Music Fundamentals- Rhythms
Music is as much a foreign language as it is the universal language of mathematics. In fact, in some ways it’s prudent to equate music to physics: in physics, math is a means toward finding a much more profound end. So let’s start this lesson with some applied mathematical values for notes. Don’t worry, this week we only have to count to 4! (and maybe do a few fractions).
This is a quarter note. We’ll use this note as our foundation for the lesson. It has an equivalent of 1.
This is a half note. It is comprised of 2 quarter notes. Again, just like mathematics, two quarters equal one half.
This is called a “dotted” half note. The dot means that you take the base value of the note (2), half it (1), and add those together (3). In other words 2 + 1 = 3. Simple eh?
This rollie-pollie note is called a whole note. It is the equivalent of two half notes (2 + 2 = 4), or 4 quarter notes (1 + 1 + 1 + 1= 4), or one dotted half note and one quarter note (3 + 1= 4), etc.
See, rhythm (at the written level) is just math.
Ok, so we have some base values for each of the notes, now we need a grid to measure them on. For this week, we’ll stick with 4/4 and 2/4 time signatures:
The top part of any time signature signifies how many beats there are in a measure: in this case 4. The bottom number signifies something a bit more difficult, which type of note equals one beat. In 4/4 the quarter note equals one beat. You can think of a time signature as a fraction to help you understand this (or to confuse you horribly). Take the following equation:
To parse this in musical terms: 4/1= 4 beats, 1/4 = quarter note.
And one more time signature to deal with this week:
Remember: top note equals how many beats in a measure, in this case 2; and the bottom note signifies which note gets the beat, in this case 4 for quarter note. Another pseudo-mathematical equation to hash this out for you:
To parse this in musical terms: 2/1= 2 beats, 1/4 = quarter note.
So, let’s setup a basic rhythm grid:
To break this down: The time signature in this example is 4/4. Thus, 4 beats to a measure where the quarter note gets the beat. There are two measures in this example, and these two measures are separated by a barline. A barline simply divides the staff into equal parts as per the time signature. It will be the same idea for a 2/4 time signature, but with two beats instead of 4.
One more important concept is called a “tie”. Ties are fairly straightforward, when a note is “tied” to another, that means that you take the two notes and add their values. For example:
So, on beat one, there is a regular quarter note, followed by a series of “tied” notes, a half note, followed by a quarter note, followed by a whole note. The tied value of the tied notes equals out to 2 + 1 + 4 = 7.
One more thing before I wrap up this post: rests.
A rest is exactly what it sounds like. Where notes tell you when to play, a rest will tell you when not to play. Rests work mathematically the same way as notes.
This is a quarter rest, it is equivalent to the duration of a quarter note.
This symbol that looks like a hat is a half rest. It has the same duration as a half note.
This upside-down hat is a whole rest. It is the same length as a whole note.
NOTE: You can write a “dotted” half rest, but for uniformity purposes and ease of reading factors, its better to just write a half rest + a quarter rest.
Ok! So that’s post one on rhythm, with another post following next week (more complicated rhythms). Please download and work through the worksheet attached to this lesson for more examples and to tie this lesson in with last weeks lesson.