We learn a lot of our music aurally with the printed music as a backup.However there are times when knowing what all those dots mean can really help. This is a brief guide to help you find your way around the score in front of you.
Notes and Rhythms
The length of a note depends on whether it is coloured in or not and the type of tail it has. Each note also has an equivalent rest (period of silence) that lasts the same number of beats. The chart below shows the most common notes and rests you are likely to come across and what they’re worth in crotchets (1 beat notes). Note that when several quavers or semiquavers are next to each other, their tails are joined together in a straight line. To work out their value you count the number of connecting lines; one makes quavers, two make semiquavers.
Notes and Pitches
Notes sit on a set of 5 lines (or 4 spaces) called a stave. At the start of the stave is a clef which tells you where the notes are pitched; it’s the funny curly thing at the start of each line. The treble clef tells you these are notes above middle C and is the line that the ladies (sopranos and altos) read. The bass clef tells you the notes are below middle C and is the line the men (tenors and bass) read.
The notes on the lines in the treble clef our E G B D F. Musicians use mnemonics to remember them. For example Every Good Boy Deserves Fun. The notes in the spaces spell FACE.
In the bass clef, the notes on the lines are G B D F A; Good Boy Deserves Fun Always.
The notes in the spaces are ACEG; All Cows Eat Grass (mooo!!).
Finding Your Part
As said above, the soprano and altos use the treble clef which is always on the top line. The tenors and bass use the bass clef which is always on the bottom line. Often all four voices may be singing at the same time which means all four voices are written for at the same time. However finding your part is easy. If you are a soprano the stems (the line on the note, not the blob) point up, the alto stems point down. Similarly, the tenor stems point up and the bass stems point down. If there is a rest immediately above or below a note, then that will indicate the other part is not singing. If there is only one note, then both parts are probably singing together. If in doubt ask the director as they he’ll be able to tell you!