I looked at my violin standing in its case in the corner, covered with dust. It looked a little sad and I was struck by a twinge of guilt and mostly a feeling of profound loss, like I had lost an old friend.
There was a time when we were inseparable, my violin and me. I used to rush home from school to pick it up and play it. I had several pieces of beautiful music I was working on and it was a joy.
I used to spend several days a week going to friends' houses after school just to play duets. I Had even scraped and saved to buy myself a tape recorder so I could play duets with myself.
I was really into playing the violin. And I was getting pretty good. And then something happened. My teacher, a wonderful lady, set a piece of music in front of me and said "I want you to learn this."
I looked at it and tried to play it but I just couldn't. I just couldn't figure out how to make it sound okay. I put off practicing. I no longer played duets with my friends.
My violin which was normally left out on my bed and picked up every time I came in, stayed in its case, first near the bed... then near the dresser... and finally in the corner half hidden by the window curtain.
It was not until much later that I realized what had occurred in that piece of music, that had put me off playing my beloved violin for so many years.
I would not be at all surprised if the same thing has happened to you.
What happened? The answer was simple. It was misunderstanding.
New technology in the subject of Study has demonstrated that misunderstood words and symbols in a subject can make a person give up the study of that subject entirely. (Click here for more information about study technology http://www.appliedscholastics.org/)
My name is Chris Ellis. I am a musician, instructor and author. I have taught Music for over 10 years and have had several of my students land positions in orchestras, ace auditions in musical theater productions and go on to start groups that are performing successfully.
I have seen this phenomenon over and over first hand. Fortunately, knowing this study technology, I can recognize when a student hits something misunderstood and can help him remedy this.
I recently wrote a book for my students and anyone who has given up or is getting started in the study of Music. The book is called"Music Symbols Made Simple, A Parent's Guide to Ensuring that Your Child Succeeds in Music."
My purpose in writing the book was twofold, first to bring the parents of a musical child up to the point of understanding so that they can assist their child to understand the concepts, and secondly to rehabilitate the parent's own musical talent and give them back the joy of Music.
Today I am going to demonstrate this principle of Study Technology by clearing up some of the most basic symbols in Music and explaining how they relate to each other. I am sure that if you have given up a study of Music, you will start thinking about picking it up once again.
What is MUSIC?
First off, written Music is a system of communication of sounds, just like the alphabet. The alphabetic letters tell you what sounds to make with your mouth. You put them together to form words and from there you make sentences, paragraphs, pages and finally books.
There is a complex system of punctuation so that you read the words correctly and there is an organized way of putting all of these things together to communicate ideas.
We can communicate ideas across time. We can read and understand communication written centuries ago as if it were communicated to us today. And we can communicate ideas across space. You can get a tweet from someone in China and understand it as long as it is in a language you understand.
Written Music is just as sophisticated as written words. It is just written in a different code and is specifically designed to communicate ideas through Music and not just through words.
What follows are definitions of some terms that you need to understand before we go any further:
Rhythm is a pattern of beats through time. When we say "beat" we mean a pulse that you may or may not hear but can feel.
If you look at a flashing light, after you see it flash for awhile, you can then predict when it will flash again. This is the "beat". You can actually beat time to a light that is flashing at consistent intervals. It also works with your car turn signal. Try it! Turn off the signal after it has gone for a short time, and keep the beat going. Easy!
When you see a conductor in front of an orchestra, he is using a baton or stick to show the musicians the beat so they play together.
Melody is the part of the song you sing or that you recognize as the song itself. It consists of sounds put together to make a pleasing and identifiable song. Sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" without singing the words. You have just sung the melody.
Harmony are the notes that accompany the melody to give it a certain mood or color or simply to make it sound pretty.
Timbre (pronounced TAMBER) is the sound quality. Each instrument has its own timbre. It can sound sweet like a flute or deep and resonant like a cello. A clarinet has a woody timbre. Voices all sound different because they have different timbres.
Therefore, MUSIC is defined as follows- The art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in forms using the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre.(www.dictionary.com)
Music is put together in a certain system and we are going to look at each symbol starting from the bottom and working up.
