To get into playing as quickly as possible, you must first learn how to read music. Without written music, musicians would not be able to remember all of their songs for long periods of time. They would also not be able to share their music as easily with other people. So, this article looks at what music encompasses.
At its most basic level, music is a series of symbols and lines that, when read correctly, tells a musician what notes to play and how to play them, allowing anyone to reproduce a musical tune. So, the first things you need to cover are clefs and time signatures.
As a bassist, you will use the bass clef; this means that all of the notes on your bass music will be bass notes found on the bass clef. Music for a traditional guitar is in treble clef. The bass clef looks like a backwards “C” with a colon “:” on the right side. The treble clef looks like a really fancy “G”. There are other clefs, but this article focuses on the bass clef. The bass clef is also called the “F” clef and assigns where the note “F” is located on the 5 lines. Now, there is only one type of bass clef used where the “F” note is located on the second to the top line. You are probably wondering where the note “F” is actually located.
This note is an F note. Any note that lies on this line is also an F. Because this line is between the two dots on the bass clef symbol, this is the line that will contain notes in the pitch of F. The lines of bass clef music will contain the notes G B D F A from the lowest line to the top. The spaces from bottom to top will contain the notes A C E G B. Tip: Treble clef music has different notes for each line, so make sure you are reading the right kind of music. If you start from the lowest space and go to the highest line, then notes will be as follows: A B C D E F G A, the notes that make up the A minor scale. Now you already know your first scale – A minor! It is imperative that in your practice habits you learn where each note is, and you are able to name it on the spot without delay. This will help you immensely when you are sight- reading music, or playing it for the first time.
Now that you know pitches, you can cover note lengths as well. Music is important in that it tells what pitches to play, but even more important in bass music, it tells how long to play each note and when not to play. The lengths or notes, together with the tempo (or speed) of the song make up its rhythm.
The first things you need to know are the time signature and the tempo. The tempo sets the speed of the music. Tempo is measured in beats per minute and is exactly that – how many beats per minute there are. The tempo will be displayed at the top of the page with a quarter note equaling some number above 0 and usually below 60.
The time signature tells how many beats are in each measure of music. A measure of music is defined by thin vertical bars on the sheet music. Between each pair of vertical lines is a measure. The first note of each measure is slightly accented or weighted to help mark chord progressions and repeated rhythmic patterns. In order to find out what time signature you should be playing in, look at the first measure. Just before the first measure, there should be a fraction. Most often it will say 4/4 or have a “C” for common time, which is the same as 4/4. Now, the bottom note tells us what note gets th measure and the top number says how many of those notes are in the measure. So, 4/4 means that there are 4 notes in each measure, and that you can fit in four quarter notes. If the music were in 3/8 there would be 3 eighth notes in every measure (or the equivalent). Now, we can talk notes.
To keep things simple for the first few lessons, assume that you are in 4/4 time.
A whole note gets 4 beats; since the quarter note is the beat, a whole note will have 4 quarter notes. Measure 1 contains one whole note.
A half note gets two beats, so each whole note is equivalent to two quarter notes. Measure 2 contains 2 half notes.
A quarter note in 4/4 time gets one beat. Measure 3 has 4 quarter notes.
Measure 4 is made up of 8 eighth notes. Eighth notes are half as long as quarter notes; because of this they are played twice as fast.
Measure 5 is 16 sixteenth notes. Each note gets ¼ of a beat and is played twice as fast as an eighth note. There are 4 per beat, or per quarter note.
If you notice, the total value of all the notes in one measure is always 4. This has to be true for the music to be played if you are in 4/4 time. If you have two quarters and a half note in a measure, it is fine, but three half notes in one measure are not ok unless you change the time signature, which will be covered in a future lesson. This concludes the lesson about notation notes and fundamental rhythms. Later articles will talk about mixing up the eighth notes and quarter notes and starting to groove. When you feel you have perfected everything in this lesson, then move on to the next!