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Making Notes (Part 2)

Reading note values for correct timing and fingering

Here is Part 2 of a new workshop series by Brenda Hayward, authoress of several music books including the very popular 'Organ Master' tutors, for the aspiring musician. Its direct approach is aimed at all our readers who have not had the chance to get to grips with music notation.

In last month's article, I established that notes of music are written upon the Treble and Bass Staves to represent a specific sound or 'pitch'.

The notes also represent 'musical time', which is measured in BEATS rather than in seconds and minutes. The form of the notes determine their BEAT VALUE and will indicate the length of 'time' a note will be held when played. RESTS in their various forms represent 'silence' in music and each rest will have a time or beat value (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Each note, apart from the semibreve, has a 'stem' connected to it. The quaver also has a single 'flag' attached to the stem and the semiquaver has two 'flags' attached to its stem.

When a 'DOT' is placed beside a note its BEAT VALUE is increased by half as much again (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.

The dotted quaver, ¾ beat, is usually followed by the semiquaver, ¼ beat, to make a total value of 1 beat of music.

For convenience of writing two quavers, the flag of the first quaver can be joined to the second quaver to form a single line. The flags of the semiquavers can be joined between notes to form a double line (see Figure 3).

Figure 3.

I am often asked, 'How long does a beat of music last?' or 'How long do I hold a minim, crotchet or quaver?' and many more questions on 'musical time'. My answer is that by learning how to count EVENLY, in your own time, and lightly tapping on a note of the keyboard, or anything else within reach, a pattern of musical time will emerge.

Count EVENLY from one to four, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. Repeat the counting several times over and as you count tap once for each number:

Each number will represent the time value of ONE CROTCHET BEAT.

The SEMIBREVE is held and counted for 4 CROTCHET BEATS.

The MINIM is held and counted for 2 CROTCHET BEATS.

The CROTCHET is held and counted for 1 BEAT.

The QUAVER is held and counted for half a CROTCHET BEAT, by saying 'and' between each number.

When counting for the quavers the 'tap' will occur on the 1234 only, not on the 'and' (see Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Count evenly, in your own time.

When a 'TIE' joins two notes together, the first note is held, or will sound, for the total beat value of both notes, even when the notes have a different beat value.

The first crotchet is held for a total of two crotchet beats.

The dotted minim, value 3 beats, is tied to a minim, value 2 beats, and is held for a total of five crotchet beats.

DEMISEMIQUAVER. There are 32 DEMI-SEMIQUAVERS in a whole note (semibreve). Space does not permit showing 32 of them on the above illustration.

Each stave is divided into BARS or MEASURES by 'Bar Lines'. In the final bar of the music two lines are drawn, these are known as a ;double bar lines' (see Figure 6).

Figure 6.

The METRONOME or 'musical clock' is the standard method of learning precise 'musical time' and although it is now included as a feature on the rhythm unit of some electronic organs it is not normally used by the home musician. (There is a metronome project in May 1981 E&MM and this month's special offer features the Tempo-Check.) Most musical arrangements include the 'timing sign', such as [crochet] = 80, above the treble stave at the start of the music, which means that 80 crotchet beats should be played to the minute. Only the use of the metronome can ensure that the music is played exactly to the time indicated by the sign. A group performer, a pupil taking grades of music, a member of an orchestra, a musician playing for dancing, name but a few who must strictly observe exact timing. While it is desirable for the home musician to fully understand and try to achieve correct timing, it is not so important when playing for pleasure. After all, simply creating music can be very satisfying.

What is a TIME SIGNATURE? Why is it there and what does it tell you? The Time Signature consists of two numbers, written on the stave, one above the other to represent the timing, 'beats in a bar' of the music.

The UPPER number is simply the total number of BEATS in each bar of the music. If the upper number is '3', then there are three beats in each bar. If the upper number is '4', then there are four beats in each bar.

The LOWER number determines which TYPE of note receives 1 beat of the music. To interpret the lower number, each type of note is made a division, or part of the semibreve 'whole note', the largest note value in modern music.

When the semibreve is divided, each MINIM is a half note (½), each CROTCHET is a quarter note (¼) and each QUAVER is an eighth note (⅛) (see Figure 5).

Figure 5.

The two most common TIME SIGNATURES are 3/4 and 4/4.

In the 3/4 time signature, the upper number is 3 beats in each bar and the lower number 4 represents the crotchet (¼) Note (see Figure 7).

Figure 7.

Each bar can contain notes and rests of different beat values, but the TOTAL beat value of each bar will be equivalent to the time signature.

In the 4/4 time signature, the upper number is 4 beats in each bar and the lower number 4 represents the crotchet (¼) Note (see Figure 8).

Figure 8.

The time signature can also be written as 'C'. It is known as 'Common Time and indicates 4 crotchet beats in a bar.

The 'cut common' time signature, could also be written as 2/2 though this form is not normally used in popular music. The upper figure '2' represents TWO BEATS in each bar and the lower figure '2' represents the minim '½ note'.

Two MINIM BEATS in each bar.

'Cut common time' usually occurs in music with a faster tempo, when it is easier to count two minim beats rather than four crotchet beats in a bar (see Figure 9).

Figure 9.

A 'TRIPLET' is a musical term for three notes grouped together with a figure '3' written above or underneath them.

When 3 quavers are grouped together in this way they are played to the TIME value of TWO quavers, and are named a 'quaver' or 'eighth triplet'. (A quaver is a ⅛th note of a semibreve.)

When 3 crotchets are grouped together in this way they are played to the TIME value of TWO crotchets, and are named a 'quarter note triplet' (a crotchet is a ¼ note of the semibreve).


A common problem when playing a keyboard instrument is incorrect fingering. The fingers of each hand are numbered one to five. The thumb is No. 1 and the little finger is No. 5. It doesn't leave much to the imagination for the other three fingers to be numbered 2, 3 and 4.

When reading the manuscript the notes ascending the treble stave are played with the right hand moving to the right of the keyboard. In 'fingering' the sequence of white notes in the following examples, the thumb will be tucked under the hand — never over the hand (see Figure 10).

Figure 10.

Example 2 illustrates how to continue playing the sequence of notes in an upward movement, without running out of fingers. In a downward movement, the finger numbers remain the same, but the 4th, 3rd and 2nd fingers will now reach over the top of the thumb to play the next notes in the sequence.

The fingering for playing each note, black and white, known as a 'Chromatic' movement, is an excellent exercise for keeping the fingers supple. In an upward sequence tuck the thumb under the hand (see Figure 11).

Figure 11.

Starting on the upper note of 'G', play a downward sequence of the notes in the illustration, using the same fingering, but with the 3rd and 2nd fingers reaching over the top of the thumb to play the next note in the sequence.

Spend a little time and perseverance playing the preceding examples to learn correct fingering, which will eventually become automatic.

Series - "Making Notes"

Read the next part in this series:

All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing) | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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Electro-Music Engineer

Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Jan 1982


Music Theory


Making Notes

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing) | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Feature by Brenda Hayward

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