Understanding Basic Music Notation


The first step in any aspiring musician’s lessons is basic music theory, which typically begins with notation. Music notation is used for nearly all musical instruments and is also used by singers. Although musical notation looks like a foreign language initially, some practice recognizing notes and learning rhythm will quickly allow individuals to read music as if it were second nature.

The Basics
Music notation is used as a special language to write down and play musical scores. Notation refers to nearly anything written on the page of music that tells the musician how to play the score or how to sing the notes. Basic notation must begin with a general understanding of the grand staff and the notes.
The staff is a grouping of five horizontal lines and four spaces. Each line and space represents a different musical note. The lower notes are typically written on the bass staff. The higher notes are usually written on the treble staff. When the treble clef is put over the bass clef and joined with a straight line called a bar, this is called the grand staff.

Immediately after the treble clef or bass clef notation, one will see two numbers written on top of each other. This is called the time signature. The top number tells the musician how many beats are in each measures while the bottom number tells which note gets one beat. Vertical bar lines further separate lines of music into measures.

The Notes
Notes are written on lines or spaces to represent which musical key should be played. Notes also show the musician the rhythm of the piece. The four most basic notes are the following:
-the quarter note, which is worth one beat
-the half note, which is worth two beats
-the dotted half note, which is worth three beats
-the whole note, which is worth four beats
Faster notes are written with one or more small flags coming off the top of the stem and may be eighth notes, sixteenth notes or thirty-second notes.

Expressive Notation
Of course, the good musician must pay attention to more than just the notes written on the grand staff. As one finds that reading music is becoming easier, he or she will want to play with more expression and finesse. To do this, the musician will make use of dynamic signs, articulation and slurs. Dynamic signs tell how loudly or softly to play the piece. Articulation includes such notations as staccato signs or accent marks. Slurs are curved lines drawn above or below notes to indicate that they should be played smoothly.
Once one understand the basics of musical notation, sheets of previously confusing music can come alive on the instrument or in the choir. Most people find it easiest to practice reading and playing music initially on a keyboard before switching to another instrument. However, musical notation can just as easily be used by many on any instrument once the basics are learned.

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