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3.Combine Rhythm & Pitch

Below are just a few excerpts from the book's unit on

Beats and Rhythm
The LONG and SHORT of Music

This unit will lead you through how we read the durations of notes and rests and how we combine different kinds of notes and rests to visually show different rhythms.


The lengths or DURATIONS of musical sounds (notes) and silences (rests) are measured by beats.

Beats are steady, regularly occuring pulsations, like your heart beat or the ticking of a clock. "Steady" beats means that there is the same amount of time between each beat. When you dance to a rock tune, a polka, a foxtrot or a waltz, you are usually moving or stepping to the feel of a series of steady beats. When you tap your foot along with a song you are  listening to, you are tapping where the beats are. So beats are something you FEEL.
You can feel beats in groups of 2 (like a march), groups of 3 (like a waltz), and groups of 4 (like in rock).
Now, beats are not actually written in music (because you can feel them). But if they were, they might look like these examples below. Tap your foot to the arrows and count the numbers out loud. Remember to put the same amount of time between each arrow (beat). Notice how each "beat-group" (2, 3, 4) feels different from the other. Then we will learn how the notes and rests are measured by the beats.

This example has beats in groups of 2. The "bar-lines" divide the groups so you can see the groups easily.


Quarter-Notes and Quarter-Rests

In this next example, we'll play something on your piano or synth keyboard. Pick a key. Any key, black or white, will work for this. This part is easy.

Each quarter-NOTE is a sound and each quarter-REST is a silence.

You count and tap as before. But where you see a note, you press a key to make a sound. Where you see a rest, you remain silent -- but feel the silence just as if it were a sound. That is, you play the sounds, but you also "play" the silences.  Here, you will be really reading written music as you play it.

Notice that this piece has four beats in each measure.


Now, go back to that last example and practice it. PRACTICE means that you repeat several times until it is easy, automatic, and always correct.

That may seem rather "mechanical" rather than musical -- and it IS, at first. But that combination of notes and rests (played in time to the beats) is actually a rhythm, or rhythmic figure. A rhythmic figure is sort of like a word. It has a meaning -- a "musical" meaning that you hear, sense and feel. In the same way that you pronounce a new word (by syllables) over and over until it "sounds like a word," likewise you play a rhythmic figure over and over until it "makes musical sense." In this way, you begin growing a vocabulary of familiar rhythm patterns  that you can recognize by both sight and sound.
Longer Notes and Rests

The next piece will use some LONGER notes (sounds) and rests (silences).  Look closely.

The HALF-NOTE has a hole in its head, so it looks different from the quarter-note. It sounds different too. It is longer than a quarter-note. Actually it is ONE continuous sound held for 2 beats (2 counts). The HALF-REST means there are 2 beats of silence.

notes and rests
The WHOLE-NOTE has NO STEM (that is, no line coming down to touch the note head). It also has a hole in its head. It is a VERY LONG sound, twice as long as the half-note. The whole-note is FOUR beats long.

Find the WHOLE-REST. Notice that the shape is different from the half-rest. The whole-rest hangs from a line while the half rest sits on a line. That's how you tell the difference. Take a moment to memorize that information.

Now play this next piece a few times.Don't worry that it doesn't "sound like music." This is just a mix of the different notes and rests to give you some practice in getting the LENGTHS of them  right so that you can read and play fluently without stumbling or hesitating. Practice this a few times until you can read and play it easily before going on.

This piece has its beats in groups of four. So there are four beats in each measure. When you get to the end of the first line, go right on to the second line without hesitating, the same as you would read words. The final double bar marks the end of the piece.

(there is much more here in the book)
Eighth-notes and eighth-rests

With 8th-notes and 8th-rests, each beat is sub-divided into two equal parts. That is, we think of "2 little beats within one main beat." Or we can think of "2 notes on a beat" (or rests -- or a note and a rest). This means that there might be a note or a rest "on the half-beat." We count the "half-beat" with an "AND." So we count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 etc. When you tap your foot (down and up and down again), the "AND" occurs when your foot is UP.

Let's illustrate this in another way by using familiar words and syllables that create  rhythms.  In the example below, the words will help you get the feel of this silly little lyric. But you will also get a pretty good idea how the 8th-notes and 8th-rests line up with the words or syllables. Then you can also play the rhythms without saying the words.
Tap your foot as you say the words a few times. Then also play the notes with a key on your piano keyboard.
Repeat until your foot, eyes, hand and words all flow easily.
The first couple times through is to figure it out and get it coordinated. The next few times through is to get used to it.  After that, you know it and can just read it and play it.

Now go on to Pitch & Melody - the HIGHS and LOWS of music.


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