When you learn how to read music, you also need to know the rhythm a piece should be played. This is represented in sheet music in three ways:
Time Signature – The top number specifies
the number of beats are in each measure and what note value constitutes one beat (bottom number). The example shown below would be written 3/4 (3 beats per measure and the 1/4, quarter, note gets one beat), which is highlighted in blue:
Note: This simple explanation only applies when the top number is 4 and under- simple time. Most beginner music uses simple time.
Ties and slurs connect two or more notes together. Ties connect notes of the same pitch, forming essentially one longer note. Slurs smoothly connect notes of different pitch. This means to play the notes without breaks. The first set of notes below exhibit a tie. The second show a slur.
The black notes take their names from the white keys on either side on them. We have enlarged a portion of the keyboard, starting from ‘middle C’, to make this clearer. A black key immediate to the right of a white key is said to be ‘sharp’ while a black key immediate to the left of a white key is said to be ‘flat’. Because every black key has a white key on either side of it, it bears two names. These are both shown on the diagram below. C sharp and D flat are the same key and will produce the same note when played on a keyboard.
A sharp () is a sign which is written in front of a note and raises the pitch of that note by one half-step. A flat () is a sign which lowers the pitch of a note by one half-step. That particular note remains sharp or flat for the entire measure. To cancel a flat or sharp, a natural ( ) is placed on the staff before the note it is to affect or when a new measure begins. If the same note is always going to be sharp or flat, music writers use key signatures to indicate once and for all (see below).
The flat, sharp and natural symbols are referred to as accidentals and only affect the note in the same octave in which it has been written. They do not affect the same note in other octaves unless they have been labeled with an accidental. This is why a natural is needed, just in case you happen to need the same note again in the same octave but without any variation in tone.
There are times when a composer may want you to flat (or sharpen, #) all of the B’s, for example, in a particular piece. In such a case there is a shortcut that eliminates the necessity for using a flat symbol every time a B appears.
Dynamic signs refer to the softness or the loudness of that the notes should be played. They are signs and marks that set or change the dynamic level during a piece of music. In some case, the dynamic level is related to the mood; in other cases the mark is much more direct. They are generally at the beginning of a measure (and at the beginning of the music) and usually located in the space between the treble and bass staffs. Once set, it’s in effect until another dynamic symbol is display or for the entire piece.
Here are some of the common dynamic symbols:
|ff||fortissimo : very loud|
|mf||mezzo forte: moderately loud|
|mp||mezzo piano: moderately soft|
|pp||pianissimo : very soft|
|crescendo: increasingly louder|
|diminuendo or decrescendo: increasingly softer|
Typically, the composer will suggest the speed or feeling the piece should be played. The notation is usually right above the Treble clef at the beginning of the piece. In our example, it’s “Poco Moto” (little motion).
As you can see, the speed notation is the composer’s attempt to convey the feelat which the piece should be played.
Playing the piano seeks to express and convey emotion and feeling through the music; so many times the composer will user emotional words and leaves it up to the musician to translate that into an
appropriate tempo. For example, you’d know that a piece that’s played with excitement will
be played faster than a piece that’s played
with sadness, etc…There’s no exact science to it…Remember music is expressive!
Here are some common traditional words to denote tempo used mostly in classical music:
|Tempo Name||Beats per Minute (BPM) Range|
|Largo||40 – 59|
|Largetto||60 – 65|
|Adagio||66 – 75|
|Andante||76 – 107|
|Moderato||108 – 119|
|Allegro||120 – 167|
|Presto||168 – 180|
Have you noticed the numbers above some of the notes?
Well, that’s the recommended hand position that the song should be played. The numbers correspond to the fingers of the left hands (LH) and right hands (RH):
The numbers above the notes on the treble staff are typically for the right hand and numbers about the notes on the bass staff.
These terms will help you become familiar with the symbols on the musical page. Looking at a page of music and understanding it will be easy once you know these definitions. From there, you can continue learning how to read music and playing whatever kind of music that you want.