My comments on Learning To Read Music is aimed at the beginning student but there is value in stepping back for those making the music learning journey.
So you don't have a clue about how to read music or know just enough to get confused about reading notes. That's the kind of comments I hear when people start there music learning experience.
Defining a Framework to Understand and Read Music
Let's prepare you to get a good start on reading music with several characteristics you need to know when approach notes and music. In order to learn to read music you need to understand the structure.
It's just like learning a new language. This language is based in mathematics and rendered into sound. With the application of technique you get varying sound quality.
The Essentials of Reading Music
The elements below are part of the fundamental framework that beginning student will undertake.
- Learn the notes and how they are shown and relate to an instrument.
- Learn rhythm and how notes show that rhythm.
- Learn how a series of increasing notes makes up a scale and defines a harmonic system (key signature).
- Learn how combinations of notes in a harmonic system work as intervals and chords.
- Learn how the flow of notes as melody, intervals, chords, and scale structure are used to create songs.
Purpose of Notes
Let's start at the beginning. Notes are symbols that convey two important pieces of information. When you read a note it gives you a time value and pitch or tone.
When we look at a piano keyboard you can note that each key such as moving form white and black represents a half step in tone. Notes are developed in half steps. These half steps give us a new tone and pitch until we reach the 16th half step where the tone repeats on the first note, but at a higher pitch.
Alpha letters from A to G are used for the notes names. Lowering or raising note pitch by half step is accomplished with a flat or a sharp to lower or raise the note respectively. Therefore, you get a note names like D sharp (D#) or D flat (Db) when you modify the D note.
Notes are shown on a staff where each position and notation represents a tone to be played. This is the process of translating any given note from paper to instrument through the use of your mind.
Rhythm Using Note Symbols
The symbol used for a note is a circle that is either empty or filled in. It also may have a stem or not and can have several flags. Each of these note types represents a count in rhythm. You must understand time signature in order to define the rhythm and the note symbol defines the amount of time allotted to play.
That is if you play in 4/4 time, it is defined as 4 beats using a quarter note. Each quarter note will get a beat count.
Using Notes to Make a Statement
The music staff is used to notate the continuum of notes. When they are placed on the staff they can be a single note or stacked up to several deep. Two notes together are called an interval, and three or more notes are called chords.
The first step of learning music is to understand the two concepts that notes convey and then build on that base through the structure defined above. When you learn the basic letters (notes) you put them into a series to make up a word (chord) then several chords to make up a statement (sentence).
Take it one step at a time
Learning to read music is as simple as starting out and learning notes as tones and time values. Once there you can start building on this base. Don't be fooled by thinking this can be done quickly. It takes some time, in a couple of months you can become fluent at reading music and within a year you can become good at understanding and potentially even creating complex music on your own.
One last thought do more than study how to mimic and play notes; your objective will be to learn the fundamental principles of music theory in order to be able to learn quicker and focus on expression. This is the principles taught in our Getting It Down Cold Workshops and Music Theory Course.
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