Music Theory – 0005

DottedQuarterWe’ve done enough for the time being learning where notes are on the staff. We need to focus on the basics of rhythm and then we can settle in and start putting together some simple little musical passages.

Instead of looking at which line or space a note is placed on we are going to look at the note itself. We’re keeping this basic.

A Whole note lasts the same duration as two Half notes.

A Half note lasts the same duration as two Quarter notes.

This means that a Whole note lasts the same duration as four Quarter notes.

Did you expect a math class? If you can repeatedly divide by two then you’ll do just fine.

Let’s go one step further and say that a quarter note lasts for the same duration as two eighth notes.

You can keep going to Sixteenth and Thirty-Second and Sixty-Fourth notes. And you can go beyond that but it would be extremely rare. You can just increase the tempo if you want things faster, writing on the Score how long a Quarter note lasts.

You can also put a dot after the note so that it gets its own time plus half more. A dotted half note would last the same duration as three quarter notes. Let’s not worry about that now. Today we will concern ourselves with Whole, Half, Quarter, and Eighth notes. That is enough. Let’s look at pictures of these for comparison:


What pitch is every one of those notes? The only correct answer is “I don’t know because there is no Clef.” Right?

Firstly, look at the Time Signature on the far left. 4 over 4. The top number tells you how many and the bottom number tells you what kind of note there is in each measure. In this case there are the equivalent of four quarter notes in each measure. If instead the Time Signature was 6 over 8, then each measure that follows has the equivalent of six eighth notes in each measure.

In the first measure of the above picture is a Whole Note. That lasts just as long as the second measure which contains two Half Notes. Notice the big difference is that the Whole Note has no Stem. Only the Whole Note has no Stem. Only Whole Notes and Half Notes are hollow.

The third Measure also lasts the same amount of time and is the poster child for the 4 over 4 Time Signature since there are four notes and they are all Quarter Notes.

Continuing on, the fourth Measure has eight eighth notes. Notice the way those eighth notes are Beamed together. This Beaming is like a short hand that is visually easier to look at than drawing a little flag on each note.

The last Measure I purposely made a strange grouping that has a Half Note, an Eighth note, a Quarter note and another Eighth note. I separated the eighth notes so you can see how they look when not beamed together.

You should enter the above notes into NotePad and listen to what it sounds like. Use any pitch you like but use the same pitch all the way across. You will need five measures.

There was a lot of stuff covered here today. Come back here to review if you get confused, and if you are confused right now leave a comment and I will give this more focus. Promise.

As we go forward we will use the different rhythms in little exercises building larger and larger pieces of music. If I remember, I will compare three songs that have the same melody and duration of pitch but have different rhythm only in breaking up some larger durations into smaller ones. Those would be:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (1806)

Baa Baa Black Sheep (1731)

The Alphabet Song (1835)

Anyone know if one or more of these is copyrighted? I don’t want to go to court!

OK, I just looked up all three and put the original years of first appearance in parentheses. For all you music history and copyright buffs, everything published up to and including Scott Joplin is in the public domain, everything from George Gershwin through today is still under copyright protection. Gershwin wrote “I’ve Got Rhythm”, and Joplin did a lot with rhythm in his ragtime songs.


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