In a nutshell. Decades ago now a mentor quipped to me 'it's all just pattern recognition mate, and there's just not that many patterns. So "just keep your eye moving along with the tempo of the song and concentrate, keep reading and you will become a better reader. Promise."

... keep your eyes moving along in tempo :)

Sharing. Writing music down, and to a good degree how we write our music down, is really about a way to share what we've got to say as artists. The 'how' of how we write a piece of music is simply about, 'what symbols will be the easiest to read to recreate, and bring to life and capture, the magic of this melody and song.

Quarter notes. 'Four to the bar' might just swing the hardest, quarter notes on the beat, just choppin' wood, the 'big 4' and the boom boom boom ... of it all. Ready to play along and read too ? Cool, got your ax ready ? Just click the music for playback and commence to read along. Repeating 10 times, read to the end of the phrase then back to its beginning, following the notes along and their symbols moving through time. In 'C' major ...

First a leap and then resolution. Now in 'A' minor, four times through a four bar phrase heading to the Fair.

Learning to read standard notation. Even developing a rudimentary reading ability opens up a vast library of music to the evolving artist. In most cases, it's just about learning new ideas. Do readers get more pro work? Unless we're a star and the feature, or a sideman with such an artist, readers generally get more calls.

Start with quarter notes. We can learn how to and strengthen our abilities to read music notation simply by reading. It's just another version of rote learning mostly. Here's the basics of pitch letter names as written on the treble clef with a steady quarter note pulse, four beats to the bar. Rote learn them here if need be. Click the music, hear the pitches and sing / count along please, with the 'big four' rhythm. Example 1.

The pitches of C major. Look familiar ? Brand new to you ? Do you know where 'C' is, how to sound a 'C' note on your chosen instrument? Need help ?

Rests. In our notation library of symbols, we've got everything. Every nuance we might conceive of with a musical note is notable with a symbol. To add to the interpretations, we have conductors for large ensembles that help determine how music will go. And while we can notate the sound of a note, we can also notate it's silence in the score, so as to keep our beats and numbers flowing along. Examine the rest symbols. Example 2.

Cool ? Pretty clear huh ? Yea, we've had this way of notation for around 1000 years now. It has evolved of course through the centuries, but the basics are the same; just a written recording of musical sounds moving along in a metered time. And by learning the symbols we each can join in this tradition of creating community.

Launch points. A second super common spot for the rests are in creating a 'pickup' into a melodic idea. For as musical time moves along, some riffs have a lead in note or two, wants to start in the middle of a measure. Generally called a 'pick up', an 'anacrusis' in classical vocab, we get a few notes to jump start our melody notes, give it a bit of a head start into the beat and rhythm of a song. And using the rest symbols is the way we notate the rhythm of the lick, giving it its character rhythm magic for the telling of its story.

Dynamics. Is simply about the soft to loud range of sounds we apply to crafting our music. 'Piano' meaning soft and 'forte' which implies loud, this range of volume creates that 'inner nuance' that helps our musical phrases capture our own interpretations of melodic lines, that along with pitches and rhythms, foundations our own artistic signature.

Always try to remember that for a very very long time now we musicians with instruments, we all played acoustically, so getting things down to a 'whisper' and way up to shout was necessary for capturing the intimacies of our expressions with pitch and rhythm.

We can think of our musical dynamics as with our speaking voices in making conversation; we avoid the monotone so often dreaded that sets us to a snoozin', we change the volume of our voices to create curiosity, dramatize the important words of the idea we're sharing, all to help carry the nuance of our message :)

With performing music that is written, the dynamic markings are usually written in the score under the staff and correspond to the wishes of the composer. Examine the dynamic markings in the following music, from a piano soft to forte loud. Example 3.

Cool ? As improving musicians, a lot of what happens dynamically, modulating soft to loud volumes, is achieved on the bandstand done by hand and visual cues. Also at the top of a new chorus, or change in soloist, or the vocal part returns with the melody, watch and listen for a change in volume or visual cues. Getting 'underneath' the vocals or soloist in volume is the mark of a mature and sensitive performing musical artist.

Musical dynamics; in performing, improvisation and creating a song's arrangement.

