There are two kinds of musicians in the world: those that can read music and those that can't. And some of the most talented musicians are in the latter group, which in my mind, make them even more talented. So in this issue of the newsletter, we are going to look at some of the basic terms that go into reading music. If you are one of those who can read music, please accept this article as a quick review.
Reading music begins with a staff, a series of five lines drawn horizontally across the page, and sometimes called a stave. At the beginning of the line is a clef, a symbol that tells you what notes are represented by the lines and spaces on the staff. Most commonly are the treble clef (sometimes called a G clef) and the bass clef (sometimes called the F clef). There are several other clefs, but they are not used very often. Most music is written on the treble clef, but the bass clef is used for music written for bass instruments and the left hand (bass part) of the piano. In fact, the treble clef and bass cleft is often combined into one staff called a grand staff for use with the piano.
To the right of the clef is the key signature, a series of flats or sharps. These indicate what notes should be played sharp or flat when encountered in the rest of the staff. It is also an indication of what key the music is in. More information on this can be found by looking at the diagram of the circle of fifths.
Next is a fraction, called the time signature. The top number indicates how many beats are in each measure (bar), the space between two vertical bars. The bottom number indicates what note is equal to a beat. For example, 4/4 time means each bar has four beats and the quarter note equals one beat. A waltz is in 3/4 time, as there are three beats per measure.
The notes that are to be played follow this. A note is an indication of what pitch to play as well as for what duration. The duration is indicated by the note style, shown in the drawing above right. A whole note is a hollow circle with no stem and has the duration of a whole bar. For 4/4 time, that would be four beats. A half note is hollow with a stem, and has a duration of half a measure, two beats in 4/4 time. A quarter note has a solid circle with a stem, and gets one beat in 4/4 time. An eighth note looks like a quarter note, but has a flag. And so it goes, with sixteenth notes having two flags, thirty-second notes having three flags, and so on.
The pitch of the notes are determined by their position on the staff, being either on a line or a space. The notes for the treble and bass clef staffs are shown in the picture at the top of the page.
So, there you have it. The basics of reading music in a somewhat over-simplified explanation. I hope this was enlightening to those of you who do not read music, and I hope it made sense without being too boring for those of you who do.
• Until recently, it was believed that the very first recording was that of Thomas Edison reciting "Mary Had A Little Lamb" made in 1877. Then in 2008 the Association for Recorded Sound Collections announced that a recording of "Au Clair de la Lune" had been found in the archives of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. It was a recording made by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville recorded on a phonautograph, which he patented in 1857. It recorded sound waves as a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass. The recording was made in 1860, seventeen years before the invention of the phonograph.
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