Practical Guide to 18th Century Drumming
by Ron Aylor
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The ability to count time is a proven method for learning to read music. All musicians "count" when reading music. As one becomes more proficient at reading the "counting" becomes subconscious and effortless. The development of this skill, can be achieved by understanding the following terms, symbols and concepts:
A bar line is a vertical line drawn to divide the staff into measures. A measure occurs between bar lines and indicates the recurrence of primary beats. A double bar line indicates the end of a beating or the end of a part of the beating.
The Time Signature can be found at the beginning of a beating usually in the form of a fraction. This marking determines the organization of the music into measures or rhythmic units. The Time Signature is also known as the Meter Signature. Meter is defined as the basic recurrent rhythmical pattern of note values, accents, and beats per measure in music.
If the top number of this "fraction" is a 6, 9, 12, 15 or any number divisible by 3 (except 3 itself), the meter is said to be compound. If the top number is any other number (including 3), the meter is said to be simple.
If the meter is "simple" the upper number indicates the number of counts (or beats) occurring within a measure. The bottom number would then indicate which kind of note would receive the beat (or one count). Conversely, if the meter is "compound" the upper number indicates the number of "divisions" of the beat occurring within a measure, while the bottom number indicates which note is the "division" of the beat. Dividing the top number (of a compound time signature) by three will yield the number of counts (or beats) occurring within a measure.
In simple time (or meter) the bottom number indicates the type of note that receives the beat (or 1 count). This means that the bottom number can only be numbers that represent note values, like 1 (whole note), 2 (half note), 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on. If the bottom number is a 4, then the beat value is a quarter note. If the bottom number is a 16, the value of each beat is a sixteenth note. (And so on.)
Meter (or time) is considered "simple" when each beat can be divided by 2. If the top number is a 2, then it is called simple duple meter; if the top number is a 3, then it is simple triple meter; and so on. Simple quadruple meter (also called 4/4 time) is frequently represented by a symbol that looks like the letter "C". This is referred to as Common Time.
Another symbol you should become familiar with is the Alla Breve symbol. It looks like the letter "C" with a slash through it. This is referred to as Cut Time and is the equivalent of 2/2 time or simple duple meter.
The following chart shows time signatures in simple time (or meter). This chart shows the number of beats in each measure and the type of note that receives the beat. Notice also the "division" and "subdivision" of the beat. In simple time, the "division of the beat" is the beat divided by two. In the case of the quarter note being the beat, the division of the beat is two eighth notes. The "subdivision of the beat" is in turn the "division of the beat" divided by two. If the "division of the beat" were two eighth notes, the "subdivision of the beat" would be four sixteenth notes.
Compound time (or meter) is compound because each beat is divisible by 3. The top number must be divisible by 3. (The only exception to this is the number 3 itself.) The top number does not directly indicate the number of beats in each measure. To determine the number of beats in each measure you must divide the top number by 3. If the top number is a 6, then it is compound duple meter; if the top number is a 9, then it is compound triple meter; and so on.
The bottom number in compound meter can be somewhat of a challenge. The bottom number does not directly indicate the type of note that receives 1 beat. The bottom number in compound meter indicates the division of the beat value. In other words, if the bottom number is 8, an eighth note represents the division of the beat value. Therefore, three eighth notes represent one beat in compound meter. Three eighth notes are the equivalent of a dotted quarter note.
The following chart shows time signatures in compound time (or meter). This chart shows the number of beats in each measure and the type of note that receives the beat. Notice also the "division" and "subdivision" of the beat. In compound time, the "division of the beat" is the beat divided by three. In the case of the dotted quarter note being the beat, the division of the beat is three eighth notes. Unlike simple time, the "subdivision of the beat" in compound time is the "beat" divided by six (or the "division" multiplied by two). If the "division of the beat" were three eighth notes, the "subdivision of the beat" would be six sixteenth notes.
One way to develop the ability to read a beating quickly is to practice counting rhythms aloud. Using rhythmic syllables will help to facilitate this practice. The following syllables are suggested to help you articulate different rhythms.
For "counting" in simple time such as a 2/4 time signature:
For "counting" in compound time such as a 6/8 time signature:
The numbers in the above example represent the "beat" or individual steps while marching. Also, notice that the remaining syllables represent the "subdivision of the beat" as shown above. Take a few steps across the room, as your left foot strikes the ground say 1, as your right foot strikes the ground say 2 (or 4, depending on what "meter" you chose). Keeping the other syllables even, insert them between the numbers (or steps). For example:
Remember to keep you pace steady while walking (or marching). Do NOT slow your steps in order to fit in the syllables. Do just the opposite! Speed up the syllables to fit evenly between your steps.
This repetitive "left . . . left . . . left, right, left" is known in the military as a cadence. The cadence is directly linked to the speed in which we walk, march, or run. In music we refer to this cadence as tempo.
As mentioned in lesson one, notes represent relative duration. Exact duration of a note can be determined by establishing the speed (or tempo) of the beat (or unit). Tempo is usually indicated in the following manner:
M.M. stands for Maelzel's Metronome (named after the inventor and the device for establishing tempo). The indication above is for 60 quarter notes per minute. With that indication, the exact duration of the quarter note (and all other note values) is known.
Another method of determining tempo, is the use of terms that provide a vague sense of whether the music is fast or slow. Many common terms for tempo are in German, French or Italian. You should become familiar with these terms.
|Very slow and solemn
|Slow, stately. Slower than Adagio.
|Slowly with great expression
|Slow, but with a flowing movement ("Walking tempo")
|Moderate speed- not fast, not slow
|Quick, lively, animated
|Vivacious, faster than ALLEGRO
|Very quick, faster than VIVACE
These terms are relative and do not indicate an absolute rate of speed. They must therefore be interpreted only in a general way; however, one could safely assume that Largo equals 60 beats per minute; Andante equals 75 beats per minute; and, Allegro equals 120 beats per minute.
©copyright 2001 Ron Aylor