Unidade 1



In its raw essence, the system of musical notation is a system of information storage. On a written page of music, the sounds themselves are not stored--obviously--but what you see is a very elaborate set of instructions for reconstructing a set of organized sounds that presumably will send us a message and possibly affect our emotions.

Our system of musical notation has been handed down over the past few centuries, becoming fairly recognizable to modern eyes around 1600. It has changed to accommodate the many new innovations, instruments, and inventions. Like any good system, it is still in the process of evolution to meet changing needs. Newer types of musical sound present some very unusual problems to a system that was previously unconcerned with microseconds, complicated electronic diagrams, or elements of random probability and improvisation being incorporated into musical performances.

A common misconception is that music is composed to fit the rules of its notation system. Traditionally just the opposite is true. In other words, if I compose something that can't quite be written using the present rules of notation, then instead of changing the music I've composed, I change the rules of the storage system. The sound is the master. Notation is the servant.

Musical notation consists of symbols which deal mostly with two of the seven parameters--pitch and duration. These are the two most important parameters in music notation and, probably not coincidentally, the first ones to evolve. A functional piece of music can be notated using just these two parameters.

Most of the other ones, such as loudness, instrumentation, or tempo, are usually written in English or Italian somewhere outside of the main musical framework.

You have probably noticed that some musical sounds are what we call HIGH and others are said to be LOW sounds (even though the same two words are also used, this is not referring to the volume of the sound). This pertains to the vibration speed of the air waves produced by the sound. This element is pitch. Pitch is represented on a grid of five lines called a staff; (plural, STAVES).

The duration is represented by variations in the appearance of the note symbols. This determines the type of note and the value of any one note relative to all other notes in a composition.

Remember from the opening chapter that our system of notation is very regular and that the durational values are always proportional to each other regardless of the master tempo or other factors in the music notation. They are related to the powers of two, although a few hundred years ago it was not uncommon to have a composition with basic rhythmic values based on powers of THREE. Not infrequently, compositions are currently written based on three or some other metric number.

Finally, why is this text discussing two lists, one dealing with musical sound and the other dealing with musical notation? Why not talk about all of them in the same list?

The reason is because our brain processes written music vastly different from the way it processes the sound. This is also true in spoken language. Note that I'm not talking about grammatical rules--those pretty much remain the same for written and verbal rules--instead I'm talking about the rules for actually putting the scribbles of language down on paper. Many people, including some very famous ones, have a type of dyslexia where they may reverse letters when they are reading and have difficulty in comprehending the written word. Many of those same people are gifted in the verbal aspects of the language.

Some of the conventions of musical notation might seem a little illogical on occasion. The reason for this is that it is a dynamic system--as musical sound changes, the needs of the storage system must be able to accommodate any new things that a composer can throw at it. Like the old proverb "too many cooks spoil the stew", musical notation has been playing catch-up with a lot of different changes in recent centuries. Someone could sit down and probably come up with a system for musical notation that would much more intuitive and logical. The only problem is, the millions of people who are completely happy with the irregularities of the old one, as well as the many tens of thousands of pieces of music written in the old manner.

In many ways, recording has been becoming another type of musical notation. For the most part, the purpose of musical notation is to preserve a piece of music so that someone can reconstruct it. The playing of a recording is certainly a parallel to the older way of doing things. Many musicians cannot read printed music well, if at all, but have developed a very sophisticated talent for "playing by ear". As a nod confirming the process, the U.S. Copyright office now accepts recordings of music in lieu of a written out score.

Please keep in mind that the following is meant to be a glimpse into some of the rules of common musical notation. It's highly unlikely that someone completely unfamiliar with music would be able to learn to read music proficiently from just this text.


Musical notation, as we commonly know it, tells us information about the exact frequencies to be sounded. Without some kind of exact and consistent pitch notation harmony would probably evolved quite differently, if at all.

In a nutshell, the notational parameter of pitch determines how fast an instrument vibrates the air (for a more detailed explanation refer to the section on ACOUSTICS).

