Staff Notes and Their Symbols

Musical sounds on staff are represented in writing by symbol called notes. Notes written on a music staff represent the pitch of a tone and how long it will sound. The note from nota (Latin, a mark or sign) consists of either one, two, or three parts, (draw notes) these being referred to respectively as head, stem, and flag (or hook). The head of a note is the elliptical part of a note. It is an oval shape which may be colored completely black or white to depict the value of the note. The stem of a note appears on the right side of the head when turned up and on the left side of the head when turned down. The flag is always on the right side. A musical note flag is the little line that comes off the top or bottom of the note stem. The flag is often called tail or cross- stroke.

When you think of the word note as associated with music, you may think of a sound. However, in music, the major function of a note is to depict exactly how long a specific pitch should be held by the voice or instrument. These musical notes are of various structures that indicate values and duration or length of a tone.

Notes are like letters of the alphabet if we think of music as a language. They are that basic to the construction of a piece of music. Studying how note values fit against each other in a piece of sheet music is even more important than their musical pitches. This is so, because if you change the notes values in a piece of music, you end up with completely different music. That is the basics of rhythms.

Type of staff notes and Their Values
Notes come in different flavours, each with its own note value. Before we go into detail on each kind of note, have a look at diagram below, which shows most of the kinds of notes you will encounter in music arrangement so that their values add up the same in each row. The value of the half note is half of a whole note, the value of a quarter note is a quarter of a whole note, and so on. From the diagram below, each level of the “tree of notes” is equal to the others.

We have six principal notes which are in common use nowadays and one that is not commonly use. These are described in the table below.

 Beat Value

Breve is represented by a hollow oval note head with no stem, like a whole note, with one or two vertical lines on either side. It has the time value of eight beats and lasts twice as long as a whole note. It is also called double whole note.
Play for 8 (eight) beats.

Semibreve is represented by an open hollow oval note head, like that of a half note (or minim), and no note stem. It has the time value of four beats and is equivalent to two half notes or four quarter notes. It is also called a whole note.
Play for 4 (four) beats

Minim is represented by hollow oval note head like a whole note and straight note stem with no flags like a quarter note. It has a time value of two beats. It is also called a half note.
Play for 2 (two) beats

Crotchet is represented by a filled-in oval note head and a straight, flagless stem. It has the time value of a half of a half note or one beat and is indicated by a filled oval with a stem. It’s also called a quarter note
Play for 1 (one) beats

Quaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with one flag. It has the time value of the half of a quarter note or a half of a beat and is indicated by a filled oval, a stem, and one flag. It’s also called a eighth note.
Play for 1/2 (half) beats

Semiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with two flags. It’s also called a sixteenth note.
Play for 1/4 (quarter) beats

Demisemiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with three flags. It’s also called a thirty-second  note.
Play for 1/8 (eighth) beats

The musical piece in common time signature, 4/4 time, this is also called common time, a whole note will last for four beats count, a half note will last for two beats count, and a quarter note will last one beat count. An eighth note will last for half a beat and a sixteenth note will just last for a quarter of a beat in 4/4 time.

Writing notes on Staff (Stave)
Whenever we are writing a music, know that we are trying to communicate with a reader and legibility is therefore important. In a modern world of today, we can use software package like Sibelius, Muse Score, Finale etc. to write and print music sheet. However, when we are writing staff notation by hand on our music manuscript, we need to be guided to make our music legible for our readers. There must be orderliness in writing of musical notes on the stave so as to make the reading and playing of music easy.

When only one part (or voice) is written on the staff, the following rules must be applied:

(1) The head of the notes must be properly placed on the line or in the space.
(2) If the note head is below the third line; the stem must turn up.
(3) If the note-head is above the third line the stem must turn down.
(4) If the note -head is on the third line the stem is turned either up or down with due regard to the symmetrical appearance of the measure in which the note occurs.
(5) Upward and downward stem is written to the right side of the head and
(6) Ensure stems are properly join to their note-heads and hooks (tail) to their head

Notes with flag that are more than one and appears next to each other can also be connected to each other with a beam (sometimes called a ligature), instead of each note getting a flag. This is really another, more organized-looking incarnation of the flag. Using beams instead of individual flags on notes is simply a case of trying to clean up an otherwise messy-looking piece of musical notation.

To improve the readability, replace the flags of the notes with beams that will join the notes together into a grouping. Note that you will replace the single flags with single beams and double flags with the double beams and so on.

Notes and Beat Counting
Whenever you are counting out the beats, only count as high as the highest-valued note in a selection. 

Semibreve (Whole Note)
If you were to see a line of whole notes, you would count them out like this:
One (CLAP) - Two - Three - Four 
One (CLAP) - Two - Three - Four
One (CLAP) - Two - Three - Four.
One (CLAP) - Two - Three - Four

“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two-three-four” is what you say out loud as the note is held for four beats.

Minim (Half Note)
A half note will last for half as long as a whole note. Whenever you count out the half notes, it will sound like this:
One (CLAP) - Two
One (CLAP) - Two
One (CLAP) - Two
One (CLAP) - Two  

“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two” is what you say out loud as the note is held for two beats.

Crotchet (Quarter Note)
Divide a whole note (with a four beats value) by four, and will you get a quarter note with a note value of one beat.
Four quarter notes are counted out like this:
One (CLAP)
Two (CLAP)
Three (CLAP)
Four (CLAP)  
You would only count up to one because the highest valued note is a quarter note which is just a beat. A “CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat.

Quaver (Eighth Notes)
This is an eighth note with a value of half of a quarter note. Eight notes of  eighth note (quaver) will last for the same duration as one whole note, which means that an eighth note will last half a beat (in 4/4, or common, time).

Eighth notes can be counted out like this:
Tap your toe for the beat count while you clap your hands twice for every toe tap you make.

One (CLAP) and (CLAP)
Two (CLAP) and (CLAP)
Three (CLAP) and (CLAP) 
Four (CLAP) and (CLAP) 

You can also count it out as follows:

ONE-and TWO-and THREE-and FOUR-and
The numbers you pronounce in the count represent four beats, and the “ands” are the half beats.

NOTES: To master the beat counting, do not mind the speed and focus more on the accuracy. You can also use a metronome to set a pace for yourself.


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