Writing Music 101: The Basics of Notation | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

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Writing Music 101: The Basics of Notation

teacher avatar Jason Rivera, Composer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (34m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Musical Alphabet

    • 3. The Staff

    • 4. Clefs

    • 5. Notes and Rests

    • 6. Class Assignment

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About This Class

Gain an understanding of the basics of music notation with composer Jason Rivera. This 35-minute class covers the essentials of how to use music notation to communicate your ideas to other musicians—walking you through the process step-by-step with detailed explanations and demonstrations on the piano.

The main topics covered in this class are:

The Musical Alphabet
Notes on a Piano Keyboard
Scientific Pitch Notation
The Staff
Ledger Lines
Commonly Used Clefs
Measures and Bar Lines
Common Note Values and Rests

For your class assignment you will complete a short series of written exercises designed to help solidify your new knowledge of music notation.

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a musician, songwriter and/or composer can benefit from this class. This course is designed for those with little or no prior knowledge of how to read music or how to notate their musical ideas. Access to and the ability to play an instrument is helpful for this class, but not required.

Once you’ve taken this course on notation, check out my other classes in my Writing Music 101 series here https://www.skillshare.com/user/jasonriveramusic

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera




I'm Jason Rivera. I compose music and teach from my studio in Los Angeles, CA. You can check out my music on my website and you can join my email list for updates.

“Excellent class!!! He made concepts that have been difficult to understand previously so clear and concise. Really got a lot out of this class. This is foundational to becoming a good composer. Can't wait to try doing the assignments!!!”

- Mona Lisa P, Skillshare Student

“Things I have been confused about for years finally made sense to me through Jason's instructions. I can't thank you enough, Jason.”

