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Chapter Six - Note Values and Rhythms
Most music has an underlying pulse or beat. This is especially true of dance music whose pulse is sounded so strongly that people want to "dance to the music". This pulse in music is used as one of the measuring units when notating music into a written form. As you listen to music, you will notice that the pulses are further organized around larger patterns, perhaps 2, 3, 4 or more pulses making up a larger unit called a measure (discussed later in this chapter). The organization of the pulses into measures will determine a composition's meter (also discussed later in this chapter). The most common meters are Two beat (also known as Duple), Three beat (Triple), and Four beat (Quadruple) meters..
Below is a list of popular compositions that are in various 2, 3, 4 beat meters
Most Marches 2 beat pattern
Most Polkas 2 beat pattern
Most football "fight' songs 2 beat pattern
Mozart symphony no. 40 (1st mvt) 2 beat pattern
My Favorite Things 3 beat pattern
Someday My Prince Will Come 3 beat pattern
Star Spangled Banner 3 beat pattern
Blue Danube Waltz 3 beat pattern
Take it to the limit 3 beat pattern
Johnny B. Goode 4 beat pattern
Most Rock 'n Roll 4 beat pattern
Take the "A" Train 4 beat pattern
Most Jazz Standards 4 beat pattern
Standard Music notation is a system of graphic symbols that can be used to represent the rhythmic and pitch elements of music.
In music notation, a note is used to represent the sounds of the music. The notes tell the performer the pitch and the duration and the sound. In this chapter the note's duration values will be studied, as well as the general topic of rhythm. First examine the following diagram of an "eighth note" and make note of the different elements that make up the note value.
Notice that on the upstem eighth notes the stem on the right side of the notehead and the flag (on the right side of the stem) is curving downward toward the notehead. These characteristics are true of all upstem notes that have flags.
On the downstem eighth note the stem is on the left side of the notehead and the flag (on the right side of the stem) is curving upward toward the notehead. These characteristics are true of all downstem notes that have flags.
Some of the note values used in music notation are shown below:
Before examining the relationship of the note values, first notice the different physical characteristics of the notes.
The names of the notes help one understand the relationship between the note values, with regard to duration. Each succeeding note value is twice as fast as the previous note value. A half note is twice as fast as a whole note, a quarter note is twice as fast as a half note, and eighth note is twice as fast as a quarter note and so on. For example a tone of a Whole note value will be twice as long in duration as a tone of A Half note value. Likewise it will take 4 quarter notes sounded in succession to equal the length of duration of 1 Whole note.
The following table shows the relationship of durations of the different note values. Each line represents the same amount of time in duration, in other words the long series of sixtheen notes (16 of them) can be played in succession and will last as long as the sustained duration of one whole note. (note: Even though the whole note at top is lined up in the middle of the horizontal axis (with regard to the sixteenth notes), that whole note would sound at the same time as the first of the 16 sixteenth notes. The reason for lining up the note values as shown below is to demonstrate that each note value is subdivided into two of the next faster note values on the next line.)
Faster note value of 32nd notes (three flags) and 64th notes (four flags) are also available when needed.
While the note values are related to one another, the note values do not tell a performer how long (in seconds) any specific note will last. For example, if in a composition a half note lasts one second, then a quarter note will last for 1/2 second. If, however, in a different and slower composition a half note last for two seconds, then a quarter note will last for 1 second.
When music is notated, the composer or arranger has to decide which of the note values he or she wants to designate as the pulse or beat. The 3 most commonly used values are the half note, the quarter note, and the eighth note. Once the composer choses which note value will equal the beat then all of the rhythms can be written in relationship to that beat. If a composer designates a quarter note as the beat and wants to notate a tone that lasts for 4 beats, then a whole note should be written into the score. If the composer instead designated that an eighth note equals the beat then the same musical idea (a tone with a duration of 4 beats) would be written as a half note.
Once a composer designates the note value that equals the beat then the next faster note value will subdivide the beat into 2 part. For example if the Quarter note equals the beat then the eighth note is twice as fast, creating a two-part subdivision. The two-part subdivision of the beat is common in music and referred to as simple meter. Don't let the name fool you, there is a large volume of very complicated music written in simple meter. Most of the syncopated rhythms (syncopated rhythms are rhythms that fit in-between the basic pulse) in the music of the "soul" and "funk" styles (i.e., Earth, Wind, and Fire, or Tower of Power) are in a simple meter. Simple meter refers to the two-part subdivision of the beat.
Although the notation system offers flexibility as to assigning which note equals the beat, there are many traditions in music notation. The most common designation for the beat is the quarter note. Many Classical and Latin compositions that are in fast tempi use the half note as the beat (known as "Alla Breve" or "cut time"). One possible explanation for this notation is that it takes less ink to write a rhythm with a half note beat than to write that rhythm with a quarter note beat, since there are less beams and/or flags to draw. Sometimes the eighth note equals the beat or sometimes 3 eighth notes are grouped together to equal the beat.
