Friday, May 12, 2006

What Musical Notation Means and How To Use It in Church

Musical notation combines a time signiture, metrical information for singing, a key and instructions.

The time signiture is in the form x/y e.g. 4/4 or 3/4. This tells you the number of beats to the bar and where the major emphases fall and hence the duration of each musical unit (standard note in the piece).

The first number (top) tells you the number of beats or notes to a bar. The number gives you the combined total length. 1 would mean one long beat. 4 means 4 shorter ones.

The bottom (second) tells you which notes are stressed or where the divisions or major emphases in the piece come or something like that. Notes are grouped into bars for convenience but also because of patterns in the music. Can someone help me with this and remind me?

Perhaps Revd Matthew Mason, Neil Jeffers, Liam Beadle, Andrew Towner and the musician who loves me or other competent persons would care to correct any errors or mistaken emphasies in this post. How would you have explained it to a clever ignorant thorough thinking non musician impatient bore?

The meter e.g. 12 12 12 12 tells you how many sylables or beats to a line and how many lines. E.g. 11 10 11 10 means 11 notes / sylables / beats in the first line, 10 in the second and so on.

So this allows you to tap out the sylabbles, count them, count the lines and observe their pattern and know what tunes could be used for those words. One should then think about whether or not the music fits the mood and ocasion of the words.

Though tunes often dont seem to work with this metrical ruke that: e.g. Praise no. 917, Christopher Idle's Rain On The Earth By Heaven's Blessing says Ludham 98 98

The letter which is often included tells you what key the piece is in. I don't really know what this means.

Some hymns say "Unison" and I don't know what that means, except that perhaps something or other could be done together?

Very few hymns seem to come with instructions. Wouldn't that help? Keep to English: "Joyfully", "Hopefully", "With Feeling", "Solemnly", "Slowly", "Jauntily", "Freely", "Exactly" etc.

And why don't we put up the metrical info for the musos and have the score provided for all. Then we'd all pick up the jist of how to read music and sing much better. Doing new songs would be so much easier. Hymn practice would impinge less on Divine Service.


Marc Lloyd said...

I m pretty sure there are mistakes in the above.

I think Mr Towner told me it is better to think of beats or emphasis rather than necessarily sylables.

On time signature:

Top number: number of notes / time units / beats / emphases / sylables per bar;

Bottom number: length of each unit of emphasis etc relative to one long note usually divided up into bars.

Bars can be just conventional / for convenience and not affect sound at all.

On meter, printing conventions differ: 68 could mean 6 8 not 68 where as 11 11 means 11 11 not 1 1 1 1. Its unusual to put in the full stop as in 12 12. 12 12

Hope thats getting better

Anonymous said...

well done you're getting there but you do make it so much more complicated than it is!

The top number of the time signature tells you the number of beats or notes to a bar but nothing about how long they are. (Now it is my turn to be corrected.... oh dear...).

The bottom number, however, does to some extent give some indication of how long each beat in the bar lasts. For example, if it was 3/4, the 4 denotes crotchet beats and there are three of them per bar. If it was 3/8, the 8 denotes quaver beats and there are three of them per bar. Now, the value of a crotchet is twice the time value of a quaver, i.e. a crotchet is made up of two quavers. And therefore the beats in a 3/8 piece would be faster than those in a 3/4 piece. Although this also depends on the tempo of the piece to begin with!

Yes the bottom number in the time signature also tells you which notes are stressed or where the divisions or major emphases in the piece fall.

Bars just fascilitate regularity and are conventional. They help establish where pulses come in the music. Some twentieth-century pieces don't contain bar lines....

In the metrical metres a syllable isn't strictly the same as beat or note. A syllable could last more than one beat or more than one note.

Key just affects which notes you play and reduces musical signs on the score.... that's not a very good description, I'm afraid.

Now someone will probably come along and correct all this and tell you something different so you'll be even more confused....

Marc Lloyd said...

Anonymous commentor, are you the one who is going to marry me? Perhaps you could add your name (just sign at the bottom of your text or register to post, please).

Glad you posted!

Anyway, who ever you are, I think your explantaion is very clear and helpful and clever and I'm getting there.

We need always to describe things in 2 ways:
(1) by reduction or essence - what is the bare minimum here, the strictly necessary, the that without which there is not this thing
(2) fullness - what is everything that might ideally be here in its perfection or maturity. What are all the different possibilities, angles and perspectives on it.

Hope that helps.

Love (probably) x x x

Anonymous said...

anonymous commentor wishes to remain anonymous, hence anonymous!