Notation of pitch is done by using a framework (or grid) of five lines called a staff. Both the lines and spaces are used for note placement. The relationship is simple and consistent. How high or low a pitch is played is determined by how high or low the note head is placed on the staff.

A piano uses two staves, each one covering a different range of notes (commonly known as register). The top staff is played by the right hand and the bottom one is played by the left hand. The right hand covers the highest range of the keyboard and the left, the lower range. They are read simultaneously--two notes that are in vertical alignment are played together. Organ music will often have three staves--the top is played by the right hand, the middle by the left hand, and the bottom played by the feet. An orchestral score will often have more than ten staves. Among other uses of the word, a score is the master printing of orchestral music that contains all parts and will have many staves vertically stacked--this means that the different instruments whose notes are in vertical alignment will perform simultaneously.

Remember that when we discuss these lines and spaces on the staves they will be numbered from bottom to top (the first line is the bottom one, the fourth space is the top one, etc.) The two staves played in piano music are together called the GREAT (or GRAND) STAFF because they cover most of the usable range of pitches for the piano.

Each one of these lines and spaces represents one of the white key notes of the piano (the black keys require symbols that will be dealt with later).

Question--as the two staves cover a different range on a keyboard, how does one know which notes are which? In case you haven't guessed or heard someone try it, compositions sound pretty silly when moved around indiscriminately. The 'key' to the solution is a CLEF SIGN which assigns one definite note to one definite line. Incidentally, the word 'clef' in French means "key".

In English speaking countries, notes are named with the first seven letters of the alphabet--A, B, C, D, E, F, G. This sequence goes upward on the staff and as we go forward in sequence, we say that the pitches are getting higher. On the piano, the sequence goes from left to right. Once the sequence has reached the letter G, the alphabet starts over at A.

Yes, this means that on a standard keyboard, there are many A's, B's, etc. Notes with the same letter name will have a very close relationship with each other, almost--but not quite--being interchangeable with each other.

How does one know which is which? It would seem that there's potential for a lot of confusion here, but there are a few relatively simple rules for figuring the names of the lines and spaces on a specific staff.

  1. In each staff, regardless of clef, all lines and spaces are used--none are skipped.
  2. The notes are lettered in ascending order on the staff--always going up. Because a staff represents a part of the range of notes on a keyboard whose order never changes or doubles back on itself, that order is always A, B, C, D, E, F, G, lettered from bottom to top in that order.
  3. When the cycle comes to an end at G, as on the piano keyboard, it starts at the beginning. In other words, the next letter above G in the sequence is A.
  4. The last thing necessary is some kind of reference point, a specific note designated for a specific line. That is decided by the type of clef sign.

There are six or so clefs that are commonly used in the musical world. The three most common ones in use are described below.


The treble clef is probably the one familiar to the greatest number of people. This clef sign, made somewhat like a stylized letter 'G' fixes one of the five lines as being a note named "G". This design centers around the second line (in musical parlance the lines, like the letter names, are numbered from bottom to top). It tells us that a note head written on that line is the note named G that lies immediately above middle C, or specifically, a note that vibrates about 420 cycles per second.

Starting with this G being set, the lines and spaces are lettered from the bottom to the top (the second space starts the cycle over on A, the third line is then B, etc.). This goes on until we get to a G, and then the process starts again using A, then B, etc.

The pattern never "wraps around" (meaning that if the top line is G the bottom line is then an A). The reason for this is that each clef depicts a part of the whole keyboard. The alignment and pattern of one to the other never changes. The note below a G will always be an F, regardless of clef sign and will always be lettered from bottom to top.

The individual symbols, called notes, are written so that the rounded part (called the head) will either have a line passing through it or be sitting in a space. The note is then played as the pitch given in that specific clef.


On a piano score, the bass clef (used in a musical context the word 'bass' rhymes with "face") is printed below the treble clef and is played by the left hand. It is used to notate the lower range of pitches. As some items are consistent between the two clefs, you may be able to guess that it specifically fixes one of the notes named "F". The reference point for the bass clef is the fourth line. Once again, remember that the lines and spaces are numbered AND LETTERED from the bottom to the top in ALL clefs. This pattern continues even when the notes go above or below the clefs. This is the note F immediately below middle C, and vibrates at a frequency of about 200 cps. There are numerous "C's" on the piano but only one "middle C".) Being lettered from the bottom to the top, the fourth space is G, the fifth line is A, etc.


