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Music (Part 1)

Introducing "The Dots"

Article from Sound International, May 1978

From the top is our man at the dots, Dave Stewart.

Dave Stewart, keyboardist extraordinaire with National Health, here sets forth in tasteful black-and-white the first of an exploratory explanation of reading and writing music.

Rock musicians as a whole seem not only disinterested in being able to read and write music, but even a bit scared of the idea. I can understand why, really. Rock music's supposed to be fun and spontaneous and all that, and you can make a really exciting noise with your guitar without having to bother with all that stuff. I mean, it's all down to feel, isn't it? All that reading music is what they used to try to get you to do in boring old school music lessons, anyway if you've got a really tight rhythm section and the band's really cooking, well, like, WHOOO! man etc. etc. twang blare (fade).

Yes, yes, I know all about that and I agree with it to a certain extent. I think music should be fun, and I think it is down to feel a lot of the time. But my theory is this:

1 The best rock music is made by bands as opposed to solo musicians. The interplay that happens in really good groups is what makes them exciting to listen to.

2 Bands do need an internal system of communication to get ideas across to each other, so this interplay can begin to happen. If the guitarist writes a song, he has to be able to explain the chords and melody to the rest of the band.

Sorry if this seems painfully obvious so far, but the crux of it is:

3 The best system of internal communication for a group trying to play anything but the most basic ideas is the standard music notational system.

When you start off playing in a band, it's usually E and A and D. You don't need to write that down. E for a bit, then up to A. Then kind of end on E again. But after a while you start getting your F minors and your Bflat7s. That's when the trouble starts. Was it F6 for 7 bars, or E7 for 6 bars? At this point people usually jot down chord symbols on a piece of paper for reference, but this system doesn't work for writing down a melody. If you happen to know the notes in the tune, you can always write G A B D or whatever, but this tells you nothing about the rhythm of the melody or whether it starts very high or very low, etc.

There's an argument that says that after a few plays or listens you can remember songs and arrangements so you don't really need to write them down. Perhaps that's so, but it's surprising what you can forget in a week, let alone a year. Rather than spending £100 on a tape recorder to immortalise your band's latest compositions, why not buy a pencil and a few sheets of manuscript paper and learn to write them down? Over the next few months I'll explain how music notation works, so you'll be able to read and write simple melodies. I'll try to make it useful for drummers by dealing with rhythm in some detail, and with the help of my mate Phil Miller (guitarist of National Health) I'll show how reading applies to guitarists, bass guitarists, and keyboard players.

If you still think all this is irrelevant to rock 'n' roll, fair enough, but I will say this: Being able to read and write music is no big deal. If you can do it, it certainly doesn't make you a better musician than someone who can't, and to my mind there's no sort of phoney status attached to it. It's just that if you're really interested in how and why music works, and want to be able to communicate quickly to other musicians, notation can only help you. It definitely won't make you any worse at what you do, it won't change your feel (honest!) and ultimately, if you get it together, you'll find it a very useful asset.

This is a stave. This is used for writing notes on, and the higher up a note sits on the stave, the higher its pitch.

For example,

is higher than

If the stave has this symbol:

at the beginning, it is used for the 'treble' register, i.e. fairly high notes.

is called a 'treble clef'. Here are the names of the notes on the treble stave:

on the lines, and:

on the spaces.

when combined.

It is possible to go higher or lower, for example:


and if we want to write down further extremes, we use 'leger' lines.


Leger lines are like temporary extra lines stuck on to the stave to expand its range. So all together, we've got:

Notice that the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G are used. When we get up to G, we start again at A. (No H's, please.) The distance between the first and the second A is called an octave.

The range of notes available on the treble stave is sufficient to cover the range of guitars, flutes, voices, clarinets etc., but for lower instruments like the bass guitar we have to use the bass clef, which looks like this:

This is written at the beginning of the stave in the same way as the treble clef. Unfortunately the notes on it are all different.

on the lines, and:

on the spaces.

when combined.

The bass clef can have leger lines too:


When you get as high up as the C marked* on the bass stave, you overlap with the treble clef.

The note:

can also be written:

and is called 'Middle C'. Middle C is a nice kind of medium note, neither too high nor too low. Numerologists and other students of the cosmic will be fascinated to learn that it vibrates at approximately 256 beats a second.

So by combining the two staves we have Fig. 1.

FIG. 1

Please learn all these notes off by heart, as between this and next month's issue I shall personally visit all of your homes and set you a short but terrifying examination on note recognition.

Next month Phil and I will explain where these notes are on your instruments, so you can get on to the interesting bit of actually equating the written note with its sound. Meanwhile do try to memorize the names of the notes on both staves in all the different positions!

Best of luck.

Series - "Music"

Read the next part in this series:

Music (Part 2)
(SI Jun 78)

All parts in this series:

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

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Care & Feeding of the Synthesizer

Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - May 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


Music Theory



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

Feature by Dave Stewart

Previous article in this issue:

> The Tascam Way

Next article in this issue:

> Care & Feeding of the Synthe...

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