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Music Theory Basics


       We are going to use ordinary Western musical notation in a simple form to writing jew's harp music. Amateur musicians often exaggerate the difficulties of musical notation learning. They imagine it to be such difficult as a foreign language learning, for instance. In fact it is much easier, its basis can be learnt during one evening, although mastering of the material takes some extra time.
       The pitch level is fixed by notes. Note is a graphical sign which denotes the pitch and duration of sounds. Five horizontal lines, on and between which musical notes and rests are written, are staff. Note names comprised of seven letters of alphabet.

"Do"-С,   "Re"-D,   "Mi"-E,   "Fa"-F,   "Sol"- G,   "La" -A,   "Ti" -B     - USA
"Do"-С,   "Re"-D,   "Mi"-E,   "Fa"-F,   "Sol"- G,   "La" -A,   "Ti" - H     - Europe

       It is shown at the picture how the above-mentioned notes correspond to white keys of the piano. If to play all of them in order, the next octave begins after B, and then again come C, D, E, etc. Sounds of the next octave have similar tone, but they sound twice higher analogous sounds of the previous octave.
       Short lines written above and below the staff are ledger lines. C of the first octave is notated at on the first ledger line below the staff, the second D is signed under the first line, E is on the first line and further this way like on the picture.

       The entire octave is divided into 12 semitones. A semitone is a sound interval between two neighboring keys, including black piano keys. Each black note may have two names depending on whether the scale is played upwards (ascending) or downwards (descending) in pitch. For example, the black note between C and D may be called C sharp (ascending) or D flat (descending).

Time Signature and Bar Lines
       The time signature is the way to organize beats in music. The regular pulse that is heard in most music is the beat. Stronger beats are known as accented ones, while weaker ones are unaccented. In the music, these stronger beats occur at regular intervals. For example, every other beat, every third beat, every fourth beat, or more. For example march 2/4 time signature (it is comfortable to march at it) has just two beats per measure. A 3/4 time signature would only have three beats per measure. 3/4 is also called waltz time.
       The time signature consists of two numbers, one above the other. The upper number of the time signature tells us how many beats there are in each bar, while the lower number tells us what kind of a note is to receive one beat.
       For instance, 3/4 means that you should count by three at each measure, i.e. "one-two-three, one-two-three", etc. The sum of bits (duration) in each measure is always equal.


       Names and durations of notes can be understood from the picture. A whole note is marked by an opened circle, a half one - by an open circle with stem. A quarter is denoted by a filled circle with stem, an eight by a filled circle with stem one flag, a sixteen by two flags. Less time values are signed by the same principle:
       A whole note is the longest at it duration. A half one is twice shorter. A quarter sounds twice shorter then a half, an eight is twice shorter then a quarter, a sixteenth is twice shorter then an eight, etc. for better understanding we will count them as "one and two and three and four" slowly:

        Pauses can be whole, half, quarter, etc., like notes. It is shown at the picture how to write them, duration is counted the same way like in the case with notes.
        It is necessary to learn to read the rhythm from the paper, or in other words to keep the right duration of notes and pauses under strikes of a metronome which are to sound instead of figures 123 and 4. Clap out a rhythmic pattern. A metronome can be used on a computer, I personally recommend a free "Give Me Tac" program, however it is more comfortable to use electronic metronome for musicians.


        The simplest rhythmical examples are shown at the first line. There are prompts above the notes - they are small black triangles, denoting metronome strikes. (Real scores do not have these signs). Pay your attention to the fact that 4/4 size means that every measure has four parts, their time value is a quarter. Metronome strikes beat quarters, i.e. every measure will take four metronome strikes. A red figure "four" at the picture means time period between the first metronome strikes in two neighboring measures. This timing is four beats; the beginning of each beat is marked by a metronome. So black triangles show the beginning of each beat, and the length (timing) of a segment is equal to the distance between the triangles. Also it is shown that a quarter occupies one beat of a measure, and a half takes two. Try to beat notes by your finger.
        A more difficult rhythm is at the second line. Here eights are widely used, which sound twice more often, then metronome beats.
        In the third (lowest) line you can see one new denoting - it is a dot near a note. It means that time value of such a note becomes longer by half (1 and ? beats). For example if a dot is near a quarter, its time value is equal to a beat and a half. Other notes with a dot change time value in the same way. Also it is shown on the picture graphically how many segments each note in the first bar take, and when it should start to sound towards metronome.
        The skill that you got should be nailed, after work with rhythmic reading of other notes which could be taken here.

       This article contains only the basis of musical notation, if you will need more detailed textbooks or drill books, you'd better address to special literature or a teacher.

© Vladimir Markov 2009, 2010
this article translated by Natalia Ivanitsa