This clef sign is almost never used on the piano. It lies exactly between the treble and bass clefs and is really too low for the right hand and too high for the left hand. Certain other instruments, primarily the viola, will use it. It centers around the middle line and tells us that a note on that line is MIDDLE C. Middle C is the C in the middle of a full sized piano keyboard, usually under the manufacturer's trademark. The fifth line G is the G designated by the treble clef. The first line F is the same note designated by the F of the F clef. The rest of the notes are lettered consistently with the above stated rules.

A little bit of explanation for some of what may seem oddities of the clef system. They can pretty well be summed up in one word--tradition.

The words treble, alto, and bass clefs are named for the vocal ranges that they cover. The G, C, and F refer to the notes that they locate on each staff. Traditionally, the range of the staff is the range of the average untrained singer.

You can easily see that there is a lot of overlapping between these three clef signs. Accordingly, there is a lot of overlap between typical voice ranges.

What would happen if one were to use a staff of eleven lines and superimpose the three clef signs on it? You would get a "superclef" that might look like the following.


If you've done a little counting, might notice that the "superclef" above can handle a grand total of 21 white key notes on the piano keyboard and the keyboard certainly has more than 21 white keys! You may also have noticed that notes in the middle can be very tricky to read. Is a note on the seventh or eighth line? The fifth or sixth space? This is an experiment that has been tried centuries ago, and quickly died off in favor of the practical.

Other attempts at staffs came up with three, four, or six lines before a five line staff became the standard. Guido of Arezzo, a monk who lived in the 11th century, is the father of the modern staff, as well as the tradition of using the syllables "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti" to denote certain pitches.

Much of musical notation has grown out of the very functional need for musicians to be able to read it very rapidly and with great accuracy. Common usage and common sense has given us a staff with five lines and four spaces--giving us only a total of nine white key names.

While that nine note range might be the most efficient for reading, and sufficient for average vocalists, certainly many voices and instruments have ranges that go well outside any five-line/four-space clef. What then?

Line segments called LEDGER LINES serve as extensions to a staff. They allow notes to be placed above or below the staff. Up to four are usually used--after that, another symbol is used to avoid confusion and make things easier to read.


Not all notes or compositions are played exclusively on the white keys. When this happens, symbols often referred to as "accidentals" come into play.

The common accidentals are called the sharp, and the flat. Respectively, those two signs placed in front of a note will raise and lower the pitch one half step, something discussed in more depth in Chapter 4--the Piano Keyboard.

A third sign, the natural, is used to cancel a sharp or a flat and tells the performer to play the white key name of that particular note.

In more advanced music, there are such things as double sharps and double flats, which raise or lower the note two half steps.

Most pieces of music use many black keys, and to write a sharp or flat in front of each altered note would create an almost unreadable clutter. To avoid this, a key signature is placed at the beginning of a piece of music.

The key signature, written between the clef sign and the meter signature (see below in "Duration"), consists of a series of sharps or flats--but never both at the same time.

For example, if there is a sharp on the F in a key signature, it tells a musician to play all notes "F" as "F#" instead, regardless of whether or not they fall on that line. A flat on the B line tells a musician to play all notes "B" as Bb, and so on. Again, the natural sign in front of a note will signal that the musician should play the white key version of the note.


Along with notes having a definite vibrating frequency, or pitch, our notational system must be able to record the length those pitches are supposed to be sounded. It does so by using different note symbols.

Pitch and duration are the two most basic parameters. Numerous computer programs have been written that use a very simple notation for pitch and duration--the vertical position (up or down) represents the pitch. The length of the note is symbolized by the length of the line--anywhere from a sixteenth of an inch to five or six inches or more.

Standard musical notation uses notes with different parts and shapes to determine how long a particular pitch will sound.

