Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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Understanding musical scores

1.3.4 Comparing notes: reading a musical score

In this video, you’re going to study some simple melodies [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to understand more about how to follow single lines of music in a score.

Even if you don’t read music, you can get an idea of what rhythm patterns look like by the shape of the notes. 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. A single four beat note called a semibreve, for example, may occupy a whole bar, but in the same space of time, you may get 16 semiquavers:

Figure 15

Notice how these faster notes have their stems connected with a beam. These two bars of notes are mathematically equal in value in terms of the duration of their respective sounds, provided the speed of the beat doesn’t change.

When you watch this video, use what you understand about note values to help you learn to follow the scores.

Download this video clip.Video player: 37786_comparing_notes_reading_a_musical_score_-1080.mp4
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Naomi Barker
The melodies that we're going to study here are fairly simple. And as you listen and watch, the cursor will follow the notes in time with the beat. This will help you follow along. Let's listen to the first example, "God Save the Queen," now, following the cursor as it tracks the tune in time to the beat. Once you've heard it, try and visualise the contour of the melody, its rise and fall. Listen for any repeating patterns and remember to try and feel the beat as you follow the notes, noticing the different shapes of notes and the different lengths of sound.
The melody of "God Save the Queen" starts with longer note values and only uses groups of shorter notes towards the end, which gives the feeling of starting slowly and getting quicker. It gradually rises from a low start to repeated higher notes, and then falls back to the note it started on. There is one rhythm pattern that is used several times with different pitches. And in one place, a section of the tune is repeated a step lower. Here is my annotated version showing these patterns. Let's listen one more time and notice where those repetitions occur.
Now let's listen to the next example, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", listening carefully to how rhythm and melody are used here.
I hope you noticed that the melody of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" descends and then rises, and then repeats the same descending and rising pattern with just a few tiny changes to the notes. This melody also starts with longer note values before using a pattern of quicker notes repeating the same pitch. In the final example, "The British Grenadiers", listen to the melody, following along with the score, and try to compare the different phrases of the melody with each other. Can you spot repeated sections of melody or repeated rhythm patterns?
This example is written in the bass clef, but remember that the principles are exactly the same as following a melody in the treble clef. The clef simply shows the notes are lower in pitch, and if you are reading the music, indicates the position of the note F, and therefore, all the other notes in relation to F. We can take any tune and shift it to any position from very high to very low without changing its shape. This is called transposition, and it's a technique you'll find a lot in large scores where all sorts of instruments play the same melody in their respective registers.
I hope you noticed that the first four bars of this tune are repeated exactly. Then both the rhythm pattern and the contour of the melody change. Then the final phrase repeats the long, short, short rhythm heard near the beginning. And it finishes with the same melody as at the end of bar three going into bar four. Let's listen again, following the score, and seeing if you can spot the repetitions. These repeated sections create the structure of the melody, rather like repeating rhymes and words create structures in poetry.
Finally, to test your skills and to have a little more practise, listen and follow and compare the section of this melody. It's a folk song called "Early One Morning".
Now, I hope you noticed the long, short, short rhythm that happens at the start of all repeated sections. Listen to it one more time, looking at my annotations as you go.
End transcript
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