Mus102   Chapter 1   

 copyright © 1997 by Larry J Solomon               Back to Mus102 Course Outline.

1. Fundamentals of Sound & Notation

A. Note Types

The musical staff consists of five parallel, horizontal lines, numbered from the bottom up. Notes on the staff come in various shapes and sizes that allow us to identify them. It is not necessary to know what they mean at this point, but to be able to identify the following types and draw them on the staff. Study these notes and memorize their names. As an exercise, draw them yourself on staff paper and then name them without consulting this chart. 

Consult examples in your text or anthology and name the notes. Consider the shape and size of notes carefully. Notes are oval shaped (not circles) and when placed on a space the note fills the space, touching the lines on either side but never crossing over a line. Notes on lines should be centered on the line and made to be the same size and shape as the notes on spaces.

Stems are straight, light, about eight lines and spaces in length, and they are connected to the right side of a note-head when the stem goes up, and on the left side if the stem goes down. A sharp, natural, or flat is large and covers most of the staff vertically. The center of a sharp, natural, or flat should be centered on a line or space. Flats come to a point at the bottom. Notes with stems have rules regarding stem direction and length. Generally, when one voice is written on a staff, notes below the third line should have stems up, and notes above the third line should have stems down. A note on the third line can have its stem in either direction and should be determined by the group of surrounding notes. Stem length is about an octave. A note with a stem up should have the stem on the right side of the note head, while a note with its stem down should have a stem on the left side of the note head.

Self Test 1.0 on Note Types

Let me see the note types again.

Write down the names of the following note types on paper:

Okay, let me see the answers.

B. Clefs and Note Names   

Clefs are placed on the staff to reference a pitch indicated by a staff line. For instance, a treble clef (or "G clef") indicates the second staff line is G. A bass clef (or "F clef) indicates the fourth staff line is F. Another clef that is used in music is the "C clef". It is a movable clef and indicates where middle-C is by the line where the backwards Cs touch on the staff. Notice that middle-C (C4) can be notated in each one of these clefs. It represents the same pitch, which on the piano is the C in the middle of the keyboard (see back cover of text). In the treble and bass clefs middle-C is one ledger line below and above the staff respectively.


The two most common clefs are the treble and bass. These are the two we will be focusing on in this course, and our first important task is to gain a degree of proficiency that is necessary for reading music in these clefs. The treble staff has lines, numbered from bottom to top, that indicate the pitches E G B D F (these can be remembered by using the mnemonic aid "Every Good Boy Does Fine"), and the spaces between the lines spell F A C E. Music has such a large range of notes that one clef is insufficient to conveniently hold them all. The treble clef is for notating the high range and the bass clef is for notating low sounds.

The bass clef has lines named G B D F A ("Good Boys Do Fine Always"), and spaces A C E G ("All Cows Eat Grass"). The mnemonic aids are fine to use at first, but the lines and spaces of these staves must be committed to memory if they are to be of any use in musical performance or in reading music. Two staves, treble and bass, connected together with barlines is called a grand staff. It encompasses the full range of notated pitch and is, therefore, very useful for notating complete scores.

The five line staff can be extended by the use of ledger lines above or below a staff as shown above. These are simply staff extensions that are used for higher or lower notes than are possible on the staff.

Self Test 1.1, Naming notes

I need drills on the notes and staff before taking this test.

Write down the name of the following notes within one minute (2 seconds per note-- time yourself).

Okay, let me see the answers!

C. The Harmonic Series

All of our information about the world is received through our sense organs; thus, we are able to perceive sound through the ears, light through our eyes, smell with our nose, touch through our skin. Most of this information is in the form of vibrations (only smell and taste are chemical); thus, the world we perceive is mostly vibration.

Sound is audible vibration, i.e. vibrations perceivable by the ear, as light is visible vibration. All vibrations have two essential parameters, frequency (the rate of vibration) and loudness (the intensity of the vibration). Frequency is measured as the number of vibrations per second, the unit called Hertz. The human ear can perceive frequencies of vibration in the range of 20-20,000 Hertz, or 20 to 20 Kilohertz (KHz). The human eye responds to vibrations from about 1,300,000 Million Hertz (Mhz) to about 15,000,000,000 Mhz. The intensity of sounds is called loudness, and is measured with a unit called the decibel. The ear is a very sensitive organ to loudness, capable of hearing a molecule vibrate. The scale of loudness is from 0 decibels (silence) to about 120 decibels, the threshold of pain.

A single sound is actually a complex of vibrations, i.e. it consists of more than one frequency in combination. The lowest frequency in a sound is called its fundamental. All the other frequencies are called overtones. Any overtone whose frequency is a whole number (integer) times the fundamental frequency is called a harmonic. The combination of the fundamental and its harmonics is called a tone.