Performance. When performing, especially with a band, if the music's dynamics are worked out then all is cool. If not, create a signal for dynamic. Usually not too hard to get the band to loud, getting to soft is often a wee bit trickier. Again, just have a signal that everyone agrees upon. There's some traditional spots where things get quiet; top of the chorus when the vocal comes back in after a solo is one. As a bass player I find that if I get quiet to just under what can be heard, the rest of the band usually follows and then we can build it back up from there.

Improvisation. Depending on the musical style, there's traditional rule for dynamics to follow. In 12 bar blues, where a soloist gets two choruses, at the top of the first my band often goes near to a triple piano ... lots of space for the soloist to find their thread. By the top of their second chorus we're starting to head towards loud. Next solo ... back to shh ... ! (shush :)

Arrangement for a song. If you're working out an arrangement for a song, especially for a vocalist, easy to find spots to spotlight the voice by getting the band quiet behind them. Any prominent entrance is always a good spot to try, while long stretches of quiet are easily kept track of by the drums. Listen to the music you love and listen for the 'soft / loud dynamics, and emulate the pros until U know your own ways of doing.

Now find a melody. With pitches in hand, start reading our Americana melodies. The ones included come from the Let Music Ring series for public school. So major key, lots of triads, motion to Four and Six, and songs we might know by heart to begin with. Just gotta find that first one, rote it up deep and keep on keepin' on learning new melodies :)

Print music paper. Even developing a rudimentary reading ability opens up a vast library of music to the evolving guitarist. Same goes for writing music. Print some staff paper and just start by copying a song. Helps to put the 'dots in the spots.' In the old days, before printers etc., there was a lot of work as a copyist. Probably still is, not sure where though. Seek and find :)

Review, just read a bit every day or a lot, it helps. If you like to read, read music, figure out puzzles, push buttons by 'the book' and make nice music, keep on ! And know that even developing a rudimentary reading ability opens up a vast library of music to the evolving artists and guitarist. In most cases, it's just about learning new ideas. In performance and professional situations, chances are there is no tab for the guitar part, which often is a doubling of another instrument in the group. This 'standard notation', notes and rests etc., have been around for a while now, so the bugs have been worked out. Do good readers get more pro work? Unless we're a star and the feature, a monster soloist or a sideman with such an such an artist, then yea readers get more calls.

Reading music notation is challenging and fun. For there's often one or more ways to get to a pitch, and the rhythm is often the determining factor in how a phrase gets read. So all just a bit of a puzzle really and there's some pretty set in stone ways of doing it, which makes it easier to share. Can you point out and name the eight or so different symbols in these measures ?

Read a bit every day for a while and the symbols become rote memorized. Any strengthening in reading notation or clapping out rhythms first then adding pitches, opens a vast trove of music. For near everything written in treble clef is readable for guitar. When learning new songs, play the root pitches of the chords as a bass line to get a sense of the 'storyline' of the song.

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."

wiki ~ Willie Nelson

Sound about right ?

Three times still a charm ... ?

This should be a chant ?

Please, somebody write this tune :)

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

Find a mentor / e-book / academia Alaska. Always good to have a mentor when learning about things new to us. And with music and its magics, nice to have a friend or two ask questions and collaborate with. Seek and ye shall find. Local high schools, libraries, friends and family, musicians in your home town ... just ask around, someone will know someone who knows someone about music and can help you with your studies in the musical arts.

go to a public library and ask the librarian

Always keep in mind that all along life's journey there will be folks to help us and also folks we can help ... for we are not in this endeavor alone :) The now ancient natural truth is that we each are responsible for our own education. Positive answer this always 'to live by' question; 'who is responsible for your education ... ?

Intensive tutoring. Luckily for musical artists like us, the learning dip of the 'covid years' can vanish quickly with intensive tutoring. For all disciplines; including all the sciences and the 'hands on' trade schools, that with tutoring, learning blossoms to 'catch us up.' In music ? The 'theory' of making musical art is built with just the 12 unique pitches, so easy to master with mentorship. And in 'practice ?' Luckily old school, the foundation that 'all responsibility for self betterment is ours alone.' Which in music, and same for all the arts, means to do what we really love to do ... to make music :)


"These books, and your capacity to understand them, are just the same in all places. Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."

wiki ~ Abraham Lincoln

Academia references of Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's finest resident maestros !

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