Again, as with pitch, there are very elaborate rules that have been handed down as to correct music calligraphy. This is not the place to outline all of the rules (and there are quite a few), but I'll relate a couple of them.

Notes with stems will often have the note going up or down. This is usually determined by the position of the note on the staff. A note above the third line will have the stem going down. A note below the third line will have the stem going up. A note in the middle can have the stem going either direction. These rules date from the Middle Ages when the most expensive thing about written music was the paper. Keeping the stems within the staff allowed more staves to be written on an individual sheet of paper.

Generally notes are written similar to the shape of the small letters 'd' and 'p', NOT 'b' and 'q'. More than one note on the same stem means that they are played together, something that not all instruments can do.

Today these rules are often flexible, bending to the needs and demands of the composer as he tries to "store" his musical ideas. In any case, the overriding practice is to make the music as readable as possible to a musician getting through it quickly.

Rhythmically speaking, notes are named for how long they last, relative to other notes in a given composition and a given tempo.

Each one of these notes is named for the fraction of the whole note it represents. In modern notation the whole note is the longest note commonly used. A duration lasting for half the length of the whole note is called a half note. A quarter note lasts half the length of a half note. If you have been keeping track, and have a little sense of working with fractions, a quarter value will be one fourth the length of a whole note value, and sound twice as long as an eighth note.

Other note values common to the system (not shown above) are thirty-second notes, and sixty-fourth notes. Each one progressively adds a flag or a beam to signify its value to the musician.

With few exceptions (and these exceptions are compromises that make the whole thing easier to read), these notes will always be perfectly proportional in their relationships to each other.

However, one thing that changes a great deal is the amount of time each note takes in a given composition. A whole note in one piece of music will last one second, whereas in another piece it will last eight seconds. That difference is determined by the tempo of a piece of music (see below), but in either case, a half note will last exactly half the length of a whole note, a quarter note will last exactly one fourth the length of a whole note, etc.

Note that in example 1-7 some of the eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second notes have flags while the others are "beamed" together. The purpose of the beam is just to make groups of these notes a little easier to read. As you are seeing firsthand, music contains many patterns and logic systems--perhaps this is why studies have found that musicians are among the best computer programmers. These patterns and logic systems must be read and understood quickly and efficiently by the player. Beaming notes together in groups of 4, 8, 3, etc. allows this to be done very easily. When a series of notes is beamed together, each note head is still articulated.

Perhaps it's little wonder that so much of our music is so heavily stacked in favor of rhythms based on powers of two. The standard note values take the longest note (the whole note) and keep evenly dividing it in half into smaller and smaller segments.

Without any alterations, this system could only get notes lasting 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 beats each. By itself, there would be no single note that could last for three, six, or nine beats.

Tradition has given us a way to extend each of the notes to easily get values of three.

A dot placed to the right of the note head indicates to a musician that the note is to be played one and one-half times longer than an undotted note in a given meter signature.

Be sure not to confuse this with a dot placed above a note head. That refers to articulation (see below).

After dealing with undotted and dotted notes, you might have noticed that there are a few note values that the system can't handle. What about a note that sounds for five beats? Seven beats? Three and a half? Well, there are no single notes that last these lengths.

Perhaps I compose a piece of music that has a note lasting longer than one measure. Or a note that lasts over where a barline should fall. What type of note do I use then? Once more, the system of musical notation cannot deal with a single note that sounds over a barline.

Again, the notational system must be the servant here, not the master. The solution is an easy one. Instead of adding dozens of symbols to the notational system (making it very difficult to learn), the solution is to use the basic note symbols that are there--and link them together.

The answer to this problem is called a "tie". A tie is a curved line that links two or more notes of the same pitch together. The musician will then mentally combine their values and play one long unbroken note that combines the values of the individual notes.

A tie can also be used to extend the sound of a note over a barline into another measure.

A similar marking called a 'slur' is an example of another articulation marking. Illustrated below is the difference in appearance between the two.

