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Ken Davies .Net Read Music Now - Combining Rhythm and Pitch
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3.Combine Rhythm & Pitch

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Below are just a few excerpts from the Read Music Now's unit on

Pitch and Melody
The HIGH and LOW of Music

This unit will explain how we read the pitches  shown by note heads as they appear on the lines and spaces of a staff.

more in the book

Pitch refers to how high or low a sound is.  We show pitches by placing note heads on a staff of 5 lines and 4 spaces. In the example below, notice how each note head appears either on a line or on (in) a space in EACH staff.

A melody is a sequence of pitches that make a tune.

You can actually write and play the same tune starting on ANY white key or black key and make the melody  sound right. You will see how as we go along.  Each note to be played with a black key has a little odd-shaped "b" in front of it. We call that a FLAT. You will see how it works soon.
The notes show you which white or black keys to play.
Actually, it's the lines and spaces that identify the piano keys, but it's easier to think about the notes that are on those lines and spaces.  For that reason, we simply say that the notes tell you which keys to play.
Now let's try playing the keys that make the Yankee Doodle tune sound like Yankee Doodle.  Look at your piano keyboard and find the white key that is almost in the middle of the three black keys. It's the one in the diagram with a red dot.  That will be your starting note for the music written on the staff just below the diagram.
Keyboard with G marked in red
Now that you found the white key to start on, here's a description of which keys to play to match the notes on the staff. pitch3.gif
Now, THAT'S complicated, isn't it? Surely there must be an easier way. Well, there is.

NOW YOU SEE WHY EACH NOTE HAS A  LETTER NAME. It's so much easier to say "start on G" than to say "start on the white key between the first and second black key of the group of three black keys." So, now you simply memorize the note names -- both written AND on your piano keyboard -- and you're all set.  But we'll do that a few at a time as we go along.

  • There are only 12 - the rest are the same but simply repeated higher or lower.
  • The 7 white keys are named A ,B, C, D, E, F and G
  • The 5 black keys are called A-flat, B-flat,       D-flat, E-flat and G-flat.
  • 12-note key chart (gif)

    Now let's do Yankee Doodle again, starting on "G" (It's OK to look at the keyboard and your fingers for now.  But look at the written notes, too. Here's a hint. You can memorize the notes MUCH FASTER if you sing the letter names as you play them. That way, you are thinking THREE things:
    "What does the written note LOOK like?"  -------  "What does the piano key LOOK like?" ------ "What is the note name?"

    Does knowing note names help you PLAY better?  No, not really. But it sure helps you learn the information on the page more easily!

    Now let's play Yankee Doodle. Use any fingers you want to for now.

    Now play it through even a few more times, because each time you repeat the whole tune, you are reviewing and reinforcing what you learned. It's just like learning new words except the symbols are different. Each time you play through, try to get from the beginning to the end without stopping or hesitating. Read ahead a note or two to be ready for what's coming.  If you discover you can't "find a certain note" in time, let it go and get the next one. Believe it or not, you also want to practice letting go of what you can't get as well as playing what you can. That way you help avoid what might seem like "musical stuttering." Guess what? Even professional players often read music that seems to go passed them too quickly to get ALL the notes! But if you're only getting a couple notes out the whole bunch, you should slow down again and pick up your speed more GRADUALLY. You want to play fast enough to get it played, but slow enough to get it right. After all, you don't really want to "practice" being in a panic, do you?

    The book has even more tunes to play at this point

    Now, this unit is about explaining how the notes show the pitches and the piano keys for a tune. So let's now add some more new information to work through.

    Clef Signs - Treble and Bass

    By now, you may be wondering about the big symbols at the beginning of each of the two staffs (plural is "staves"). And why TWO staves instead of just one?

    Piano music is written on two staves.
    Generally, the top one is for the Right Hand and the bottom one is for the Left Hand.

    Notice how the notes with the same names may appear on different lines/spaces.

    Here are some NEW NOTES. This is the same tune, but look at the notes. They are ALL exactly one note lower than where you played them before.  This time you will play the tune mostly on black keys. 

    You start on "G-flat". (See diagram at right).


    Play it with your right hand a few times while looking at the notes in the treble clef staff and singing the note names.
    Then play it with your left hand while looking at the notes in the bass clef staff and singing the note names.
    For a hand coordination challenge, try once at playing it with BOTH hands at the same time while looking at the notes in BOTH staves.

    You'll learn how to do this better in the next unit, Combine Rhythm and Pitch and begin putting it all together.


    These contents Copyright © Kenneth W. Davies 2001
    Most of this material and the presentation sequence comes from previous material I published in 1976.