A dot may be placed after a note to increase its duration by 50%. For instance a regular Quarter note will have the same duration as 2 eighth notes, however a Dotted Quarter note will have the duration of 3 eighth notes (2 + 1 (50% of 2) = 3). The dotted note value can be used in many ways and it is especially useful in a rhythmic style known as compound meter. In compound meter a dotted note equals the beat and the rhythmic style is one in which each beat has a three-part subdivision.
Many styles of music are based on a three part subdivision of the beat. Some of the commonly known styles include Irish Jigs, Shuffle Blues, and 50's Pop Ballads. When notating music in these styles it is helpful to use the dotted note as the beat . Doing so can save both time and ink.
A second dot can be added to a note, that second dot will add 25% of the original (undotted) value to the note. With 2 dots a note will increase its duration by 75%.
Each note has an equivalent rest. A note is a symbol to play a tone on an instrument, while a rest is a symbol instructing the player to be silent for a specific rhythmic duration.
The following table shows the note values and their equivalent rests.
The dot (and double dots) can also be used with rests. The dot has the same effect with rests as with notes; it lengthens the duration of the silence.
Another way to extend the duration of a note is to connect it to another note with a tie. A tie is a curved line connecting two noteheads together. The tie creates a single note. The duration of the tied group is the sum of the durations of the two notes. As will be shown later, the tie line is especially useful for notes whose duration carries them "across the barline".
In the following example the eighth notes are beamed together in groups of two. When there are two or more eighth notes (or faster values) in a row, the beamed notation is frequently used instead of individual flags. The purpose of the beaming is to show the location of the faster note values in relationship to the beat. The principles of beaming notes together will be discussed later.
Sometimes the tie line is used to clarify a rhythm with respect to the beat: a rhythm that could be written differently. The top example shows the way the rhythm is syncopated against the beat. Although the lower example seems to be a simpler way of notating the same rhythm, it is not as obvious that the middle three quarter notes are syncopated.
As mentioned, the note values do not instruct the performer as to the rate of the pulse, but simply the relationship of the durations to one another. The speed or rate of the pulse is indicated in one of two ways. The first type of tempo marking is a term from the list below. These terms are used to instruct the performer as to the speed of the pulse, however they do not give an exact tempo and are open to interpretation. One performer's "Allegro" might be another's "Vivace".
|Tempo term||Speed of the pulse|
|Adagio||Slow, at ease|
The following terms are used to indicate a change in tempo within a composition.
accelerando - gradually increase tempo (as "Hava Nagilah" is often performed)
ritardando - gradually decrease tempo (as is typical at endings)
The abbreviations of Accel (or Acc.) and Ritard (or Rit.) respectively are commonly used in scores.
Additional terms are also used to help define the tempo.
assai - "much" or "quite" i.e. Allegro assai - quite fast
con brio - "with vigor" or "spirit" i.e. Allegro con brio - fast with vigor
con moto - "with motion" i.e. Moderato con moto - moderate with motion
non troppo - "not too much" i.e. Allegro non troppo - not too fast
poco - "a little" i.e. poco ritardando - slow down a little
A second, more precise method for indicating the tempo is a "metronome marking" (m.m.). A metronome is a small device that simply "ticks" an audible sound at a steady tempo whose rate is adjustable. It is used frequently for practicing scales and other musical exercises. Metronomes are also valuable to set the precise tempo of a composition. A metronome marking is used to set a note value to a specific duration measured in pulses per minute. For example the following metronome marking indicates that a quarternote should be performed at a rate of 120 per minute. This setting of 120 can be selected on the metronome and the performer can listen to a few clicks to establish the tempo. This tempo can often be committed to memory with a surprising degree of accuracy.
In a different time signature the composer may want to define the speed of a half note or an eighth note.
Modern day MIDI sequencers and drum machines are designed to work with standard metronome settings. One of the features common to MIDI sequencers is the ability to change tempo every measure if desired. Of course, most music uses a relativiely steady tempo therefore the metronome marking is very useful for establishing and maintaining the correct tempo for a composition.
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Music reading is a skill that can be developed with regular practice by anyone. One valuable skill to gain is the instant recognition of short rhythmic phrases. The memorization of the following rhythmic units will help in improving one's music reading skills.
The first set of rhythms assumes that the quarter note receives one beat. Within that set the first group contains rhythms that last for one beat. The second group contains rhythms that last for two beats, the third group contains three beat rhythms, and the fourth group contains four beat rhythms. These are not all of the mathematical possibilities however they represent many of the rhythms used in music of many styles.
|one count rhythms|
|two count rhythms|
|three count rhythms|
|four count rhythms|
The second set of rhythms assumes that the dotted quarter note receives one beat. The beat can be subdivided into three smaller parts each an eighth note in duration. There are four groups in this set also, the first group contains rhythms that last for one beat. The second group contains rhythms that last for two beats, the third group contains three beat rhythms, and the fourth group contains four beat rhythms. Once again, these are not all of the mathematical possibilities however they represent many of the rhythms used in compound meters.
|one count rhythms|
|two count rhythms|
|three count rhythms|
|four count rhythms|
Divide the class into two groups.
group 1 - clap a steady pulse (andante)
group 2 - perform from the rhythm pattern pages
play each rhythm 4 times then rest for 4 times
periodically switch the roles of group 1 and group 2.
Periodically change tempo.
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