We start with pure white and build the symbols up from there.
The staff is the name given to the 5 lines and 4 spaces on which other symbols are placed. The purpose of the staff is to have somewhere to put the symbols and to give them a relationship to each other. The staff is read from right to left just like we read books.
CLEF means "KEY" In French, and the clef is like a map key, in that it gives you information to solve a puzzle. The puzzle in this case is "What do these lines and spaces of the staff mean?" Without the clef, they mean nothing. When you put the clef on the staff, it magically gives the lines and spaces alphabetic letter names.
In the picture above, you have a TREBLE CLEF. TREBLE means of the higher sounds (like birds and lady singers.) It also represents the piano keys on the right half of the piano.
Go to a piano and play the keys on the right. These are treble sounds. Now play the ones on the left, they are lower. The clef that covers the lower half of the piano is the BASS CLEF.
Each one of these clefs give the staff different alphabetical letter names and EACH LINE OR SPACE ON EITHER OF THESE TWO STAFFS (OR STAVES as they are sometimes called) HAVE A PIANO KEY THAT EXACTLY MATCHES IT.
You can see that we have added a couple of 4's to the staff. This is TIMESIGNATURE. The word SIGNATURE stems from Latin Signare which means "To mark with a sign".
The simplest way I can explain signature is that when we talk about it in Music, we are talking about the signs at the front of the piece that give us information about how to play it.
TIME SIGNATURE tells us how to count the piece. Each piece must be counted so that it makes sense.
The 4 on top tells you there are 4 beats in a MEASURE (The staff is broken into equal measures for easy reading and comprehension.)
(The staff above, is divided by BAR LINES into equal MEASURES. The measure is the portion of staff between the bar lines.)
The 4 on the bottom tells you that a certain type of a NOTE will get a beat.
NOTES are the bubble looking things you see placed on the staff. Notes take the letter name of the staff line or space on which, or in which they are sitting. Notes are given fraction names. The photo above is a QUARTER NOTE, so named because it takes up 1/4 of a measure (there are exceptions but don't worry about them right now).
A HALF NOTE looks just like a quarter note but it is not colored in. It is held for the length of 2 quarter notes and takes up half a measure. Thus it is twice as long as a quarter note.
A whole note is just a circle without a stem and it is not colored in. (It looks kind of like a doughnut.) A whole note, takes up a whole measure and is 4 times longer than a quarter note.
You can think of them as:
Whole note-really long
Therefore, you know by what type of note it is (quarter, half, whole or other) how long you hold that note or keep the piano key pressed down.
The Musical Alphabet is super simple! It starts at A and goes to G and then starts over again at A.
The Piano has been set up to mirror the Musical Alphabet. As you can see, there are repeating patterns of black piano keys set in the white keys.
In the photo below, my finger is pointing to a C on the piano. If you start on that key and count up, you will count D,E,F,G,A,B, and hit another C. You can also count down C,B,A,G,F,E,D,C. Notice that all C's are in the same position relative to the black keys next to them. They are the white keys just before a set of two black keys. That is how you know they are C. This pattern of the Musical Alphabet, repeats up and down the keyboard.
Where the notes sit on the staff tells you exactly what piano key to press, and what type of note it is tells you how long to hold it down.
What I have given you here is a lot, but it is only a small portion of the symbols that make up the system of communication of Music.
But even with this very basic knowledge, you can already see that the entire system makes sense and I am hoping you are seeing that reading Music is something that you now KNOW YOU CAN LEARN!
When you were a kid you spent years learning your alphabet, learning to read, learning grammar and punctuation, and learning to write in a way that makes sense. It took a lot of work but you did it. Now it is easy.
Written Music is the same type of thing. It takes effort to understand it and a little bit of drill. Happily it is WAY more fun than learning to read!
Take this article to your piano or keyboard and test out what I am telling you. I would be very surprised if you don't feel a sense of relief and you start getting that idea "I can do this!"
If you want to rehabilitate yourself as a musician, download my book "Music Symbols Made Simple" from Amazon - CLICK HERE.
Write me if you have questions or difficulty. I love hearing from you.