- Ronja B, Skillshare Student

“Great work, with engaging visuals and great audio and video qua... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Jason Rivera. I'm a music composer and multi instrumentalist I have written and played on many professional recordings, have composed music for and conducted live orchestras featuring some of the best musicians in the world. And I've played countless live shows touring the U. S. As a performer. Music is the art of arranging tones and time to learn how to write music. We need to understand tones and how to organize them. This is what my writing music one on one. Siris, of course, is is all about. And these classes I covered the basics of melody, rhythm and harmony and this class we're going to cover how these elements are shared from one musician to another through the use of music notation. My goal with this class is to provide you with the basics on the topic of music notation, so that you can get on the path of clearly communicating your ideas to other musicians. In this class, we will cover musical alphabet how to quickly find notes on a piano keyboard, an introduction to scientific pitch notation, the staff ledger lines most commonly used clefts measures in bar lines and common note values and rests. By the end of these video lessons, you will be ready for your assignment, where you will complete a short Siris of writing exercises that are focused on solidifying your new understanding of music notation. Okay, so let's dive in and get started with our class. 2. The Musical Alphabet: The point of studying music theory is so that we can learn how to organize sound, to create music in the style that we want. The most basic step in this process is to learn the written language of music so that we can communicate our ideas to other musicians with clarity and specificity. Music notation allows the reader to locate and play any musical sound through a set of symbols. They represent both the pitch of a note, whether it's high or low and its rhythm or placement in time, we're going to start out by looking at the symbols that represent pitch. The accepted way of naming specific pitches uses the 1st 7 letters of the alphabet A B, C, D E f on G. The's seven notes of the musical alphabet. The great thing about this system is that it's absolute. For example, the note B refers to a specific frequency, even though there are a large number of notes that any instrument can produce. There are only seven note names needed because the eighth note or the active has the same sound as the first note, but higher or lower in pitch, depending on whether you're a sending or descending and uses the same letter name as the first note. For example, you have the notes, see, and if you go up eight notes, The eighth note is also C, but an octave higher. We can also descend from sea to sea. Uh, the active is the end of the first set of notes, but it's also the beginning of the next set of notes. We can keep a sending through another set of notes up to the next, see if we wanted to. Different instruments are able to produce notes in a variety of ranges. Some instruments have a small range and others a very wide range. But all of their pictures air notated with the same seven letter names a great way to gain a visual and tactile understanding. Of the seven basic notes. A through G is to look at and play them on a piano keyboard. Like I've been doing in this lesson, each white key on the piano corresponds to one of the seven main notes. Looking at the keyboard, you'll see that there is a pattern of white keys and black keys. The black keys are arranged in groups of threes and twos. The first white key to the left of a group of three Blackie's is always the note F, The first white key to the left of a group of two Blackie's is always a note. See, So there you have to landmarks on a keyboard FNC, and from there you can figure out where the other notes are. Let's run through them. So here. See D E F G K O B, and then see it the next active up. An important reference point to remember, is that the notes see, located in the middle of a piano keyboard directly underneath the logo, is called Middle C. So here's the logo on my piano, and that's Middle C. Some musicians, myself included, like to specify pitches by combining a musical note name and a number that identifies the pitches are active. This method is referred Teoh, a scientific pitch notation. For example, the lowest see on an 88 key piano is C one the next C an octave. Up from that, this C two, the next C is C three ah, and so on all the way up the keyboard. And the same method applies to all of the other notes. For example, here you have C three D three e three F three G three, a three on B three and then the next activist C four, by the way, Middle CSC for. And so you have C four d four e four a four g four a four on before scientific pitch notation is great because it's a very specific way of labelling and note at a particular active. I like to use scientific pitch notation because there's no question about what know what you're referencing. 3. The Staff: Okay, Now that you know the seven basic notes and where they are on a piano keyboard, we're gonna learn how to communicate these. No, it's graphically in orderto have a consistent way of measuring pitch. We use a grid of five lines and four spaces called the staff. Each line or space represents a specific pitch, the pitches air designated by the cleft symbol at the beginning of the staff. This particular staff uses a travel Chlef notes are placed on both the lines and the spaces of the staff to indicate the pitch of the notes, the higher the note is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch here, the notes on the staff with the treble clef. Let's take a look at how this trouble clef relates to a piano keyboard. The trouble clef represents the notes right in the middle of a keyboard just above Middle C . The bottom line of the staff represents the E right above Middle C or E four. Let's take a look at the other notes of this staff and how they relate to the keyboard. We have E f G, I, A, B, C, D E, and the F The basic staff describes nine basic notes e for up to five five notes on the lines and four notes in the spaces. But there are notes that sit either above or below these nine notes. Notes that are higher than the F at the top of the staff are written in lines and spaces above the staff. For example, the next note above the F in the spaces g The next note on the next line up is a You can keep adding in lines and spaces to indicate notes that