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Learning To Read Music Tutorial 1
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The most common time unit for a piece of music is a count of 4 called a measure, or a bar of music. In order to organize the passage of time while playing & know when notes are supposed to happen, we establish a background pulse consisting of evenly spaced beats. We count "1, 2, 3, 4" and repeat that pattern for as long as the piece continues.
The different note symbols mean different time lengths, so we need to specify a way of counting each of them. For a whole note, play the note on the 1 and hold it for the duration of the full measure (or bar) (counting 1, 2, 3, 4). Then, stop or play the next note. For a half note, play the note on the 1 let it ring through the 2, play again on the 3 and let it ring through the 4, then stop. Quarter notes get a note per count.
Eighth notes are typically counted "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &" in order to indicate the additional notes in between the background beats. 1/16th notes can be counted "1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a". I've also heard them counted "1 d & d 2 d & d" and so on. Note that we have counted all of the divisions down to the 1/16th notes even when counting the larger values. This gives us great practice at learning their time lengths relative to one another.
The notation image shows all these various examples. Notice that the time signature is 4/4, meaning 4 quarter notes per bar. This is also known as common time.
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