Manuale d'istruzioni - Pizzicato 3.6 IT190 - Revisione del 14/11/2012

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Characteristics of music notation (1)

Subjects covered:


Note stems [Base] [Principiante] [Professional] [Notazione] [Composizione Base] [Composizione Pro] [Percussioni] [Chitarra] [Coro] [Tastiera] [Solista]

We have seen that half notes, quarter notes and all shorter rhythmic values have a stem. This vertical line starts from the right side of the note head and moves upwards, at least in the examples seen so far. Its length does not influence the note and is purely a question of convention, readability and esthetics of the graphical layout.

According to the note head position on the staff, the stem can be oriented downwards. In this case, it starts from the left side of the note:

Generally, one acts so that the stem exceeds the staff the least possible while having on average the length given in this example. When the note is placed on the third line or lower, the stem is directed upwards. When the note is placed higher than the third line, the stem is directed downwards:

This is not a mandatory rule, because it does not at all influence the performance of the note. The same principle is valid for the eighth notes. When you draw rhythmic values with hooks, they also change orientation, but they stay on the right side of the stem. The hooks always point in the direction of the note. Here is an illustration:

For reasons of clarity and readability of the score, this rule is sometimes broken. We will see examples of it further.

Beams [Base] [Principiante] [Professional] [Notazione] [Composizione Base] [Composizione Pro] [Percussioni] [Chitarra] [Coro] [Tastiera] [Solista]

In order to make the score more readable and easier to sight-read, it is very common to connect together several notes having one or more hooks. To illustrate this, let us take for example the following measure:

It contains 4 beats. To facilitate the reading, we will gather the notes per beat. Here is the result:

In this way, you directly distinguish the 4 parts of the measure. The ends of the note stems are connected together with one or more lines that replace the hooks. It is necessary to have the same number of lines as there are hooks. These stem connection lines are called beams. Generally, the notes will be connected together inside each beat.

When several different notes are placed inside the same beat, the principle stays the same. Thus the following measure :

can be written like this:

All notes are connected by a line (called a beam) and additional lines are added for the notes having more than one hook. For each note, the number of lines attached to the stem must be the same as the number of hooks when the note is not attached to other notes. The angle of the beams does not really matter. It often follows the angle suggested by the note positions. Sometimes they are fixed horizontal. It is a question of graphical design.

More than one rhythmic voice [Base] [Principiante] [Professional] [Notazione] [Composizione Base] [Composizione Pro] [Percussioni] [Chitarra] [Coro] [Tastiera] [Solista]

We have seen that in a 4/4 measure, the total duration of the notes and rests must always give the equivalence of 4 quarter notes. It happens that several melodies are written on the same staff, which slightly modifies this rule. Let us take the example of two flutes in an orchestra. They play for example the following melodies:

For various reasons, the two staves are sometimes put together. It is often the case for the orchestral instruments, when the two parts are not too condensed.

For each measure, the two melodies have both 4 beats. One also speaks about a complete rhythmic voice. If we write these two voices on the same staff, we get:

By adding the note values, you find for each measure a total duration of 8 beats. Nevertheless, the way in which beats are laid out shows rather clearly that they are organized as two 4 beats melodies which must be played together. This is even more obvious if you compare it with the two separate staves.

Notice that to better differentiate the notes of the two rhythmic voices, the stems of the higher voice are oriented upwards and those of the lower voice downwards.

These two examples are located in the Ex013 and Ex014 files. Successively open them with Pizzicato and listen to the sound result. The notes starting at the same time stay aligned, even when they are on the same staff.

In the above example, the two melodies are played by two different instruments. With the piano or the organ, it happens that the same hand plays two melodies at the same time, which produces the same kind of notation. In more complex scores, it happens that you can find three (and sometimes more) rhythmic voices on the same staff. Here is an example:

One voice plays 2 half notes, the second voice plays 4 quarter notes while the third voice plays 8 eighth notes.

You always find a multiple of the measure total duration. Two rhythmic voices in 4/4 give a total of 8 quarter notes. Three rhythmic voices will have the equivalent of 12 quarter notes, etc. What is important to understand is that these multiple rhythmic voices are played at the same time, they thus do not lengthen the measure, which keeps a total duration of 4 quarter notes. The layout of the rhythmic voices often clearly shows it, because beats are aligned together, as if they were placed in different staves.


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