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When we watch a film or a play,
we know that the actors
probably learned their lines from a script,
which essentially tells them
what to say
and when to say it.
A piece of written music
operates on exactly the same principle.
In a very basic sense,
it tells a performer what to play
and when to play it.
Aesthetically speaking, there's a world of difference
between, say, Beethoven
and Justin Bieber,
but both artists have used
the same building blocks to create their music:
And although the end result
can sound quite complicated,
the logic behind musical notes
is actually pretty straightforward.
Let's take a look
at the foundational elements to music notation
and how they interact to create a work of art.
Music is written on five parallel lines
that go across the page.
These five lines are called a staff,
and a staff operates on two axes:
up and down
and left to right.
The up-and-down axis tells the performer
the pitch of the note
or what note to play,
and the left-to-right axis tells the performer
the rhythm of the note
or when to play it.
Let's start with pitch.
To help us out, we're going to use a piano,
but this system works for pretty much
any instrument you can think of.
In the Western music tradition,
pitches are named after
the first seven letters of the alphabet,
After that, the cycle repeats itself:
and so on.
But how do these pitches get their names?
Well, for example, if you played an F
and then played another F
higher or lower on the piano,
you'd notice that they sound pretty similar
compared to, say, a B.
Going back to the staff,
every line and every space between two lines
represents a separate pitch.
If we put a note on one of these lines
or one of these spaces,
we're telling a performer to play that pitch.
The higher up on the staff a note is placed,
the higher the pitch.
But there are obviously many, many more pitches
than the nine that these lines and spaces gives us.
A grand piano, for example, can play
88 separate notes.
So how do we condense 88 notes onto a single staff?
We use something called a clef.
A clef is a weird looking figure
placed at the beginning of the staff
and it acts like a reference point,
telling you that a particular line or space
corresponds to a specific note on your instrument.
If we want to play notes that aren't on the staff,
we kind of cheat and draw extra little lines
called ledger lines
and place the notes on them.
If we have to draw so many ledger lines
that it gets confusing,
then we need to change to a different clef.
As for telling a performer when to play the notes,
two main elements control this:
and the rhythm.
The beat of a piece of music is,
by itself, kind of boring.
It sounds like this.
Notice that it doesn't change,
it just plugs along quite happily.
It can go slow
or whatever you like, really.
The point is that just like the second hand on a clock
divides one minute into sixty seconds,
with each second just as long as every other second,
the beat divides a piece of music
into little fragments of time
that are all the same length,
With a steady beat as a foundation,
we can start adding rhythm to our pitches,
and that's when music really starts to happen.
This is a quarter note.
It's the most basic unit of rhythm,
and it's worth one beat.
This is a half note, and it's worth two beats.
This whole note here is worth four beats,
and these little guys are eighth notes,
worth half a beat each.
"Great," you say, "what does that mean?"
You might have noticed
that across the length of a staff,
there are little lines dividing it into small sections.
These are bar lines
and we refer to each section as a bar.
At the beginning of a piece of music,
just after the clef,
is something called the time signature,
which tells a performer how many beats are in each bar.
This says there are two beats in each bar,
this says there are three,
this one four,
and so on.
The bottom number tells us what kind of note
is to be used as the basic unit for the beat.
One corresponds to a whole note,
two to a half note,
four to a quarter note,
and eight to an eighth note,
and so on.
So this time signature here
tells us that there are four quarter notes in each bar,
and so on.
But like I said before,
if we just stick to the beat,
it gets kind of boring,
so we'll replace some quarter notes
with different rhythms.
Notice that even though the number of notes
in each bar has changed,
the total number of beats in each bar hasn't.
So what does our musical creation sound like?
Eh, sounds okay, but maybe a bit thin, right?
Let's add another instrument
with its own pitch and rhythm.
Now it's sounding like music.
Sure, it takes some practice
to get used to reading it quickly
and playing what we see on our instrument,
but, with a bit of time and patience,
you could be the next Beethoven