Music, put simply, is the language of musicians. It gives them a way
to communicate what pitches to play, how long to play them for, and
how loudly they should be played.
If we didn't have music, all of our songs would just sound like noise.
Once you finish reading this section, you'll be equipped with all the
information you need to explore Compose-away and Performance Alley.
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Written music contains several different notations telling you about
how to play sounds.
A typical staff looks like this:
There are five lines and four spaces:
A clef is added to the staff based on the relative highness or lowness of the notes.
- Treble clef - high notes
- Bass clef - low notes
The staff is divided further into chunks called "measures" (or "bars"). Measures
simplify the reading of music.
What goes inside measures? You guessed it, NOTES!
The place and style a note is drawn in tells you about its pitch and duration.
Here are some of the most common notes you'll encounter:
- A whole note () is equivalent to 4 quarter notes. In most time signatures (but not all), this would be a whole measure.
- A half note () is equivalent to 2 quarter notes.
- A quarter note () is probably the most common note you'll encounter, and usually takes up 1 beat.
- An eighth note () equals half of one quarter note. Usually the second most common note, it can be used for faster portions of a song.
- Lastly, a sixteenth note () is equivalent to a quarter of a quarter note (or half of an eighth note).
As you can probably tell, music and math are very much connected. If
you're a strong math student, this should make lots of sense.
In order to know how many notes should be in a measure, we can look
at the time signature.
- This measure has 3 quarter notes ("4" means quarter note) per measure.
- A 6/8 time signature would have 6 eighth notes per measure.
- A 2/2 time signature would have 2 half notes per measure.
Tempo defines the speed of a piece of music. It sets a steady beat that
repeats for the duration of the piece. Some music can sound completely
different if played with the wrong tempo.
You can experiment with tempo in Compose-away.
Rhythm describes the times in music when there is sound and the times
when there isn't (notes and rests). When put together, this forms a pattern
that can be reused throughout the piece. Frequently, however, many different
rhythms are used.
Notes are organized into an alphabet, but it only extends from A-G,
then loops back to A.
The Performance Alley keyboard is a great way to learn more about pitches.
Harmony is a way of adding texture to a musical piece.
Additional notes are played behind the melody to support it and help
illustrate a mood.
Another type of harmony is when multiple voices are playing. Try out
the "Canoe Song" in Performance Alley. Where you see stacked notes, try
playing just the bottom ones, and then repeat, playing just the top ones.
Notice that the song doesn't sound as rich. But when you play them
both together, it sounds pretty cool!
- In Compose-away, you can only compose for one voice.
- In Performance Alley, you can play two or three notes at the same time on the piano (in some cases), but there is still only one piano.
In real-life orchestras or bands, music has to be arranged into many parts
to be played by different instruments. We've kept things simple here since
we're dealing with basics.
Now It's Your Turn!
There are two interactive activities that you can play with for as long
as you want.