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Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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1.3.3 What are you listening for?

In the previous section, you should have noticed:

  • That both tunes have a time signature that indicates four beats in a bar.
  • The different note shapes in the notation – some open notes, some coloured in notes and some notes that are joined together. These indicate notes of different lengths, and being able to spot fast notes or very long notes in a score is useful to keep track of where you are on the page.

As a general rule, the blacker the notes look and the more densely they occupy the space of the bar, the faster the notes in relation to the beat. The more open and white the notes appear, the slower they are in relation to the beat.

Even more importantly, identifying rhythmic patterns can help you understand the structure of a piece of music, as rhythm is often a point of reference in a theme – just think of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a case in point (if you’re unfamiliar with Beethoven’s Fifth, there is a recording of it in Week 4).

Download this audio clip.Audio player: beethovens_5_seconds.mp3
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If you were listening to the contour, you will have noticed that Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is different from Frère Jacques, in that the tune starts with a jump up from the first couple of notes and then moves steadily downwards. You will see the shape of the notes on the page – the melodic contour – looks different because of this.

Both of these tunes have patterns of notes, either pitch, or rhythm, or both, that repeat. This is something that all music does, and one of the skills in understanding scores is recognising melodies or rhythms that are the same, because repetition is often what gives a piece of music, however big, its structure and coherence.