In Music Theory Basics (Part 1), we discussed the musical staff, clefs, and note names. Today, we will cover the basics of rhythm and note duration. There are lots of charts in this one!
The term rhythm has come to mean several different things in today’s culture, but for our purposes, we will use the following definition:
Rhythm: The controlled movement of music in time usually divided into strong (or accented) and weak (or unaccented) beats in a piece of music.
- Beats: The regular pulse of music. Often, beats are dictated by accents in music, a metronome, or a conductor.
- Strong (or accented) beat: The effect that occurs in music when one note or syllable is stressed or emphasized more than others.
Duration: The length of time that a note is sounded. This length of time is determined by the note value.
- Note value: is the duration of a note in the context of a measure/bar of music as determined by the time signature. Here are some common note values.
To avoid confusion with note names, it is important to think about them in relationship to a whole note. A half note is half the value of a whole note, a quarter note is one-fourth (or a quarter) of a whole note, and an eighth note is one-eighth the value of a whole note. Here is another chart to break it down.
- Measure/Bar: a term that signifies the smallest division of a piece of music marked by vertical bar lines on the staff. Each measure contains a fixed number of beats. The number of beats is determined by the time signature.
- Time Signature: A symbol placed at the left side of the staff indicating the meter (or measure of time) of the piece of music. A time signature is made up of two numbers. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note is the beat.
The top number is pretty straightforward. It always signifies how many beats are in a a measure. If it’s a 4 then there are four beats, if it’s a 6 then there are six beats, and so on.
To “crack the code” of the bottom number, you need to be familiar with factions. The bottom number is the denominator of the fraction of the note that it represents. For instance, a quarter note is one-fourth or 1/4 the value of a whole note. So, if the bottom of a time signature is a 4 then the quarter note gets the beat. Likewise, an eighth note is one-eighth or 1/8 the value of a quarter note. So, if the bottom of the time signature is an 8 then the eighth note gets the beat.
Here is a chart of common time signatures you will run into.
We will stop there for now. You can now take the concepts we have learned in these first two parts and apply them too some of the basic songs in the repertoire! Why not try this part of “Jingle Bells.”