (pronounced ‘fee-nay’). There can also be jumps to measures near the end, a Coda. We’ll show examples of other direction indicators in future articles.

Next time: An introduction to intervals and chords

 

 

Introduction to Music, Part 6 (Time Signatures)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Time Signatures and Counting

Time Signatures

Up until now we’ve talked about each measure having 4 beats and the quarter note equaling one beat. Can we have 20 beats in a measure? Can the 8th note equal one beat? Yes, to both questions. But what tells us how to know this?

Time signatures do.

A time signature tells us how many beats are in a measure and what type of note equals one beat. The time signature is the first thing that occurs (from left to right) after the clef. It only happens at the start of a piece of music unless there is a change to the time signature. (You may also see the term ‘meter’ used instead of time signature). The most common time signature is 4/4 time. This means that there are 4 beats in a measure and the quarter note gets one beat. Click on the image to see the full size, easier to read version.

The top number of a time signature tells how many beats there are in a measure. The bottom number tells you what type of note gets the beat. The top number can be anything from 1 to infinity. The bottom number tells you what type of note gets the beat. For the bottom number, the way I look at is this: take just the bottom number and put a 1 above it and read it as a fraction. Thus for 4/4 time, make it 1/4 and say it – “quarter.” That’s the type of note that gets the beat. For 3/8 time, 3 beats in a measure, then 1/8 = “eight” so the eight note gets the beat. The bottom number can be 1 or any multiple of 2.

Other time signatures you will run across include: 2/4, 3/4, 6/4, 2/2, 3/2, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8. Those are the more common time signatures. I’ve seen 1/1 (one whole note per measure) but only for a measure or two, and in the music of J.S. Bach, the great 18th century organist and composer, 16/32, 16 beats in a measure and the 32nd note (twice as fast as the 16th) gets one beat.

While it is true that some time signatures are more often used in faster music or slower music, the time signature itself does not say anything whatsoever about the speed of the music. Yes, 2/2 time, which looks just like 4/4 time, is often faster, it isn’t always. What determines the speed of a piece of music is the tempo marking. See below.

The numbers show how you can count the different time signatures. See how in 6/8 time you count the eighth note as one and the quarter note gets 2 beats? How about 2/2 time? In it, the quarter note is 1/2 a beat long while the whole note is only 2 beats long. In time signatures with a 2 or 4 on the bottom, it is typical to divide the subdivisions into groups of two or four. You’ll see examples of that in future articles. In time signatures with 8 or 16 on the bottom, it is more typical to group the subdivisions into groups of 3. See the horizontal line joining the notes? That is what is known as a beam. When two eight notes are joined together, instead of using a flag, we use the beam. Since a 16th note has two flags, when joined together, we use 2 beams.

Tempo is the speed of a piece of music. Just above the time signature at the beginning of the music, a composer may indicated the speed they want the music performed at. This is the tempo marking. That, and only that, determines how fast a piece of music is. A time signature simply tells us how many beats are in a measure and what type of note gets the beat, not how fast to play.

I wonder what that “C” at the end of the last line of music means? (next time)

If you’re reading this close to when it is posted, no new posts for a few weeks so I can enjoy the Christmas holiday season.

Next time: Introduction to Symbols