are higher in pitch these extra lines that I'm adding in or called ledger lines. You can also add in ledger lines below the staff to describe lower pitches. For example, the first note beneath the eat on the staff is the No. D four. The next note that falls on the first line below the staff is C Mm. This is middle C or C four, and we can keep going lower in pitch by adding and more ledger lines. And the next lesson we're gonna cover the different cliffs that we can use in the staff 4. Clefs: okay, now that we've looked at the staff, let's dive into some different cliffs that we have at our disposal. Since different instruments produce higher or lower ranges of pitch, we can use the staff to represent those different ranges. We achieve this by using a cleft sign. A clef is assemble placed on the staff that establishes the pitch of the lines and spaces on the staff. The two most common clef signs are Trouble Chlef in base class. Up to this point in the class, we've been looking at the Trouble Chlef, which represents the notes above Middle C on the piano. Again, the trouble Cliff looks like this. The treble clef is used for higher notes, such as those on the guitar, trumpet, flute, clarinet and the right hand and keyboard music. The trouble cliff symbol, also called the G clef, spirals around the line where the note G is located. The second line. There are some tricks you can use to remember. The lines in space is of the trouble. Cliff staff. The lines of the trouble cliff staff are from bottom to top E, g, B, D and F, and it helps to think of the phrase every good boy does fine. You assigned the first letter of each word in that phrase toe, a line going up from low to high. The spaces of the trouble cliff staff are from bottom to top F A, C and E, and you can simply think of the word face to help you remember those notes when you need to write music below the trouble. Cliff staff You can use a bass clef. The bass clef staff is positioned below Middle C, and it's sometimes referred to as the F clef. Here's the bass clef. The two dots on the bass clef symbols around the fourth wine up from the bottom, which is the note F the bass clef is used to know Tate lower pitched sounds. For example, the bass trombone to uh, vocalist singing the bass part and the left hand in keyboard music, saying that you could use to help you remember the lines of the base staff as good boys do find always. I know these phrases air corny, but they work again. So the first letter of each word, in the phrase represents each line of the staff from bottom to top so the lines of the bass clef staff are G b d half an a, saying that you could use to remember the spaces of the bass clef staff as all cows eat grass, so the spaces of the bass clef Staff R, A, c E and G. By the way, feel free to improvise and invent your own versions of these memory, prompting phrases generally. The more absurd the phrase, the more likely you are to remember it. If you play or write music for the piano, then you'll need to use the grand staff or great staff. The Grand Staff combines the trouble and bass clef staffs and is joined by a brace. You'll often play the piano with two hands, and each staff roughly corresponds to each hand. The bass clef to the left hand and the trouble cleft to the right hand. Using the grand staff covers a wide range of pitches. The note that falls between the two cliffs, his Middle C since Middle C belongs to neither the troubled nor bass clef, it's drawn with a short line of its own. Make note that with a grand staff, the notes from the bass and treble staffs flow smoothly into one another. The middle C is halfway between each staff. There are also other cliffs that, depending on what style of music your writing, you may or may not encounter a whole lot, but at the very least you should be aware of them. These cliffs are for instruments whose range doesn't fit comfortably in the trouble or bass clef staff. One clef that you might encounter is the alto clef. The alto clef staff is used by the viola. The alto clef points at the middle line of the staff, which is middle C. I used the alto clef staff when I write a part for Viola. Another cleft that you might come across is the tenor clef. The tenor clef looks like the alto clef. It set that it points at a different line. It still points a middle C, but Middle C is at a different spot on the staff. The fourth line from the bottom. The tenor clef staff is used for the upper ranges is of the bassoon, cello, double bass and trombone. In my own writing, I've sometimes use this clef when composing a cello part, another fairly common type of clef is the octave Chlef. An octave cleft looks like either a trouble or bass clef with the number eight either above or below the clef. When you come across this class, fear, either supposed to transpose the notes up, inactive if they ate, is above the clef or transposed the notes down an octave if they ate is below the clef. The last cleft that I'm going to cover is the percussion Chlef. The percussion cliff is used for drums and percussion that don't play a fixed pitch. The lines and spaces of this cleft don't correspond to specific pitches. Instead, what you do is assigned different instruments to different parts of the staff. Here's an example of a percussion part that I have written for one of my pieces. If you're not a percussionist yourself and you're gonna be writing a percussion part, it's a good idea to consult with the percussionist that you're riding for, so that you can double check how you're thinking of laying the written part out. And actually, this is a good idea if you're writing for any instrument that you're not very familiar with . This is one of the benefits of having live players player music. You can ask the musicians to look at your music ahead of time, and they might be able to give you feedback. And at a session, you could ask them to write in any notes right into your printed sheep music and then collect the musicians parts afterwards and review their notes. This is a great way of getting real time feedback on your writing and an important part of the learning process. There are several other cliffs that we could cover, but what I'm after with this lesson is presenting you with the common cliffs that you're going to come across most often in a practical setting. 