Friday, March 18, 2016

Fundamental Topics in Music: Day 1

Welcome back to Impulsive Artistry! Today, I am starting a second article series in preparation for learning to write your own music! In this fundamental series, we will cover several topics that are very important for you to understand before we can jump into discussing how to compose music. Now that you can read music (Treble Clef and Bass Clef notes), here is a list of the topics that we still need to cover before getting to write some music: The Beat, Tempo, Rhythm, Note Values, Rests, Time Signatures, and Common Key Signatures. We have a bit to cover so let’s get going!

For those of you who would like to learn “How to Read Music,” here are the links to the five-part article series on that topic:


The Beat

In music there are two things that are universal to all music: patterns and sound. Related to both of these concepts is the idea of the musical beat. What is a beat? A beat is a pulse that underlies a piece of music, which does not stop throughout the music, regardless of the duration of the notes or silences in the music. Most people, when hearing a standard piece of music like a pop or rock song, waltz or march can immediately feel the beat, it’s the pulses that you clap or tap your foot to.

The beat allows us to divide the time intervals into equal units; it also enables us to play together with other musicians, as every note will be performed in relation to that beat. Here is an audio example of the beat:

Can you feel the beat in this example, tap or clap with it?

Here is an Electronic Dance Music setting of this same beat (a little bit faster) that I created this morning. Can you feel the beat now and tap or clap along? It’s still there played by the drumpad, but with other notes (faster notes) set against it:



Please note that the beat can be fast (meaning each equally spaced pulse occurs one after the next with little pause in-between) or slow (meaning there will be more space in-between the pulses). The speed of the beat is called the “Tempo” or “Time” in Italian.

The standard way to calculate a tempo is in beats per minute (BPM). Above is an analog clock with a “seconds hand,” take a look at that hand (the red one). You know that there are 60 clicks per minute, because there are 60 seconds in a minute, if you were to clap along with the click of the clock’s second hand, one clap per click, you are now clapping 60 beats (claps) each minute or 60 BPM.

In music there is a number of Italian terms that we use associated with different tempos (rates of beats), 50-60 BPM is called Largo (slow) and is a slower tempo for a piece of music. 76-100 BPM is Andante (moderately slow, walking), 100-110 BPM Moderato (moderately), and 120-140 BPM is Allegro (Fast), 160-180 PBM Presto (Very Fast).

There are more, but these are the basic ones. You can practice here clapping to a steady beat at different tempos using a device called a metronome. To use this webpage, just click with your mouse the circle above the number (BPM) that you want to clap along to (one clap per click). I recommend that you start with a slower speed (tempo) first, like 76 BPM. Be sure that you matching exactly to the beat, you must not clap before or after the click, but in sync with it (at the same moment)! Have fun! These webpage also has the tempo markings included so that you can see the BPM ranges of the different terms. 


All right, that is everything we will cover today. I will return next Friday with “Day 2 of the Fundamental Topics in Music,” where we will explore the concepts of Rhythm, Basic Note Values, and a brief intro to Time Signatures. If you do not already play an instrument, be sure to practice clapping with the metronome at different tempos to get used to feeling the beat. Again, make sure that you are clapping right with the click and not before or after it, but in sync. We will build on this skill next time.

Try listening to some of your favorite music. Can you clap along to the beat there?

Most importantly, have fun with this activity, and I hope that you are enjoying learning about music here on Impulsive Artistry!


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