So far we’ve discussed various elements of music including volume, timbre, and pitch and how they all affect the affect, or experience, of a musical piece. Last week during our discussion on pitch we introduced musical notation and sheet music. This week we’ll continue to topic and look into duration, rhythm, and tempo with the help of our friend sheet music.
Last week we saw this example. Highlighted are all things related to pitch, the treble and bass clefs that tell us the range of where our notes are, the key signature that hints at the music’s overall sound, the notes and leger lines where the actual notes are written, and the staff lines on which all these elements reside.
This week I’ll be using the same example of sheet music with all things related to duration, rhythm, and tempo highlighted.
Here we have the notes highlighted in yellow again, but the focus this week will be on the notes themselves and not where they lay. In light blue the time signature is highlighted, tempo is colored in salmon, and a rest is highlighted in pink.
Duration and Writing the Notes
Duration is the length of a sound or note. This is not to be confused with the duration of a piece, but it is for each individual not. In this example we see a dominant use of eighth notes on both the treble and bass clefs, however these are not the only kinds of notes you will see in sheet music.
Notes can be comprised of three parts, a head, a stem, and a flag. The head may solid, or empty and will rest on either a line or an open space. Stems are lines drawn from the head. They can either go up or down, however if the stem goes up the line will be on the right side of the head. If the stem goes down it will be drawn to the left of the head. The stem’s position has no impact on how the music is played, but is drawn as it is to keep the sheet music clean and readable. The flag is a mark that curves way from the stem. The presence of a flag on a note is an indication of the note’s duration, which we will discuss in just a moment.
In regards to duration, every note has a value. That is, the way a note is drawn is an indicator of how long that note is meant to last. A quarter note is shown as a solid head with a stem and is equal to one beat. A half note is an open head with a stem and is equal to two beats. A whole note is an open head with no stem and is equal to four beats. Sometimes notes will be followed by a small dot. The dot signifies a half beat. A small curved line might also appear joining two notes. These ties are a way of extending the duration of a note.
Now back to those flags. Flags will be seen on notes whose duration is less than one beat. An eighth note is a half beat and is shown as a solid head with a stem and a single flag. A sixteenth note is one quarter of a beat and is shown as a solid head with a stem and two flags. Eighth and sixteenth notes may also be joined together by bars instead of flags, but eighth notes will still only have one bar and sixteenth notes will have two bars.
Now that we talked about notes, let’s talk about rests. Rests have an important role in music composition because sometimes no sound can be just as powerful as sound itself. Rest values are the same as note values, however the symbols are different. The symbols and the note values they correspond with can be seen in the image below.
Time Signature and Tempo
The funny thing about tempo is that it can often be a subjective experience. What may feel fast paced to some could feel completely normal to others. This can be attributed to something as simple as a listener’s preference or simply where they find a beat. With this in mind, composers have found a way to note the exact tempo so a piece can be played the same way at the same speed every time.
The time signature is seen as a fraction between the key signature and the notes, is where sheet music tells us meter of the piece. The top number represents how many beats are in a measure, while the bottom number shows the value for a single beat. A common time signature, especially for beginner musicians is 4/4, which means four beats per measure and one beat per quarter note. A 3/4 time signature has three beats per measure with one quarter note per beat. In the above example we see a 9/8 time signature meaning there are 9 beats in each measure with one beat equally one eighth note.
Tempo determines how fast or slow a piece is. The tempo is shown as a number and is read as beats per minute. A higher tempo will be a faster piece, and a lower tempo will be slower. Just before the tempo you may also see some wording that will also provide information on the tempo. The word before the numerical value is often definitive of an average beats per minute or range. Common tempo terms include Largo (Broodly 50 BPM), Adagio (At Ease 70 BPM), Moderato (Moderately 110 BPM), Allegro (Fast, Quick, Bright 120-160 BPM), and Presto (Very Fast 170 + BPM).
You’ve learned a lot about musical elements and notation over the past few weeks. Has this changed the way you hear music? When you listen to your favorite songs now, do you notice anything new or have found a deeper appreciation of it? I’d love know what you think so leave a message in the comments below!
ReferencesMusic Notes. How to Read Sheet Music: Step-by-Step Instructions. n.d. https://www.musicnotes.com/now/tips/how-to-read-sheet-music/#:~:text=Tempo%20tells%20you%20how%20fast,a%20single%20note%20every%20second.
Never miss a thing and join our mailing list today.
Stay Connected. Follow us on Social Media.