The arrangement of notes on The Staff depends on for what instrument the music has been written. In the context of guitar, we often use the Treble clef, which is also known as the G clef. Music written on G clef and Grand clef can also be played on guitar but not the most usual method of writing songs for guitar.
Treble clef looks like the following:
The notes on the treble lines are laid out as following:
A common mnemonics to remember the notes on Treble Lines is ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine‘, and for the spaces just the word ‘FACE‘.
We do not use bass clef or grand clef for guitar but on some music books, you may come across songs written using these clefs.
Bass clef looks like the following:
The notes on the bass lines are laid out as following:
Again, a common mnemonics for the bass lines is ‘Good Bikes Don’t Fall Apart‘ and for the spaces ‘All Cows Eat Grass‘
Finally, the grand clef, which is often used for instruments such as Piano, Organ etc. uses a combination of both treble and bass clefs together. To join these two, we need a C note in between which is often refereed to as the middle C. The grand clef looks like the following:
There are couple of other Clefs such as the Alto Clef (often used for viola) and the Tenor Clef (used for cello) but not relevant to guitar.
Beat, tempo, meter and pulse, four of the terms used almost interchangeably in music but are they the same? In some ways they do share similar characteristics but they do have distinct definitions and therefore should be looked at differently. Following are the definitions and then you decide how they are similar and what the differences are.
Beat in simple terms in the unit we use to measure time in music. Think of this as second hand on a wall clock. A subdivision of the beat is also possible and that is called tuplet.
Meter tells us how the beats are going to be grouped to form a bar. A 4/4 meter for example tells us that there will be four beats in each bar which we will count as 1 2 3 4. So each of those are single beats and they are grouped in 4. This grouping is defined by the meter.
Tempo tells us how fast the beats are going to be counted. Going back to the example of second hand on a clock, the second hand will move at a universal pace. But if there was a way to change that and fasten the clock, it would be the same as increasing the tempo of the song. Tempo in the context of music is measured in BPM (Beats Per Minute). If the tempo is 100 BPM, then the beats are spaced out in a way so that we can fit 100 beats in one minute. Meaning the higher the bpm, the faster the tempo or speed is going to be of that music.
Pulse defines how a person is going to feel the music. If a music is played, regardless of what the tempo or meter is, any layman would be able to feel the music and tap the foot along. How the music is felt and how the tapping takes place is called the pulse of the music. Often the pulse is not going to be exactly the same as the beats. For example, on a 6/8 meter, a person is likely to tap on the 1st and the 4th beat.
6/8 1 2 3 4 5 6
Tonal music is something that revolves around a certain tone or a key. Most of the Western music and music of popular genre are tonal music and very pleasing to our ears. All the discussions we have had about keys and modes basically revolve around a tonal centre which we also refer to as the home. It starts and ends on that tonal centre and therefore pleasing to our ears. Atonal music on the other hand is something that doesn’t follow any structure and doesn’t have any specific tonal centre. A good analogy for atonal music would be an abstract painting. How one is going to perceive an abstract paining is entire subjective and different people may give different meanings to it. Same is true for a piece of atonal music. Following is an example that demonstrates the characteristics of atonal music. It may sound completely absonant but if you listen to the music several times, it starts to make some musical sense.
Atonal music goes completely against the classical norm of music composition and a relatively new way of composing music. The idea originated in 1908. There are several 19th and 20th century composers (i.e. Alexander Scriabin, Béla Bartók etc.) who are known for their atonal compositions. Atonal music is also labelled as modern classical music by some people. So if you pick up the guitar and play some completely random notes, you may actually end up making some form of atonal music!
Syncopation is all about disturbing the natural flow of rhythm, something that our ears are very familiar with. When that flow is broken, that attracts a lot of attention of the listener because it’s unexpected. Using too much of syncopated rhythm can make a piece of music too obscure but the right amount can really spice up the music.
In all time signatures, there are strong and weak beats. in 4/4 the strong beats can be just 1, 1 and 3, or all the beats that is 1 2 3 4. Any one of these three combinations will sound very familiar to the ears. But altering these strong beats and putting the accent on weaker beats will result in a syncopated rhythm. Following are some examples commonly used in popular music.
