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Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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1.2.2 Working with neumes

To test out how neumes worked, you can try to create something similar.

Activity 1

Take a tune that you know and try to represent the shape of it using coins, stones or buttons that you can move around on a sheet of paper. See if you can put the coins down in a pattern that represents the rise and fall of the melody. This rise and fall is called the melodic contour. It’s not that easy without any point of reference. Here’s a melody (The Beatles’ Yesterday) to have a go with.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: ou_futurelearn_musical_score_aud_1013_yesterday.mp3
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Let’s just break that down into shorter sections and have another go.

The first little bit has three notes, short-short-long (‘Yes-ter-day’), that are all quite close to each other. What follows is a series of short notes that all move in the same direction and then just at the end fall back to a longer note (‘all my troubles seemed so far a-way’). There is another series of short notes that move down towards the start note, with another pause on a longer note (‘now it looks as though they’re here to stay’). The final eight notes of the phrase jump around a bit more, moving up and down before ending on another long note (‘oh, I be-lieve in yes-ter-day’).

Figure 8

Even taking this in little sections punctuated by longer notes, it is still not easy to represent accurately how high or low each note is in relation to those around it, nor how long or how short the notes might be. Bigger spaces could have been left where the longer notes are, but if you were trying to do this exercise and didn’t know the tune, it would be a bit of a guess as to just how long those notes should be.