Music Notes: The Basics Of Musical Notation

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The pitch of a note is represented by its placement on a musical staff (five horizontal lines) or on ledger lines above or below the staff. For example, the first line of the staff (treble clef) is the note E, the space between the first and second lines is F, and a note on the second line is the note G. As the notes ascend on the staff (on the written music), they are played as continually higher pitches, and as lower and lower pitches as they descend down the staff. These notes are played separately to create a melody, or in combination with each other to produce chords.

The following note names are used in music notation: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G (then they resume the same pattern an octave higher (or lower) beginning again with the note A). In addition to these "natural" notes, there are also notes named as sharp (A#, C#, D#, F#, G#) and as flat (Ab, Bb, Db, Eb, Gb). A sharped note is a half step (or one semitone) above the note it affects, and a flatted note is a half step (or one semitone) below the note it affects. In other words, a G# is played one half step (one piano key) above a G, and a Eb is played one half step below an E.

It is important to know that the notes B#, E#, Fb and Cb do not exist like other notes -- they are "enharmonic" (looking at the piano, you'll see there are places on the keyboard where two white keys exist without a black key between them). These notes are not included in scales or chords.

The duration (how long a note lasts) of a note or group of notes (chord) is marked by its appearance. A whole note, for example, is an "open" (oval not filled in) note without a stem and its duration lasts for a complete measure. A half note is a whole note with a stem, lasting for half a measure. A quarter note is "closed" (i.e., a filled in oval) with a stem and lasts for one beat.

Stems (attached to notes) extend below or above the note depending on where the notes appears on the staff. An eighth note (one half a beat) is written like a quarter note but with a "flag" appearing on the note's stem. A sixteenth note has two flags on its stem. Sometimes eighth or sixteenth note appear in succession. In that case, they are attached to each other with a bar that crosses the top or bottom of the stem where their flags would normally appear.

Notes are tied together in a number of other ways including ties, slurs, glissandos and triplets. These have an effect on how the music sounds. For example, notes with slurs are played smoothly (such as one stroke of a violin bow or a passage sung without the singer taking a breath between notes). A smooth glide through a series of notes is called a glissando.

Ties add the time value of two or more notes, where triplets are three notes played against one beat (or two or more beats in come cases). Triplets are sometimes marked with the number 3 to indicate they are to be played equally in tempo.

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