This is perhaps the simplest form of syncopation and involves replacing a strong beat in a measure with a rest. Below, the third beats of the 4/4 measures are missing. The pattern would need to be repeated over several measures in order to maximize the effectiveness of the syncopation.
Offbeat syncopation occurs when notes change in the middle of the beat rather than on the beat. In the example below, if you count using the syllables “1-and-2-and-3-and-four-and,” you’ll notice that the “and” of the beats feel emphasized throughout most of the phrase, displacing the expected rhythmic pattern.
Syncopation can also be achieved simply by using accents. For example, the rhythm below, with unevenly accented eighth-notes, is common in Latin music.
In backbeat syncopation, beats two and four are emphasized, rather than beats one and two. This is the most familiar type of syncopation, found in the drum patterns of rock, pop, and more. If you turn on any song on the radio, chances are you’ll clap along with the backbeats. Backbeat rhythms were a novel concept heard in blues and early rock music—but these days, this type of syncopation is so common that it doesn’t sound unexpected to our ears anymore.
Blues is considered as the backbone of modern western contemporary music. Understanding blues requires understanding several aspects but the best place to start is to start with the 12 bar blues. As the name suggests, this is a structure comprising of 12 bars.
We will be using the blues progression here which is the I-IV-V-I of any key. A good key to learn the 12 bar blues for a guitar player is the key of E as this in standard tuning is reasonably easy to play and therefore easy to jam with other guitar players.
The structure of 12 bar blues goes as following (this example is in the key of E)
I I I I IV IV I I V VI I I
E E E E A A E E B A E E
There are lots of variations of the 12 bar blues but the one that we will be using is the one where the last section of the blues is used as a ‘turnaround’ where the last bar contains the dominant V instead of I chord. It goes like this.
I I I I IV IV I I (V VI I V) Turnaround
E E E E A A E E (B A E B) Turnaround
Now to add the blues tension to the sound of this progression, we need to play all the 7th chords instead of just the regular major chords. Lastly in the rhythm, we will have to add a swing or shuffle to give this a proper blues sound.
The simplest way to explain a simple meter is that each beat in a simple meter is felt separately. The most common ones are 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4. On 4/4 we have 4 counts per bar and each count is a quarter note. But when playing this, we can easily feel each beat separately, count each beat separately, tap each beat separately and hence they are dubbed as simple meters. Along with 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4 we can also label 4/2 and 4/8 as simple meters. For example, 4/2 would be 4 half notes per bar. You can still feel and count each note separately but the note duration is a little longer. So one count in 4/2 will be twice as longer as in 4/4. To graphically represent this, see the following two examples.
4/4 Count 1 2 3 4
4/2 Count 1 2 3 4
They are much more spaced out in 4/2. Where as in 4/8 there will be four 8th notes therefore the count will be twice as fast than 4/4.
4/4 Count 1 2 3 4
4/8 Count 1234
Same is true for 3/2. 3/8 and 2/2, 2/8.
The bottom line about simple meters is that 1. You can feel each beat separately and 2. the way we count the beat and the way we feel the beat are the same. Any meter that starts with 2.3 or 4 are simple meters.
A meter is called compound when its counted in a certain way but felt differently. When how it is counted and how the beats are felt seem different, we call that a compound meter. 6/8 is often taken as an example to demonstrate what happens in a compound meter.
Technically, 6/8 means there are 6 counts per bar and each of them are 8th notes, so 6 eighth notes. It will be counted as the following:
6/8 Count 1 2 3 4 5 6
However, when you play this, you will realise that it doesn’t feel like 6 straight counts rather the groove will feel as following
6/8 Groove 1 2 3 1 2 3
It will feel like two groups of 3 beats as opposed to one large group of 6 beats. Because of this subdivision within the group that one can feel, these meters are called compound meters.
So on the same note, a 12/8 will not feel like 12 straight 8th notes per bar. Rather it will feel like the following
12/8 Count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 11 12
12/8 Groove 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
It will feel like 4 triplets. What about a 9/8 meter? What do you think it should feel like?
