How to read music – Tim Hansen

How to read music – Tim Hansen


When we watch a film or a play, we know that the actors probably learned
their lines from a script, which essentially tells them
what to say and when to say it. A piece of written music
operates on exactly the same principle. In a very basic sense, it tells a performer what to play
and when to play it. Aesthetically speaking,
there’s a world of difference between, say, Beethoven and Justin Bieber, but both artists have used the same building blocks
to create their music: notes. And although the end result
can sound quite complicated, the logic behind musical notes
is actually pretty straightforward. Let’s take a look at the foundational
elements to music notation and how they interact
to create a work of art. Music is written on five parallel lines
that go across the page. These five lines are called a staff, and a staff operates on two axes: up and down and left to right. The up-and-down axis tells the performer the pitch of the note
or what note to play, and the left-to-right axis tells the performer the rhythm of the note or when to play it. Let’s start with pitch. To help us out,
we’re going to use a piano, but this system works for pretty much
any instrument you can think of. In the Western music tradition, pitches are named after
the first seven letters of the alphabet, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. After that, the cycle repeats itself: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and so on. But how do these pitches get their names? Well, for example, if you played an F and then played another F higher or lower on the piano, you’d notice that they sound
pretty similar compared to, say, a B. Going back to the staff, every line and every space
between two lines represents a separate pitch. If we put a note on one of these lines
or one of these spaces, we’re telling a performer
to play that pitch. The higher up on the staff
a note is placed, the higher the pitch. But there are obviously
many, many more pitches than the nine that these
lines and spaces gives us. A grand piano, for example, can play 88 separate notes. So how do we condense
88 notes onto a single staff? We use something called a clef, a weird-looking figure
placed at the beginning of the staff, which acts like a reference point, telling you that a particular
line or space corresponds to a specific note
on your instrument. If we want to play notes
that aren’t on the staff, we kind of cheat and draw
extra little lines called ledger lines and place the notes on them. If we have to draw so many ledger lines
that it gets confusing, then we need to change
to a different clef. As for telling a performer
when to play the notes, two main elements control this: the beat and the rhythm. The beat of a piece of music is, by itself, kind of boring. It sounds like this. (Ticking) Notice that it doesn’t change, it just plugs along quite happily. It can go slow or fast or whatever you like, really. The point is that just
like the second hand on a clock divides one minute into sixty seconds, with each second just as long
as every other second, the beat divides a piece of music into little fragments of time
that are all the same length: beats. With a steady beat as a foundation, we can add rhythm to our pitches, and that’s when music
really starts to happen. This is a quarter note. It’s the most basic unit of rhythm, and it’s worth one beat. This is a half note,
and it’s worth two beats. This whole note here is worth four beats, and these little guys are eighth notes, worth half a beat each. “Great,” you say, “what does that mean?” You might have noticed
that across the length of a staff, there are little lines dividing it
into small sections. These are bar lines and we refer to each section as a bar. At the beginning of a piece of music, just after the clef, is something called the time signature, which tells a performer
how many beats are in each bar. This says there are two beats in each bar, this says there are three, this one four, and so on. The bottom number tells
us what kind of note is to be used as the basic
unit for the beat. One corresponds to a whole note, two to a half note, four to a quarter note, and eight to an eighth note, and so on. So this time signature here tells us that there are four
quarter notes in each bar, one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four, and so on. But like I said before, if we just stick to the beat, it gets kind of boring, so we’ll replace some quarter notes
with different rhythms. Notice that even though
the number of notes in each bar has changed, the total number of beats
in each bar hasn’t. So, what does our musical
creation sound like? (Music) Eh, sounds okay, but maybe
a bit thin, right? Let’s add another instrument
with its own pitch and rhythm. Now it’s sounding like music. Sure, it takes some practice
to get used to reading it quickly and playing what we see on our instrument, but, with a bit of time and patience, you could be the next Beethoven or Justin Bieber.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Very informative thank you, I need to learn how to read note cuz I only know letters thanks to this video 👍🏻❤️

  2. if musical greatness was a line then…
    bieber sits at the lowest end and Beethoven sits the highest end.

    that's what the narrator implied.

  3. 90% comments

    "I went to a musical school"
    "Why youtube recommended me this?"
    "I practiclly sweat music"

    10% comments
    Like this

  4. Now I think I felt very autistic when I studied in the music school… – I have no idea how I managed to graduate – my biggest secret – I can't "read the music"… – The number of pieces of music for the secondary music-school was quite… – Certain…. And I've always been lucky to choose something to learn and to act on exams, which is well known – popular-on-sounding – so I could know, how it should finally sound 🙈 and just need to know what notes to push on the piano, and I definitely knew, how do the main length of the sounds are look-like🙈.. – I was very pleased to hear 😊the explanations presented in this video-🌟🙏

  5. I am sure I am not the only one that noticed the notes played 4:23 are not what we hear right? So let’s confuse the non music readers even more lol

  6. As a music teacher, it's always interesting to hear other teachers take on explaining musical topics. Great video (apart from the written vs sounding pitch at 4:22 many have already commented on)!

  7. Very good nutshell explanation on the whole, but I really wish he was consistent with the notes shown vs played. Sometimes the notes on the staff were going down, while the pitches we heard were going up. All too confusing for someone trying to learn the rules for the first time. If it weren’t for that I’d definitely use this with my students!

  8. "In the western music tradition, the notes are named after the the first seven letters of the alphabet." Wrong. That is in anglo-saxon music, mainly. The other western countires use Guido d'Arrezzo's notation. (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si).

  9. 4:54 – wait that sounds like beautiful in white – Westlife
    5:01 – (here we go) not sure if you know this but when we first met I got to nervous….I couldn't speeeak……….

  10. Learning to play an instrument at a young age has its benefits. It expands your brain to learning pretty much anything else.

    My respects to musicians(real musicians) 👏

  11. When the key signature for Canon in D has the sharps in the right place for treble clef……but it shows the part for cello in bass clef……

  12. I love music. In fact i tried playing different musical instruments when i was very young. Sadly i never got very good at them. Now im in my mid 30s i recently quit and gave up learning guitar as it's so frustrating after very long years i still didn't reach the level im trying to achieve. Maybe it's not for me.

  13. 저스틴 비버 시선강탈이다 ㅎㅎ
    내용은 정말 좋네요 낮은음자리표가
    왜 생겨났는지 처음알았어요 ㅎㅎ

  14. Yay ! Thank you for filling in the blanks that my public school system music classes never taught me ! I play on my own now – it's time to refresh my skills, blow the dust off my instruments and master my way to the cello !!!!!!!!!! #hellocello

  15. This is what got me into the world of music

    Fast forward 5 years and I’m the principal second for my school’s symphony orchestra

  16. Rip the key signature, and notes on bass clef, and the useless qualities of the viola, and jazz, and metal, etc.

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