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- 1 Introduction
- 2 Notation
- 3 Notes and Rests Duration
- 4 Measures and Time Signature
- 5 Dots and ties
- 6 Simple and Compound Meter
- 7 Accidentals
- 8 Triplets
- 9 Tricks
- 10 References
The first step in this study is to learn the written language by which music is communicated. The system of musical notation we use now has been developed over hundred of years and, like any language, continues to evolve.
The staff is a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces.
A clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes on the staff. The most used clefs are the "treble" and the "bass" clef.
The staff line which the clef wraps around (shown in red) is known as G. Any note placed this line becomes G. The note on the space above G is A. The note in the line above A is B. And so on.
But what happens when we run out of room to place notes? Ledger Lines will solve our dilemma. A ledger line is a small line that extends the staff when we run out of room. See the example below. With the ledger line drawn, we can place A.
Next, let's discuss the Bass Clef (also called the F clef). The staff line in between the dots of the clef is F
Finally we will discuss the Grand Staff, which is basically two staves joined together. Typically, the upper staff uses a treble clef and the lower staff has a bass clef. In this instance, middle C is centered between the two staves, and it can be written on the first ledger line below the upper staff or the first ledger line above the lower staff.
Notes and Rests Duration
The length of time that a note is played is called note duration, which is determined by the type of note. The whole note (1) has the longest duration in modern music. The half note (2) has half the duration of a whole note. Quarter note (4) is fourth (or a quarter) of a whole note. And so on. See the table below.
|Whole note (1)|
|Half note (2)|
|Quarter note (4)|
|Eighth note (8)|
|Sixteenth note (16)|
Although it is possible to have notes with three or more flags, they are seldom used.
In order to notate silence we can use symbols called rest notes, or simply rests. Each note value has its equivalent rest value. Below we can see the corresponding rest symbols for the note values we already know:
Measures and Time Signature
The beat is the basic unit of time. Each group of beats is called a measure (bar).
Vertical lines called bar lines divide the staff into measures. The following staff has been split into two measures
A double bar line (or double bar) can consist of two single bar lines drawn close together, separating two sections within a piece, or a bar line followed by a thicker bar line, indicating the end of a piece or movement.
Time Signature define the amount and type of notes that each measure contains. The number on top indicates the number of beats in each measure and the number on bottom indicates the duration of each beat.
|2 beats per measure|
|3 beats per measure|
|4 beats per measure|
Let's see a couple of examples below. First measure (4/4) contains four quarter notes. The second measure (3/4) contains three quarter notes.
First measure (6/8) contains six eighth notes. The second measure (3/2) contains three half notes.
On-beat and off-beat
Every measure has a certain number of beats. Depending on the type of meter, some of those beats are naturally accented. Beats within a measure can be strong, medium or weak. Strong beats are also known as on-beats and weak beats as off-beats. Below we can see the different accentuations depending on the measure.
Dots and ties
We have already looked at symbols with durations of one, two and four beats, but what symbol can we use for a note having a duration of three beats? There is no symbol for such duration, but we can create one by adding a dot or a tie.
A dot increases the duration of the basic note by half of its original value. For instance, adding a dot to a half note (which normally lasts for two beats) we will then have a note lasting three beats instead of two (half of 2 is 1, and 2 + 1 = 3). Let’s now see the value of the shapes we already know, after adding the dot:
|Dotted Note||Equivalent Value||Equivalent Value|
A tie is a curved line connecting the heads of two notes of the same pitch and name, indicating that they are to be played as a single note with a duration equal to the sum of the individual notes values. They are used when a bar line is between two notes. See the example below
Simple and Compound Meter
An accidental is a sign used to raise or lower the pitch of a note. Accidentals not only apply to the following note. It also affect every same note in the measure unless canceled by another accidental sign, or tied into a following measure.
|flat||Lowers the following note a half step|
|sharp||Raises the following note a half step|
|double flat||Lowers the following note a whole step|
|double sharp||Raises the following note a whole step|
|natural||Cancels out any accidental|
Two notes are called enharmonic when they have the same pitch but "spelled", or named differently.
Triplets are identified by a little "three" placed above or below the notes. When notes are not beamed together, a little curve or a bracket is required.
The value of a group of triplets is equal to two of the note value of the triplet. So the duration of a triplet quarter note is 2/3 the duration of a standard quarter note. See the table below:
|Triplet||Equivalent Value||Equivalent Value|
Triplets: You can count triplets by saying One-trip-let, two-trip-let, three-trip-let...
1. Berklee Music Theory Book 1 by Paul Schmeling
4- Teoría Musical y Armonía Moderna Vol.1 (Enric Herrera)
9. Timing And Duration Of Quarter Note Triplets 3