One of the key advantages of staff notation over guitar tabs is that tabs can only dictate the notes that are supposed to be played, but without the help of staff notation, it can’t explain the timing of that melody. Understanding note duration therefore is very crucial to learn and comprehend staff notation which has certain obvious advantages over guitar tabs.
The five note durations we need to learn are WHOLE, HALF, QUARTER, EIGHTH and SIXTEENTH. An easy way to understand this is to just remember that we keep dividing the duration of a note in half as we move from whole note. So in case of a whole note, the duration is 4 beats. For a half note its 2 (4/2=2), for a quarter note it is 1 (2/2=1), for an 8th note it is half a beat (1/2) and for 16th note, it is 1/4th of a beat (1/2 /2 = 1/4).
The signs are as following
See how the 8th note has one flag and the 16th has 2 flags on it. It is possible to have notes with 3 or more flags and you can guess those notes will have even shorter duration but they are rarely use in contemporary music.
Time signature, often also referred to as ‘meter’ sets the groove of the song. The common as well the simplest one of all is the 4/4 timing. The first number or the numerator refers to how many counts or beats there are in one bar and the second number, the denominator refers to the duration of each count or each beat. Therefore a 4/4 time refers to 4 beats in each bar and each beat getting a duration of (1/4) quarter note.
On the same note, a 3/4 time refers to 3 beats per bar and each beat having a value equal to a quarter note. In simple terms, on 3/4 timing, there will be 3 counts in each bar. This time signature is commonly known as waltz time.
A 2/4 then will have 2 counts in each bar. This is often referred to as march time as this mimics the sound of marching (1-2.1-2.1-2…)
Now things get interesting if we change the denominator. For example if you take a 2/2, it says there are two beats per bar and each beat is equal to (1/2) half note. Now a half note has twice the value of a quarter note. So 2 half notes is basically the same as 4 quarter notes, so where is the difference between these two?
Technically, duration wise, there is no difference. But how we play this and how it feels altogether is certainly different. Let me put the 4/4 and 2/2 in tandem
4/4 1 2 3 4| 1 2 3 4
2/2 1 2 | 1 2
On 4/4, a musician is likely to tap the foot on all 4 beats, accenting the strum on all 4 beats where as in 2/2 there will only be two taps, two beats and therefore two accents. The bigger space between the accents in 2/2 creates more swing than it will have in 4/4. So even though the difference is very subtle, there is a difference indeed.
We have covered major and minor scales, also studied the relationship between both. But each note in a scale has its own importance and a certain name. That name is referred to as scale degree which implies the role of that note in that scale. Lets take the key of C major as an example which has the following notes:
C D E F G A B C
Here C, the first note in the scale is called the TONIC. Some people also refer to that as the root note.
The second note is called SUPER TONIC, which in this context is D. ‘Super’ in latin stands for ‘Above’.
The third note is called the MEDIANT. In this example it is E.
The fourth note is called the SUB DOMINANT which is the F.
The fifth note is called the DOMINANT. Notice that the mediant falls right in the middle between the Tonic and the dominant note, hence the name mediant (middle).
The sixth is called the SUBMEDIANT, which in this context is A. Again notice that the submediant sits right in the middle between the subdominant (F) and the tonic (C) of the next octave.
All these 6 degrees are the same for both Major and Minor scales. But the degree of the 7th note is different for both Major and Minor.
In Major key, the seventh note is called the LEADING TONE which in this context is B. Notice that the 7th note is just half step lower than the Tonic (C) and if you play the scale, it has a tendency to lead into the tonic. That is why it is called the LEADING TONE. You can apply these ideas not only for the notes but also for the underlying chords that fall in the key of C.
In the minor key, if we take A minor as an example, which is also the related minor of C major, we have the following notes:
A B C D E F G A
Notice that the 7th note here is G, which is one whole step under the Tonic (A). Therefore it doesn’t have the same characteristic as the leading tone of a major scale. Instead of calling this a leading tone, the degree of the 7th note in minor key is called the SUB TONIC.