What is on that sheet ?
As a pianist, I get that question so often. Someone sees me playing and looking at a sheet of music and they wonder and then ask what am I looking at, that allows me to play a particular song. The answer lies in knowing how to interpret sheet music. Let us look at an example of a sheet of well known music : You raise me up by Josh Groban, and Your Song sung by Elton John
What are the main features ?
- The song titles are at the top Your song and You raise me up
- At the top right, we can see who wrote the words and who composed the music
- On the left, below the title we see a description of the style. You raise me up is moderately slow, and Your Song is to be played freely with expression
- The first line of music contains the treble staff which is the melody pianist would play with the right hand, and the bass staff which is the notes to be played with the left hand. This spells out the introduction to the song. When the soloist begins to sing( when the words enter), the system shows 3 staff lines, with the addition of the song melody.
- The whole song has, beside the treble and bass indicators(clefs), a key signature ( related to pitch and scales), and a time signature which tells us how the tempo is maintained in groups of four counts.
So how do I know what note to play ?
The staff lines contain notes of different value and pitch that are unique. The position of the notes on the staff is related to one musical note on the piano and the kind of note, crotchet, quaver etc tells us how long to hold that note. Being able to play the correct notes as we keep the correct timing of the piece is something that comes from study and practice of music theory and the related practical exercises, guided by a coach.
What are those other marks on the sheet?
Above the staff lines, you will see little squares with dots, lines and a note name. These represent guitar chords as named, the lines represent the strings of a guitar and the dots are the finger positions on the individual strings.The guitar indicators are placed exactly (over which note or word) where they are to be played in the song.
In between the treble and bass staff lines (in the first system) you see ‘mp’ which means moderately soft. These terms which are shortened forms of italian terms are used to indicate the expression and it can change at different points in the music.
The diagram below shows the lower part of Your Song. At the bottom of the first page of each song is a notice of copyright which has the contact information for anyone who would like to use the song for any purpose, such as recording or performance or maybe as a background for an advertisement.
Take time to listen
Now that you know more about these songs, why not take time to listen to them and see if you can identify some of these features . Click here on the titles, relax and listen: YOU RAISE ME UP, YOUR SONG. What is the difference between these two and this song :KISS FROM A ROSE
You got it ! The key signature in Kiss From a Rose is different. The tempo counts a recurring 1,2,3,4,5,6 rather than 1,2,3,4
Do we need sheet music?
There are many pianists who play by ear because they know how to play chords and melodies without looking at a sheet. The sheet music is important in that it records, accurately, all the features of the song. It is the reason why a person in Australia can pick up a music sheet and play and interpret the song almost identical to someone in Iceland. It is the method by which music was passed down from one generation to the next. It is the means by which an orchestra can play complicated arrangements. Sheet music will be around forever.
Do you play from sheet music? If not, why not? What has your experience been ?
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