Welcome back to Impulsive Artistry! Today, we are continuing our second article series in preparation for learning to write your own music! This article covers the following topics: Rhythm, Beat Groupings, and Basic Note Values. We will be referring back to topics covered in Day 1 of this series, so be sure to go back and read that now if you haven’t already, here is the link:
If you are still reading this then you must have read last week’s post! For those of you who would like to learn “How to Read Music,” here is the link to the first day of that five-part article series.
Let’s keep going!
I’ve Got Rhythm
Now that you have had some practice at clapping to a beat, we will replace the claps with notes! Every note in music that appears on the staff will sound in relation to the underlying beat, regardless of tempo (speed of the beat). Most notes will occur on the beat, happing at the same moment as the pulse, but sometimes notes will appear in-between the beats (not at the same time as the beat), we will come back to this idea later.
What is Rhythm?
Rhythm is the combination of notes with different durations in relation to the beat.
To put another way, the term Note Value means how long each note sounds before moving to the next note (as always, in relation to the beat [pulse]), and rhythm is a group of Note Values. These values can be all the same or different lengths to make up a rhythm.
Remember, the beat is always constant, but the notes can change in length (how many pulses that they will sound for over the beat).
Here is an analogy that I sometimes use when I teach piano lessons. Think about cake, there are many different kinds of cakes: chocolate, vanilla, lemon, red velvet etc. The cake itself, the inside part – not the frosting, is like the beat. Even though there are different kinds of cake, different tempos of the beat, it’s always cake, and a good cake, like a steady beat, will be very consistent and equally proportioned.
Now the frosting is like the rhythm in music. The frosting can have various designs, styles, and decorations depending on the celebration at hand; similarly, the rhythmic values (note values) of the notes on the staff can vary a lot—some notes are very short sounding, other are sustained for very long time! In the same way that the frosting is held up by the cake, the beat underlies the rhythm and supports it as well!
Let’s start with the notes that occur on the beat (in sync with it, just like your clapping from Day 1!).
Note Values in Common Time: Grouping the Beat
We are going to assume for a moment that we are using the most common grouping of the beats. Yes, we can segment the beat into various groupings, but here we will use a grouping of 4 (we will expand on this idea in the section on Time Signatures).
To better understand this idea of grouping the beat, turn the metronome back on; here is a link to that free metronome site if you do not have one at home that we used in Day 1.
Metronome Link: https://www.metronomeonline.com/
Set the metronome to 80 BPM. Count out loud with the metronome saying “1, 2, 3, 4 … 1, 2, 3, 4 … 1, 2, 3, 4 …” and so on, with the pulse. Just like your clapping in Day 1, one clap per beat, here we are saying one number per beat. We are now naming the beats: beat called 1, beat called 2, beat called 3, and beat called 4. After you say all four numbers with the pulse, you repeat immediately on the following pulse back at 1.
Here is a short melody that I wrote out to use a reference:
On the staff, the vertical lines (called bar lines) mark the beat groupings, forming measures. Each measure contains four beats in the melodic example above, and are found between the bar lines.
Learning Basic Note Values in Common Time!
Common Time just means that we are using a beat grouping of four, I will touch on this idea later, but for now, let’s move on to learning some basic note values.
Here is a Quarter Note, see image below, and a quarter note duration will sound for one pulse. When you were clapping with the metronome on Day 1, you were clapping a quarter note value with the beat—one note per click! Try saying the beat names and clapping at the same time, one clap per beat. You are now clapping quarter notes!
Each note above is a Quarter Note (8 quarter notes in the example)!
A Half Note sounds for two pulses: it will begin on the beat and then will continue to sound over the following pulse. To hear this, try clapping with the metronome again. This time, you want to clap on the first beat, and then wait as the following click sounds (don’t clap here), then repeat!
Each note above is a Half Note (4 half notes in the example)!
An even better way to learn half notes is to sing any note saying “Laaaaaaa…” Just like above, start singing on the first beat, and then keep singing the pitch over the following beat. You can repeat on the next pulse!
Sing on beat called 1, continue to hold the note on beat called 2, and then repeat on beats called 3 and 4.
Not quite getting it? Listen to this audio example and maybe this will make more sense, here are four half notes in a row:
Hear how the note starts on the beat, but holds (continues to sound) on the following pulse?
The last note value (duration) that I will cover in today’s article is a Whole Note. As you may have guessed, a Whole Note sounds for four beats. This type of note starts on the pulse and sustains for the following three pulses after.
A Whole Note sounds on beat called 1, and then continues to sound over beats called 2, 3, and 4.
Here is an audio example of whole notes:
Here is an audio example of whole notes:
Musicians will use a short-hand way of speaking and refer to “beat called 1” as “beat 1.” They call “beat called two” as “beat two,” etc. Don’t get confused though, “beat 1” is the name of that beat. A half note sounds for 2 pulses (beats), but can start on any named beat.
For example, a half note will sound for two pulses regardless of the name of the beat. A half note can be played on beat called 3, “beat 3,” and will hold on beat called 4, “beat 4.” The half note still only sounds for two pulses altogether, beat 4 is the name of that beat: beat called 4, not the number of beats: 4 pulses. Make sure you understand this difference! : )
Putting it all together!
Here is that simple melody that I used above again. Try to clap or sing this example (if you sing it, don’t worry about singing the right notes, just focus on the rhythm).
Take a look at the different note values, turn on the metronome, and give it a try!
How did it go? Were you clapping/singing at the same time as the beat? Did you hold your notes long enough (not clapping on the beats where the note holds)? No speeding up while you clap/sing, keep it steady!
We will stop here for today. I will be back next week with Day 3 of this series, and will cover some more note values, and introduce the topic of time signatures!
Take your time with today’s material. Make sure that you understand it, and can clap the rhythms before moving on next week! If you have any questions or would like me to explain anything further, please comment below and I will get back to you ASAP!
Thank you so much for reading this article, I hope that you found it to be engaging and informative! I have been really enjoying writing these posts on the basic fundamentals of music—an area of the arts that is ripe for creative endeavors!
Have a wonderful weekend, and we will be back with new Guest Artist Feature on Monday!
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