Manual de instrucciones - Pizzicato 3.6 ES100 - Revisión del 20/06/2013

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Music notation

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What is music? [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

Music is the art of organizing sounds to make them express a message, an impression, a state of heart, an atmosphere, an emotion, feelings… It is a communication which emanates from the composer or performer and goes to the auditor.

Music is primarily transmitted by sound. All sound characteristics can thus be exploited to enrich musical communication.

Sound is an air vibration perceived by the ear. When the pianist hits a piano key, the movement creates a shock between a small hammer and a metallic string. This string vibrates and resounds in the piano. While doing so, it carries the air with it and this vibration of the air propagates all around. When this vibration reaches your ear, you get the sound feeling that you know.

The propagation of the sound is similar to the undulations that you see on the surface of a calm water when you throw a stone in it.

Characteristics of a sound [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

A sound vibration has various characteristics we can perceive. The first characteristic is the sound pitch. On a physical viewpoint, it is the number of vibrations executed by the air in one second. The more vibrations there is, the more the sound appears high-pitched to you. Schematically, you can compare a low-pitched sound and a high-pitched sound in the following way:

Low-pitched sound:

High-pitched sound:

The second characteristic is the amplitude (loudness) or the force of the sound. The larger the vibration, the more a sound appears loud to you. Here is an illustration:

Weak sound:

Loud sound :

A third characteristic of the sound is its duration. For how long does the air vibrate? This duration is measured in seconds.

The last characteristic is the timbre of the sound. It lets you distinguish the type of instrument playing. You can easily distinguish a melody played by a piano from a melody played by a flute. Even if the melody is the same in both cases, you can at once recognize the piano or the flute. Physically, this difference comes from the shape of the vibration. For example, here are two sounds having the same pitch and the same force but they are characterized by the timbre, i.e. the shape of the vibration:

When you will have learned how to open a document with Pizzicato, we will listen to examples of these four sound characteristics: pitch, duration, amplitude and timbre.

Music notation [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

Music being a sound, the most obvious way to transmit it is to listen to it. It is indeed the most satisfactory manner to communicate music.

The most direct communication would imply the simultaneous presence of the performer and the auditor, like in a concert. The atmosphere in a concert cannot indeed be compared with listening to a disc or radio transmission. There is in this case something more than simply the sound.

Techniques currently available make it possible to collect sounds and to store them in various forms like discs, cassettes and CDs. The advantage is to be able to reproduce the music at will, to distribute it and communicate it on a large scale. These techniques transmit the final sound result of the execution of a piece of music.

When you want to transmit a musical work to somebody so that he can perceive the musical message and appreciate its beauty, a cassette or a disc will be adequate. If you want to communicate to him the contents of a musical work so that he can play it himself, the sound support only is not very practical and becomes insufficient in most cases. If it is possible for a well trained person to listen to a melody and play it back by memory, this ability is not general and remains limited to relatively simple cases. It becomes very difficult to realize as soon as the work becomes a little complicated and when you think of a one hour piano concerto with orchestra, it becomes almost impossible.

Music notation offers a more practical solution to transmit music to somebody so that he can himself play it. Its purpose is to be able to represent the contents of a musical work in a written form. In this manner, you can communicate in a precise way anything that occurs during the execution of a piece of music.

This musical notation language evolved throughout history up to the present day. The modern system such as it currently exists is largely recognized on the international level and forms a universal language understood by most musicians worldwide. An immense repertoire is available in this form in musical bookshops. Learning this language thus opens communication with most of past and present musical works. It also lets you write your music so that others can play it. This music course will guide you and help you discover the main points of this musical notation language.

The word score defines one or more pages on which music is written.

The staff [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

Conventionally, music is written on a support made up of 5 horizontal lines. It is the staff. The lines are traced at equal distances one from the other. The exact distance is not fixed and can vary from one score to another. It must be of a size adequate to the readability of the score. Here is an example:

The staff lines are numbered from 1 to 5 starting from the bottom line:

The space located between 2 lines is called space between lines. The four line spacing are also numbered upwards:

Each sound is written on the staff in the form of a note. A note is a round symbol placed either on a line or in a line spacing:

The note can be filled (coloured in black) or empty, as in the above example.

Each characteristic of the sound is written on the staff.

The pitch of the sound (high or low) is represented by the vertical position of the note on the staff. An high pitch note will be written higher on the staff than a low note:

The duration of the sounds is graphically represented by the shape of the note. Here are the main shapes available:

The written shape of the note is called the rhythm or the rhythmic value of the note. In the above example, the first rhythm represents a long duration. The next one lasts twice less than the first, and so on for the next ones. We will explain this further with examples. For the moment, the point is to show you how each characteristic of the sound is represented on the staff.

The measure [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

An important aspect of musical notation is the exact time sequence of notes. When will the performer play such and such note? When several performers play together, they must be able to start and play while staying synchronized one with each other.

To this end, the staff is divided into several areas called measures. They are separated one from the other by a vertical bar on the full height of the staff. These vertical bars are called measures bars. Here is an example of a staff with 3 measures:

In this way, the total duration of a piece of music is divided into smaller durations. A musical work thus consists of a specific number of measures played one after the other. Each measure can contain notes with rhythmic values.

The timbre of the sound depends obviously of the instrument playing the notes. Each instrument has a specific timbre. It is its sound colour. The name of the instrument is often written in front of the first measure of the staff:

When several instruments play together, a staff is allocated for each instrument. The notes played by an instrument are placed in the staff of this instrument. The staves are then displayed one below the other. To show that these staves must be played together, a vertical bar connects them all on the left of the staff, and also at each barline when the instruments concerned belong to the same group (e.g. several trumpets). Here is an example of 3 staves played together:

This example contains 3 measures. When a piece of music contains for example 250 measures, it will be impossible to place them one next to the other (you would need a 100 meters width score). When you write a letter and you come to the border of the paper, you continue writing lower, starting again from the left border of the paper. When the page is full, you simply continue on another page. It is exactly the same for music notation. Here is an example of a score which contains 7 measures played by 2 different instruments:

This example requires two remarks. First, when the staves are connected (and thus played at the same time), the staves barlines are placed at the same horizontal distance. Those barlines are sometimes connected together:

The second remark is that the width of measures can vary. It depends on the contents of each measure. The width of the measure is adapted so that the contents are laid out in a readable way.

The last characteristic of the sound is the amplitude or its loudness. By hitting the keys softly or strongly, a pianist produces notes of various amplitudes. This aspect of playing is showed on the score by using symbols placed above or below the staff. Here are 3 examples:

The first symbol (P) shows that the notes must be played gently from there on. The second symbol (>) represents an accent, which means that the note must be played more loudly, but only that one. The third (F) indicates that it is necessary to play loudly from there on. We will further reconsider the exact significance of symbols than can be found in a score.

Summary [Light] [Principiante] [Profesional] [Escritura] [Composición Light] [Composición Pro] [Percusión] [Guitarra] [Coro] [Teclado] [Solista]

The basic of musical notation can be summarized like this:

The notes are placed on the staff. Their graphic shape and their position indicate the duration and the pitch of the sound. When several instruments play together, several staves are displayed one below the other and are connected by a vertical line on the left side. A musical work is made up of a succession of measures played one after the other. These measures are separated by vertical barlines in the staves. The notes played by an instrument are placed on the staff of this instrument. Various symbols can be added in the score to indicate how the notes must be played.


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