Archive | May, 2013

Reading Music

30 May

For the past year, I have been singing with the VOCA Chorus of Toronto ( The chorus is a wonderful opportunity to sing a variety of music (our concert this Saturday night is Celtic music!), meet new people and practice my sight reading skills. As musicians, we have a whole other world of reading when it comes to reading music. Being able to read music is a skill that I have been working on for at least a decade, and like reading print learning to read music takes time, patience and practice. Music notation is the representation of sound with symbols, from basic notations for pitch, duration, and timing, to more advanced descriptions of expression, timbre, and even special effects (wiki).

Here is an example of  music one might ‘read’:


To read this piece of music, one must look at a variety of different elements. To keep this post from being really long, I’ve tried to condense my description of reading music to three basic elements.

1.  The Staff:  The staff are the five lines where the notes live. Each note has a distinct tone and these tones go together make up a sound or melody. Each note is given its individual rhythm with either a note head (open or closed), a stem, or a flag (see example in time signature).


2. The Time Signature:  The time signature (in this example it is 4/4) tells the musician how many beats per measure. In this example, if you were singing you would hold the first note for four beats because it is an open head note with no stem. Then, you would sing each of the notes in the next measure for two beats each, then the next measure each note has a value of four beats, and so on and so on (there is a lot of math in music!).


3. Dynamic Markings:  Notice at the beginning of this piece there is a little ‘p‘.  That means ‘pianissimo/piano’ which means softly. The dynamic markings allow the composer a way to articulate her musical vision.  When we are reading music, we must be aware of the dynamics to fully bring the piece to life.  


When we learn to read text, we begin learning the letters and sounds and it grows from there, and the same goes for learning music. As Maria von Trapp from The Sound of Music sang, ‘when you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi.’