MUSIC LITERACY RESOURCES
The objective of this page is to provide you with tools to help you learn how to read music more efficiently.
With a little bit of work, anyone can learn the language of music and be able to read. Be patient and enjoy.
The sounds we play, or pitches, are notated on a staff. Below is what is called the Grand Staff which goes from very low notes to very high notes. Low notes are written on the Bass Clef, high notes on the Treble Clef.
Follow this trainer, then go to the drills below for the clef of your instrument. Staff Lesson
Treble Clef: For Violins Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Saxophone, Trumpet, Horn, Mallet Percussion, Piano
Bass Clef: Bassoon, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Piano, Cello Bass, Mallets
RHYTHM and NOTATION
This is probably the biggest challenge for most young musicians.
Musical notation can express the length of each note, the pitch of each note, the instrument, the speed of the piece, and even how loud or soft to play. The music tells us when each note is to begin and indicates the duration or length of each and every note of the music. This indication of duration is determined by the note's unique visual shape. This example shows the various parts of a note and labels them with their musical name.
Each note always includes a "note-head". Every time you see a note-head, you will hear a note. It's really just that simple! A note-head can either be open (white or hollow), or closed (black or filled). Sometimes the note-head can have a stem attached. As shown in the example below, the stem can either go up or down, depending upon the note's position on the staff. Notes below the center line of the staff generally have stems that are up. Notes on or above the center line of the staff have down stems.
Most music has a pulse to it. We dance to that pulse, move our body, or tap our foot to it.
Every pulse in the music can can have many notes and rhythms happening inside it.
We can divide each pulse into smaller units.
Consider that every pulse can be chopped into four equal parts.
Notice the two flags? Most of the time, we want to let the reader know that the music fits inside one pulse or beat. We BEAM the notes by the beat. The four notes above are all now connected by one beam. This beam tells you that this rhythmic figure lasts one pulse. You would hear four event musical sounds during one pulse. The BEAM is the key to reading music.
You need to find the pulses, the beam will help you.
One Beat or one Pulse is most often represented by a Quarter note.
One notehead with a stem.
If I want to hear two even sound events in one pulse, I create two eighth notes
Notice the flag on each eighth note? Beamed together tells you that those two notes exist on one beat.
So... here we have 4 pulses, each with a subdivision underneath.
We use a counting system in order to communicate where we are in rehearsals. It also helps you figure out the rhythms.
The numbers next to the Treble Clef 4-4 indicate the METER. The bottom note tells you what kind of note gets the pulse, the top note will tell you how many pulses are in one measure. The Measure is indicated by the vertical barline every four beats.
These are Rests - silence markings. Use ( ) if writing in the counts.
Back to the cheesy Giant story. For every pulse, you can create all different types of configurations.
Ideally your brain will begin to see these combinations the way you see a word.
When you read, you most likely don't think W - O - R - D one letter at a time. You see the entire group.
WORD and know what it means.
When you focus on the beam, you will start to see complete groupings instead of individual dots.
I was once a "dotaholic." I played as many noteheads as I saw on the page. I completely ignored the stems and beams. My rhythm was really bad. I needed a rhythmic therapist. There was none to be found.
I turned to the Beam and started doing the math. Eighth notes equaled two sixteenths. Four sixteenths equaled an eighth. etc.
If I played two sixteenths, what would I have left in the beat?
Another two sixteenths! Or, one eighth note.
It is just simple math.
See if you can make sense of this chart.
Several years ago I was programming a drum Machine and realized that it could help students learn how to subdivide the pulse. I created this tool. Check it out. It is a little more useful with a teacher present.
Single Beats Drills:
USE A PUFFIN BROWSER IF ON AN IPAD
I beleive that if you can recognize one beat of time and know how to subdivide it and play it, you will be able to read music.
I created these exercises to help develop that skill
Single Beat Drills
Play on Beat 4
Play on 2 and 4 - Twice as quick
Two Single Beats in Succession
Play on 3 and 4
ENSEMBLE RHYTHMIC EXERCISES
I built these exercises in a different meter to reinforce the need to find the pulse in your music. These drills can be done in an ensemble or as an individual.
There is a great deal more to reading music than just rhythm and pitch. However, rhythm and pitch are the foundation.
I will be creating additional pages on Meter and Compound time soon.
Here is a tool where you can tap the rhythm you see. It works on Safari, not chrome.