You will often find two numbers at the beginning of a composition, one over the other. This is called a METER SIGNATURE (see ex. 1-8, A) and determines how many beats will be in a measure, sometimes described as "determining the meter." It also establishes note relationships that will affect how easily a piece of music can be read.

The top number in a meter signature (ex. 1-8, E) tells how many beats will be contained in the space of time in each measure. This is whether the composition will flow in ONE-two-three-four, ONE-two-three-four or ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, etc. Many compositions will change this feeling of meter frequently. Others are extremely regular.

The bottom number gives information as to what kind of note gets one beat. This is a function that CANNOT be distinguished by ear. It serves to simplify advanced rhythmic and notational functions that are beyond the scope of this text. Don't worry about the details; just understand that a quarter note will not always get one beat.

In traditional musical notation, there are vertical lines that usually extend through all musical lines being played simultaneously. These are called BARLINES (ex. 1-8, B). There are cases where two barlines are written together, and these are called DOUBLE BARLINES (ex. 1-8, C) and signify the end of the composition--they won't be used anywhere else.

The space between the barlines is called a MEASURE (ex. 1-8, D). The size of each measure is determined by the meter signature. In a given composition where all measures are under the same meter signature, they will all be the same length.


An additional parameter that governs the sound of music is the domain of tempo or the relative speed of a composition. The words to describe tempo (plural: tempi) are traditionally in Italian and number into the hundreds. The reason for this is that when the practice of specifying a particular tempo evolved during the Renaissance, Italy was the center of musical learning. As many musicians came to study the state of the art practices, they carried those advanced practices back to their own countries. Centuries later, Italian remains the universal musical language for tempo and dynamics, among other things. Tempo markings are found above the score at the beginning of a composition, or above the score where a change is specified. One term or occasionally a few of them is sufficient to not only govern the tempo, but the general mood of the music (See example 1-8). Some of the most common are:

Once a tempo is set, that doesn't mean that it can't be altered. The composer will simply indicate a different tempo marking at the appropriate place in the music. A few temporary alterations are also possible. A piece of music will often speed up or slow down to emphasize a certain section or idea or create a certain feeling.

Much of the time a composition will slow down at the end, giving the listener a hint that it is finished. More often than not, this won't be written into the music, but is common practice.

The amount the performer speeds up or slows down isn't usually specified. It is up to him to understand the music, the composer's intent, and hopefully--have some sense of proportion and good taste in his execution.

In the vast majority of compositions, there is nothing that tells the performer exactly how fast to play the piece of music. A certain amount of this is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor. If you listen to different recordings of the same piece of music, you can find very widely ranging interpretations of the same tempo (and other elements as well). Which one happens to be correct?

Many of them--maybe all of them. The following are some reasons: when a pianist chooses a tempo for a piece of music, he has to take into account the particular sound of the piano, the amount of reverberation in the hall before he even has to deal with musical and interpretative matters.

A conductor standing before an orchestra must be aware of the orchestra's strengths, the sounds of the specific instruments and families, and also gauge the character of the performing area.

While they aren't exact, tempo markings are pretty much guidelines for performance. The composer's partner in the endeavor--the performer--must add his contribution of good judgement (for a more complete discussion, see INTERPRETATION at the end of this unit).


Dynamics--loudness--evolved at nearly the same time as tempo markings, again in Italy. The first known piece of music to have dynamics specified was the "Sonata Pian e Forte" by Giovanni Gabrieli. Before then, the loudness was left up to the performer, as well as the tempo.

The full terms for dynamics are sometimes written out, but mostly are expressed in symbols and abbreviations. There are also traditionally in Italian and will be found between the staves in piano music. In an orchestral score, they will usually be found next to the part to which they apply.

pp pianissimo very soft
p piano soft
mp mezzopiano medium soft
(soft in a medium range)
mf mezzoforte medium loud
(loud in a medium range)
f forte loud
(literally "strong")
ff fortissimo very loud

Like tempi, dynamic levels can, and often do, change in a piece of music. Below are some of the common terms and symbols used.

sfz.--sfortzando--suddenly loud and then immediately back down to the original level

fp--forte piano--similar to but a little less than sfz.

