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Count 1, 2,
Chapter 5: Joining the Rhythm Nation
Try playing these quarter notes on your piano. Begin by tapping your foot to the beat at a tempo of one tap per second. Count out loud “1, 2, 3, 4.” Each time your foot taps the floor, play the next quarter note on the piano. When you reach the barline, continue playing, tapping, and counting the next measure.
Half the pie
Returning to the dessert table, if you cut each pie into quarters and you eat two pieces, you end up eating half a pie. Likewise, if you cut up a measure of music into four beats, and you play a note so that it lasts for two beats, you can surmise that the two beats equal a half note.
Figure 5-5 shows you a few measures with half notes and quarter notes. Notice that a half note looks similar to a quarter note with its rounded notehead and long stem, but the quarter note’s notehead is white instead of black.
Save half for me.
Try playing the notes that you see in Figure 5-5. For every half note hold the key down for two beats, or two foot taps, before playing the next note. Keep counting “1, 2, 3, 4” to help you know when to play and when to hold.
The laws of staff gravity
You may have noticed that sometimes a note's stem points up and sometimes it points down. Thanks to the laws of staff gravity, any notes on or above the middle line of a staff point
downwards. This applies to all notes with stems.
Sir Isaac Newton would have been proud, don't you think?
Part II: Getting Sound Down on Paper
The Whole pie
Get those stomach muscles ready: If you eat all four pieces of a pie that’s been cut into four pieces, then you eat the whole pie. I hope it was a small one. If you play a note that lasts for all four beats of the measure, you are playing a whole note
For obvious oblong reasons, this note is sometimes referred to by (non-athletic) musicians as a “football.” Like the half note, the whole note’s notehead is white, but its shape is slightly different — more oval than round. See Figure 5-6 to check out some whole notes.
Eating the whole pie in one big gulp
The art of playing whole notes is an easy one. Play the notes in Figure 5-6 and hold the key for four beats, or four foot taps. You then go across the barline and immediately play the next measure, since a whole note lasts for the whole measure. Remember to count all four beats as you play, which helps you maintain a steady rhythm.
Mixing up the pieces
After you know how to count, play, and hold the three main types of notes, try playing Figure 5-7 (Track 6) with all of the different note lengths mixed up. Listen to Track 6 before you play, so that you can hear how long each note lasts. Okay, I agree that the song’s melody doesn’t exactly bring a tear to the eye — I used the same note throughout the “song” to help emphasize the rhythm created by combining the three note lengths.
Chapter 5: Joining the Rhythm Nation
Count: 1, 2, 3, 4 1, 2, 3,
Mixing up all the notes.
1, 2,3, 4 1, 2,3, 4 1,2,3,4
1,2 3, 4 1, 2, 3,4
1, 2, 3,4
Faster, Faster, Alley Cat
Just because a measure has four beats in it doesn’t mean that it can only have four notes. Unlike quarter, half, and whole notes (which I talk about in the preceding section), some notes last only a fraction of a beat. The smaller the fraction, the faster the music sounds, because you hear more notes for every beat, or foot tap.
Listen to Track 7 on the CD. Each beat — represented by the steady clicking sound — is the length of one quarter note, which creates a quarter note feel. However, the shorter note lengths make the music sound like it’s getting faster and faster.
Actually, the speed of the music doesn’t change at all. Rather, in each successive measure, the length of the notes is a smaller and smaller fraction of the beat. Dividing the beat like this allows you to play more notes in the same amount of time, as well as giving the music a slightly different, perhaps more danceable, rhythm.
If you find it difficult to play these faster notes, simply slow down the tempo by tapping a slower quarter-note beat. This allows you to play these faster note patterns at a slower tempo. You can increase the tempo as you become more familiar with the music.
56 Part II: Getting Sound Down on Paper
A note by any other name
Other English-speaking countries (and a few snobbish music circles in the U.S.) use different names for lengths of notes. For example, in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia,
you hear the quarter note referred to as a crotchet, the half note as a menim, and a whole note as a semibreve. Never fear — the notes, by any name, all have the same values.
When you cut four pie pieces in half, you get eight pieces. When you cut the four beats in a measure in half, you get eighth notes. It takes two eighth notes to equal one beat, or one quarter note. Likewise, it takes four eighths to make one half note. It takes eight... you get the idea.