Notes, Rests, and Timing
It would do you no good to know what notes to play if you had no idea as to when to play them, or how long to hold them for. Therefore, knowing the relative Values of Notes and Rests is very essential to music.
Later in this lesson you will learn how a selection of music is divided into measures, which in turn are divided into beats. For now be content to think of a song as a series of fractions (1/8song + 1/8song + 1/4song + 1/2song = 1 song).
Relative Values of Notes and Rests
You learned in the previous lesson that the position of a circlular note on a staff determines its pitch. This lesson now shows you that the shape of this note, no matter which line or space it may appear on, determines how many beats it should be held for. The length of a beat varies from song to song, and we will explain how to determine this later in this lesson.
Although you are probably aware that one of the tables above contains notes, you may not be familiar with the symbols of the other table. These are the rests mention in the introduction above. While the note values tell you how long to hold a musical tone, rests tell you how long the wait is between these tones. In other words, notes tell you when to play while rests tell you when not to.
You may have observed that when music is written, there are many vertical lines that divide up the rows of staffs into small sections (please see figure 2-3). These lines are called Bar Lines, and the sections of staff between them are referred to as Measures or Bars. With very few exceptions, each measure of the same song should contain the same number of beats. So, therefore a song is divided up into measures which, in turn is divided into beats. These beats may then be divided up into sub-beats themselves. Now you understand why it is possible to think of music as a compilation of many simple fractions.
So, you may be asking, how do I know how many beats are in a measure? I'm glad you asked! In figure 2-3 you can see that there are two numbers directly following the treble clef. These numbers are referred to as Time Signatures. Time signatures are, in themselves, a fraction. Now don't freak out! We all know how much math students hate dealing with fractions, but don't let that scare you away from learning music. These fractions are so easy to understand that after awhile their meaning will come to you completely automatically.
For starters, let's take the example in the diagram. This time signature is 4/4. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure. The bottom number then tells you which note gets one full beat. A 4 indicates that a quarter note gets one beat, an 8 indicates that an eighth note would, and so on. Therefore, the example in figure 2-3 would have four beats per measure with a quarter note recieving one beat. This implies that each measure could also hold one whole note, 8 eighth notes, 16 sixteenth notes, and so on.
Here is another example: the time signature reads 3/4. So, how many beats are there in each measure, and what kind of note would get one beat? Think about it before you read the answer!
Ready? In 3/4 time, there are three beats per measure with a quarter note receiving one beat.
Figure 2-4 shows some common time signatures. If you know the formula well, you should be able to go through and decide how many beats per measure each one has and how many whole, quarter, and eighth notes each can hold per measure.
Many times you will see a dot following a note, especially a half or quarter note. This is not just a printing error; in fact, it is a device that alters the value of that note. Any time you see a dotted note it means to add half the value of that note to itself. For example, because a half note is worth two beats, a dotted half note is worth three (2/2=1, 1+2=3). And following the same logic, a dotted quarter note is worth one-and-one-half beats (1/2=.5, .5+1=1.5).
Ties and Slurs
Quickly, look at figure 2-5. It seems to show two identical arches dividing four notes into two pairs. Logically, one would think that these two arches must not only be identical in appearance but also in name and function. However, that is not the case.
Look at the diagram again. This time notice that the second arch connects two identical notes while the first one connects two notes of different pitch. Sneaky, huh? The first arch is referred to as a Slur. A slur simply tells you to make the transition between these two notes as smooth as possible, and has nothing to do with timing at all.The second arch is called a Tie. Its funtion is to tell you to hold the first note for the value of both the notes that it connects. It is often used for times when a composer wishes you to sustain a note through one measure and into the next one.