5. Notes and Rests: Okay, now we're going to dive into the rhythmic aspect of music, which is really the topic of how pitches air placed in time. To understand rhythm, you need to learn about note values and to break this down, we're going to use some basic math. Musical time is divided into units of measure, of which the smallest is the beat or the underlying regular rhythm of a piece of music. Repetitive patterns of strong and weak beats form the meter, which is the overall rhythmic feeling of a piece of music. The meter usually consists of groups of 23 or four beats. This pattern often stays the same in a piece, especially in popular music, and it provides a framework for the other musical elements to know. Tape rhythms on the staff, groups of beats, air delineated by vertical lines called bar lines and these air drawn in front of the first beat of each group of notes. The spaces between the vertical lines are called measures or bars. You can think of a measure as a container that holds a specific number of beats in it. Any time you're singing or playing a tone, you're also singing or playing a note value. There are various kinds of notes designed to show the duration or time value of a musical sound rests air symbols indicating a definite time value of silence. Each type of note has a corresponding rest of the same duration. The easiest way to wrap your brain around notes and rest is to understand how they relate to each other and to view them in the context of the most common type of metric grouping. Four beats per measure or 44 time. And that's the context that we're gonna be using for this video lesson. A note that takes up a whole measure of four beats is called a whole note. Ah, Hall note. Looks like a big empty oval turned on its side. I'm gonna play examples of note values in this lesson, and for each example, I'm gonna lead into it by counting four beats. Let me play an example of a whole note. 12341234 Its corresponding rest is a whole rest. The whole rest last the whole measure and is suspended from the fourth line of the staff. The next smallest note value is 1/2 note. 1/2 note. Last for half of a measure or two beats, so it's half of a whole note. Half note. Looks like a whole note, but with the stem attached to the note head, here's an example of 1/2 note in the measure. 12341234 Here's an example of 2/2 notes in a measure. 12341234 The equivalent breast to 1/2. Note as 1/2 rest, which lasts half of a measure and sits on the third line of the staff. As we move forward in this lesson and continue to talk about notes with stems, I want to mention some other notation conventions. If the pitch of the note is on the middle line or higher in the staff, the stem is attached to the left side of the note head, pointing downwards. If the pitch of the note is below the middle line of the staff, the stem is attached to the right side of the note head, and it points up okay on to the next value. A note that lasts for 1/4 of a measure or one beat is called 1/4 note. 1/4 note as half of 1/2 note and resembles a filled in half note. You could fit 4/4 notes and the measure of 441 per beat. Here's a measure of 4/4 notes. 12341234 The equivalent rest is 1/4 rest, and it last for one beat. If we take 1/4 note and divide it in half, we end up with an eighth note. An eighth note last for 1/2 of a beat, or 1/8 of a whole measure, so there are 88 notes in the measure of 44 An eighth note looks similar to 1/4 note, except that it has a flag attached to this them the flag is always on the right side. No matter if the stem is pointing upwards or downwards. When you have two or more eighth notes next to each other in the measure, they're joined by using a beam. This makes it easier to read the notes and see the beats. Here's a measure of 8/8 notes. 12341234 The corresponding rest is an eighth rest at last for half of a beat and is drawn in the third space. The last note value I'm gonna cover is 1/16 note. 1/16 node last for 1/4 of a beat or half of an eighth. Note. There are 16 16th notes in a measure of 44 1/16 note looks like an eighth note, but with two flags attached to it. When two or more 16th occur in a single beat, they're connected by a double being. Here's an example of 16 16th notes in a measure 1234 The corresponding rest that's 1/16 Rest, which lasts for 1/4 of a beat, also has two flags and is drawn in the second and third spaces of the staff. Even though amending this lesson with 16th notes, be aware that there are other note values that are smaller than 16th. But the note and rest values that I presented in this video lesson are the basics that you need to have under your belt. Here's a chart of relative no, it values. I think it's helpful to get a bird's eye view of how these notes fit into one another. You can see that there are 2/2 notes in the whole note. 2/4 notes and 1/2 note, 2/8 notes and 1/4 note and to 16th notes in an eighth note. The's note values fit into one another very neatly, and it's the same with rests. 2/2 rests equal a whole rest. 2/4 rests are equivalent to 1/2 rest to eighth. Rests are equal to 1/4 rest, and to 16th rests are equal toe 1/8 rest. I encourage you to spend some time looking this chart over and making sure that you understand how these values were related to one another. At some point, you're going to run into a note or rest with a dot after it, a DOT increases the value of the note or rest by 1/2 of its normal duration. Let's take a look at some examples of dotted notes. The first example. As a dotted half note. You can think of a dotted half note as 1/2 note, plus 1/4 note. Here's what that would sound like. 12341234 Here's an example of a dotted quarter note. You can think of a dotted quarter note as 1/4 note, plus an eighth note. It would sound like this +12342 and three and four. And so those are a couple of examples of dotted note values. Hopefully, you get the idea of how it works. There is another way to extend the duration of a note, and that's with a tie. A tie is a curved line connecting two notes of the same pitch. The first note is played or sung and then held for the combined count of the two notes. For example, if you tie to half notes, it sounds the same as one whole. Note. 12341234 2/4 notes. Tied Sound like 1/2 note. 12341234 Often you'll come across what looks like a tie but is actually a slur. A slur is the same kind of curved line used for a tie, except that it connects two or more notes of different pitch. A slur tells you to play the notes as smoothly as possible. For example, I'm gonna play for a sending quarter notes without a slur. 1234 to 4 and then the same a sending quarter notes with a slur. 1234123 You can hear how the notes sound more connected. In the second example, the last note value I'm going to discuss here is the triplet. A triplet is when a note is divided into three equal parts instead of two. A triplet occupies the same length of time normally taken by two notes of the same value. When you see the number three over a group of three notes, three rests or any combination of three equal notes and rest, you know that these three notes have to fit into a space that would normally hold just two notes. Quarter note. Triplets, eighth note triplets and 16th note triplets are the most common. Here's an example of eighth note triplets. First, I'm gonna play quarter notes. I'll play 4/4 notes in one measure. 