A common misconception is that tempo and dynamics must be related to each other. In other words many people believe that if a piece of music is fast it must be loud; and if a piece of music is slow it must be soft. This is incorrect. While these pairs are often linked with each other, they are really independent. Musical literature has a great deal of fast passages that are soft as well as slow passages that are played at a loud volume.

The word "piano" in dynamics is related to the instrument called the piano. Bartolommeo Cristofori is credited with inventing an internal mechanism that was a major improvement over the harpsichord, which was the prior common keyboard instrument. Unlike the piano, it couldn't play at all dynamic levels because of its internal mechanism which plucked the strings instead of striking them. When the piano was invented, it was called a pianoforte (sometimes fortepiano), suggesting its ability to change dynamics. Over the past couple of centuries common usage has shortened the name to just "piano".


Giving a little advice about orchestration, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "You can have some of the musicians play all of the time, you can have all of the musicians play some of the time, but you can't have all of the musicians play all of the time." The result of too much sound is that no instrument will stand out--there is so much color that the result becomes colorless because of the lack of contrast. The same result happens when a lot of children get their first paint set--they mix all the colors together and get black, too much of which becomes boring.

When the musical score doesn't have notes written in it, it will have symbols called "rests", which basically tell the musician to keep silent.

Rests are important for two primary reasons. The most obvious is that many musical instruments create sound from the player's breath--and most of the musicians I have worked with consider it a nice gesture if the composer gives them a chance to take a breath on occasion.

A second important reason was alluded to above--for the sake of color in orchestration. Again, too many instruments playing at the same time becomes one colorless, impenetrable mass of sound. There's a saying often used by expressive artists--"less is more". Having too much happening at once will often overwhelm the senses of the listener and create opposite what was intended.

Silence is important in the subtleties of music. The best way to have an instrument's sound stand out is to have others stop playing. It's a simple but highly effective tactic.

Rests are named after the note value they replace and are equal to the same named note in a given situation. The only exception to this is the whole rest. A whole rest is equal to the duration of the whole note, but also is used to represent an entire measure's rest even when the length is not exactly the length of a whole note.

Certain musicians (percussion instruments especially) will occasionally need to rest for hundreds of measures at a time. The musician's concentration is of the utmost importance--you can imagine how disastrous it would be for a cymbal player to come in with a loud crash a measure early!! (It has happened. . .)


Often when someone writes for an orchestra, he will think in terms of instrumental combinations as well as the sound of individual instruments standing out. In a sense, it's very similar to the approach a painter has when he decides what colors to use on a canvas. Certain colors or combinations are good in the background. Another color might be very useful in highlighting a certain scene, bringing it to the attention of a viewer.

The use of the shades and colors when 'painting' a musical picture is the parameter of tone color.

In a nutshell, the traditional way of deciding which tone color is to be used, is to simply tell the musicians which instruments to play! In reality, it's a little more complicated than that, as there are a lot of individual effects that can be generated from each instrument. Even some instruments with seemingly monochromatic sounds such as the piano or the classical guitar can produce a wide range of tone colors and shadings.

Most of these, however, are written out in one language (again, often Italian) instead of the use of a symbol. For example, "senza vibrato" means without vibrato, "sul ponticello" is a term that tells a string player to bow close to the bridge. Even though it is a vocal term, "sotto voce" is a direction often given to an instrumentalist. In both cases it means to sound as close to a soft whisper as possible. In addition to giving a message about dynamics, it tells a musician to play with a very soft and intimate tone color.

One of the more unusual experiments in the use of tone color was an attempt to create a melody (a line that the ear would be drawn to) not out of notes, but of a sequence of tone colors. These attempts at a Klangfarbenmelodie never caught on in a big way, but make for fascinating listening.


Imagine a group of people simultaneously reading a text out loud. Without some guidelines as to when to pause, to breathe, to accent certain syllables, it becomes disorderly and chaotic.

If we add markings to the text that allow the readers to speak together--in chorus--their sound becomes more powerful than just one person reading very loudly.