The figure shown is an example of a tone consisting of a harmonic series based on a low C below the bass clef (C2), its "pitch". A pitch is the loudest frequency in a tone. A note is simply a written pitch (notice, therefore, that a note only indicates a tiny part of a tone). A tone is not normally written as shown above, but rather it is notated soley by its pitch which is the whole note shown. (The black notes represent the harmonics in the tone, and these are not normally notated.)

Most often the pitch and the fundamental coincide. Any frequency that is part of a sound is called a partial. Partials are numbered from the lowest upward as shown above; e.g. notice that the first partial is the fundamental, and the first overtone is the second partial. A tone theoretically consists of an infinite number of partials, but these get fainter as we go upward in the series. Only the first sixteen are shown. The lowest partials are generally the most audible, and some people don't hear partials above number 10.

The harmonic series is called the "Chord of Nature", because it occurs in all natural sounds. It is also the basis of our tuning systems. Just (or "pure") intonation and Pythagorean intonation are both based on the Chord of Nature. All other tuning systems are compromises of these. All of our common pitch structures for harmony and melody are based on the harmonic series.

The partial numbers also indicate our interval ratios (an interval is the distance between two pitches). For instance, partials number 2 and 1 form the interval of an octave, which has a frequency ratio of 2:1. Partials numbered 3 and 2 form the "perfect fifth", which has a frequency ratio of 3:2, 4:3 is the frequency ratio for the "perfect fourth", 5:4 is that of the major third, 6:5 is that of the minor third, etc. These intervals will be discussed in detail later.

Self Test 1.2

I think that I need to study the text more before taking the Self Test!

Write the following answers on paper:

1. The vibration rate of a sound is its ______________________.
2. The unit of loudness is the _______________________.
3. Sound is _____________________.
4. The lowest frequency in a sound is the ______________________.
5. Any frequency above the lowest one is called an _________________.
6. The loudest frequency in a sound is its ___________________.
7. An overtone that is a whole number times the frequency of the fundamental is called a _____________.
8. A fundamental with all its harmonics is a __________________.
9. Any frequency in a sound is a _____________________.
10. The harmonic series is also known as the _____________________.

Okay! Let me see the answers.

End of Chapter 1     Tucson, 1997

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On the manuscript paper (ms) practice writing at least twenty treble and twenty bass clefs. Compare these with the printed versions. If the later ones are not close, write twenty more of each. Also write at least ten of these: sharp, flat, natural, quarter rest, eighth rest, half rest.

Write at least twenty whole notes, placing each on a different line or space, and some on ledger lines, in bass and treble clefs. Randomly scatter them on the lines and spaces of the staff. Compare these with the printed versions and correct them if necessary. Pay attention to the shape and size of the note, being careful not to cross over a line or space. Next to each note write the equivalent rest. Go back and write the pitch name of each note.

Do the same as in b with half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes, each on a separate staff.

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Exercise 2. Make a set of flash-cards for notes. On heavy (card stock) paper, xerox staff lines on one side -- ENLARGED. With a pencil divide up the whole sheet into squares with a staff on each square. On each card, write a note on a line or space. Do this with all the cards covering through 2 ledger lines above and below the staff. Cut out the squares with a scissors to form a deck of cards with a single note on each. On the back of each card write the name of the note, consulting a chart if necessary.

Shuffle the deck, and use these flash-cards to learn the names of the notes on lines and spaces of the treble and bass clefs. Practice with these cards as much as you can, at least twice a day. Time yourself. You should be able to get quite fast at recognizing the notes. Try to reach a proficiency of one second per note. At this point you should not turn the cards over to check your answers until you have finished the whole deck. If need be, record your voice on an audio cassette while you are testing; then check your answers.

Return to Self Test 1.1

Exercise 3. On-line drill on notes and staff (You will need to bookmark this page in order to get back to it)

Answers to Self Test 1.0

1. flat     2. quarter rest     3. half note      4. 8th note     5. half rest     6. 16th note     7. quarter note     
8. 8th rest     9. 16th note     10. whole rest     11. whole note     12. sharp     13. natural

Back to Self Test 1.0

Answers to Self Test 1.1



Score yourself: 28-30=A, 25-27=B, 22-24=C, 19-21=D

Back to Self Test 1.1

Answers to Self Test 1.2

1. frequency     2. decibel       3. audible vibration       4. fundamental       5. overtone       6. pitch
7. harmonic     8. tone            9. partial         10. Chord of Nature

Back to Self Test 1.2