The Muse's Muse  
Muses MailMuses Newsmuse chatsongwriting resource home
Regular Columnists


Lesson 1: Basic Rhythm Symbols
By Debbie Ridpath Ohi - 01/06/2002 - 01:26 PM EST

In this first lesson of Songwriting Music Theory 101, I'm going to introduce some basic musical symbols as well as some fundamental rhythm concepts. Some of you may already be familiar with the whole note, half note, and quarter note symbols from music class in grade school. In the UK, these are known as the semibreve (whole note), minim (half note), and crochet (quarter note). I'll be sticking with the North American terms, simply because it would be too much of a pain to include both versions each time.

whole
note
half
note
quarter
note

Each of these symbols is associated with a certain time length relative to the others. Of the symbols given in this first lesson, the whole note has the longest time value.

A half note is half as long as a whole note (hence the name)...you can play two half notes in the length of time that you play a whole note. Similarly, you can play four quarter notes in the same time that you play a whole note.

Another way to picture this is an apple pie. If you don't like apple, feel free to substitute the filling of your choice:

whole note

Now imagine cutting this pie in half. Each half would represent a half note in terms of length:

half note

Carrying this concept a step further, if you further divided the pie into four slices, each slice would represent a quarter note:

half note

Math whizzes out there probably are already picking up the fact that two quarter notes adds up to the same length as a half note. If you're tiring of the whole pie analogy, you can think of this all in mathematical concepts:

Ok, ok, I get it! But what does it all really MEAN?


Now we get to the fun part. You may not realize it, but you already know about the above concepts.

For the purposes of the next few lessons, we're going to assume that the basic beat is a quarter note. A beat is a regular pulse present in most music...it's usually pretty easy to pick out in contemporary music, particularly when the owner of the car stereo or other device has turned the bass way up.

But I digress; right now I'd like to give a practical application of what we've learned so far.

Think of the tune, Mary Had A Little Lamb, for example. Sing it to yourself. I'm serious. If you're shy about singing in public, then find a private place and sing the first verse. Try to sing it at an even speed, without rushing any of the words:

Mary had a little lamb

little lamb, little lamb

Mary had a little lamb, its

fleece was white as snow.


Good. Now sing it again, but this time clap your hands every time you sing a word. Be conscious of the the words you hold longer, like the first three times you sing "lamb" and the word "snow" at the end of the song:

Mary had a little lamb

little lamb, little lamb

Mary had a little lamb, its

fleece was white as snow.


If we were going to translate this into pure rhythm, the verse would appear as follows:



Wondering what the vertical bars between some of the notes are? Those are called bar lines...don't worry about bar lines for now; we'll talk about them in a future lesson.



[ Current Articles | Archives ]

Help For Newcomers
Help for Newcomers
Interactivities
Interactivities
Helpful Resources
Helpful Resources
Regular Columnists
Columnists
Music Reviews
Spotlights
Spotlights
Services
Services Offered
About the  Muse's Muse
About Muse's Muse
Subscribe to The Muse's News, free monthly newsletter for songwriters
with exclusive articles, copyright & publishing advice, music, website & book reviews, contest & market information, a chance to win prizes & more!

Join today!



Created & Maintained
by Jodi Krangle


Design:


1995 - 2016, The Muse's Muse Songwriting Resource. All rights reserved.

Read The Muse's Muse Privacy Statement