Large sections of musicians in an orchestra, band, chorus, or other ensemble will make use of phrasing marks to sound like one very large and rich instrument. As simply as can be explained, articulation in music represents how certain musical lines are "enunciated", whether clearly, choppily, or very smoothly. These markings are equally as important when there are only two or three musicians playing and especially when only one musician is playing a number of musical lines at the same time.

Among accomplished musicians discussing the way a piece of music should be performed, few things will be argued over as much as articulation. Articulation is one of the last things commonly conquered by the beginning musician, and as this text is intended to focus only on the rudimentary elements, there will be only a few of its many facets covered.

Nevertheless, articulation might well be the single most important element necessary to make a performance sound polished and "musical".

When there are a group of musicians performing the same part together (such as in a choir, sections in a marching or jazz band, or the string sections in an orchestra) there is a need for the parts to sound like one very rich sound. When the musicians are "phrasing" lines together, it will serve to sculpt the line very subtly and carefully.

Different musicians playing different parts simultaneously must be able to adjust their articulation so that they will blend in at the appropriate time, or stand out when the music seems to intend them to do so.

Many pieces of piano music will have several different layers of musical events happening simultaneously. When a good performer articulates each one separately (perhaps one sounding smooth, another choppy), the result is a very clear and "musical" performance.

A common and easily understood articulation symbol is the slur.

If the note heads are on different lines, the curved line is called a 'slur' (as opposed to a tie which connects note heads of the same pitch). The purpose of the slur is to direct the player to 'phrase' the musical line, playing it as smoothly as possible.

Another common articulation symbol is a dot placed above or below a note head, called a staccato marking. This tells a player to play a series of notes in a broken or detached manner. Even though they look similar, this is very different from a dot beside the note--that indicates to lengthen the note and is a durational parameter.

The opposite of staccato is "legato", which tells a musician to play or sing as smoothly as possible. A slur is a symbol for legato. On occasion the words "staccato" and "legato" are written out instead of using the symbols.

While the above outlines the most common articulation symbols, please don't think that this discussion covers the sum total of articulation markings. There are many more that help to refine a musician's sound, even approaching the elusive element of musical "style" and interpretation.

To make matters a bit worse, not all aspects of articulation are written into the music. Many of them are often left to the performer's discretion. How a musician deals with this matter is often what distinguishes a world class performer from one who is just "very good".

Again, I hope the reader understands that as far as musical notation goes, this text has literally just brushed the surface. There is much more, each new one refining the final sound further and further. For centuries, this was the system of musical "storage"--the way to preserve the parameters of a piece of music, enough to allow its sound to be reconstructed. In some ways this process isn't significantly different from what happens with a recording.

While it seems very exact and explicit to us now, there's a great deal of argument about the exact meaning and practical uses of these symbols before composers were able to make recordings of their music.

Today we think of jazz as a form of music that employs a great deal of improvisation (spontaneous changes) while "classical" music is to be performed exactly as the printed page suggests, being regarded as a fragile museum relic.

Written accounts of performances by contemporaries of the great musicians of the past suggest otherwise. The art of improvisation, if anything, was more important then than it is for a musician alive today. Perhaps the greatest improviser of all time was the musician who today is revered as a stodgy old conservative master--none other than J.S. Bach. As related by their contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven couldn't have been too far behind. Some suggest that if they were alive today, these musicians would be known as the finest jazz musicians of their era, perhaps the greatest of all time. . .

Thus ends a brief primer into the functions and relationships of the common musical symbols. Music is a written language that contains much tradition, and practical convention. In addition it pays much homage to the mathematical symmetry behind it. There are a few symbols that don't really fall into any of the seven parameters outlined in Chapter Three such as repeat signs (illustrated below), but for the most part these are musical shorthand for something that could easily be written out in a different way. A few symbols could be considered as members of two of the above categories. Again, the system of musical notation is constantly changing--and must continue to change as our definitions and practices of what music is constantly change.

MIDI, a music system designed for computers, usually uses a system of notation different from the traditional one--but covers the same seven parameters.