12341234 And then I'm gonna play four beats as eighth notes. 1234 and then I'm gonna play eighth note triplet so you can hear what a triplet rhythm. Sounds like 12341234 Hopefully that helps you to tune your year toe. What a triple it sounds like. 6. Class Assignment: Okay, So that completes our class on the basics of music notation. I hope that this class has been a useful introduction to this vast topic. And I hope that now you feel like you have the foundation to begin using music notation as a tool in your own music writing practice your assignment for this classes to complete a short series of written exercises that I have created to help solidify the knowledge you've gained in this class. I've uploaded the class notes and the exercises to the attached file section of this class . Please download those materials and print out the sheep with the eight exercises on it and grab a pencil. I want you to work on these exercises by hand because I think that that's the best way to get good at notation and to improve your speed at it for exercise one. I've play several notes in the trouble clef staff. Your assignment is to use the space provided and write the letter names of these notes to help you with this exercise. Keep in mind the phrase every good boy does fine for the notes on the lines of the staff and the word face to help you remember the notes of the spaces. Exercise, too, is similar to exercise one. It's up that now we're in the bass clef staff again. You're going to write in the letter name in the space provided below. Remember to help you memorize the lines of the base staff. Think of the phrase good boys do find always, and the saying that you can use to remember the spaces of the base club staff is all cows eat grass for exercise. Three were working in the grand staff, so you have a trouble cleft staff at the top and a bass clef staff on the bottom. For this exercise, you're going to draw the correct note above each letter name given. Please note that you'll need to add ledger lines for some of these notes, and please add in only the 1st 2 instances of the note given and use whole notes when drawing a notes. For example, the first note given is C, so you would add the ledger line for Middle C. Draw that note on the line and then look for the next higher instance of C, which is the third space in the treble clef staff and draw that note in. At that point, you've drawn in two instances of the note. See? So now you can move on to the next know, which is G. Exercise four is pretty straightforward for this exercise you're practicing. Drawing your collapse, you should be able to draw at least two of each clef symbol and the space provided. Feel free to revisit the video lesson on clefts in this class if you need to review what each cleft symbol looks like for exercise. Five, you're identifying the notes and rests that I've provided and writing the names of each underneath. This exercise is designed to help you become more familiar with the note and rest names and what they look like for exercise. Six were practicing dotted notes, so you're adding up the dotted note values that I've provided and writing the counts for each example in the space provided. Remember, a dotted note adds half to the value of that note. So just do a little simple math to figure out each example. For instance, to figure out the value of a dotted whole note, you start out with the knowledge that a whole note equals four counts and half of a whole notice. Two counts, so four counts plus two counts equals six counts. So for that example, you would write six in the space provided for exercise. Seven. You're practicing tying notes together. Remember, you're tying the notes, not the rests. By completing this exercise, you'll practice drawing ties and you'll learn that when you tie notes, they have to be to notes of the same pitch. And you'll also learn that you can tie the notes across a bar line for exercise. Eight. There are four measures, and you're to complete each measure using eighth note triplets. Each measures should add up to a total of four beats, so the first measure has 3/4 notes, so you only need one set of eighth note triplets for that measure. The point of this exercise is for you to get some practice writing triplets and also to practice adding up known values. As you are working on these exercises, it might be helpful for you to go back and review the previous video lessons in this class . For me personally, I learn best through repetition of information and then putting into practice what I've learned for the time being, I'm not gonna upload an answer key to these exercises because I don't want you to be tempted to look at that and just plug the answers in. I want you to sit and take your time with these exercises. Once you've completed all eight exercises, either scan or take a high resolution photo of your exercise sheet and upload the file to Dropbox or Google Drive and then post the link to your file in the Project gallery. I'm more than happy to check your work and give you notes on your assignment. Be sure to read the project description on the class page, where I've listed out the specific steps for your assignment and be shorted. Download the materials in the attached file section. Remember, the goal of these exercises is to start building your practical know how and regards to music notation and then sharing your results with your classmates so that we can learn together as a community. Also, I want to mention that if you want to continue your music education, I have many other courses available. I have classes on song, writing scales, melodies and writing court progressions. I invite you to check out those other classes as well. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions that you may have by posting them to the community section on the class page. I'll do my best to answer your questions as quick as I can. Thank you so much for watching this class, and I'm looking forward to seeing your work.