1. Learning to play sheet-music with the KeyMusician Keyboard

1.1 Introduction

Learning to play sheet-music with the KeyMusician keyboard is easier than with most other musical instruments. The reason for this is the musical intelligence programmed into the keyboard.

It's no harder to play a piece in a key-signature having 5 flats (or 5 sharps), than it is to play a piece with no flats or sharps.

With the KeyMusician keyboard, you tell it the key-signature, and it knows which notes need to be flat, or sharp. All you have to do is play the notes. And changing to a different key-signature is as quick and easy as hitting a function key.

Another thing that makes it easy to play sheet-music with the KeyMusician keyboard, is its chord-pad, which lets you play chords with just the thumb of your right hand, along with a few preparatory keystrokes. Better yet, you can do those preparatory keystrokes for the next chord to be played while you are still playing the current chord.

If you're creating your own music, or improvising music with other people, the use of modal chords gives you a wide variety of chords that will sound good in the key-signature you're currently using, without introducing extra flats or sharps into the melody.

If you're playing from sheet-music, the use of standard chords lets you play most of the chords you'll see printed.

1.2 The Demo-Piece

This piece was created to demonstrate the KeyMusician keyboard, and to serve as an easy first step in learning to play from sheet-music.

In looking ahead, you will notice that each line of music has 5 “#” signs at the beginning, which means there are 5 sharps in the key-signature, and that if a piano keyboard were used, all 5 of the black (raised) keys can be used in the tune.

Having heard pianists say “I can't play that – too many sharps,” you might worry about using this for your first piece, but it really is just as easy to play a key-signature with 5 sharps as one with no flats or sharps, using the KeyMusician keyboard, and this piece will serve to demonstrate that fact.

So here is the sheet-music of the demo-piece:

Picture of the original KMK demo-piece music, from the KMK Songbook, with five sharps in the key-signature.

You can hear the piece by clicking here (use the “back” button of your browser when it finishes playing).

If you don't know anything about reading music, the next section will give you enough of an introduction to written music to be able to play it with the KeyMusician keyboard. If you already know how to read music, you can skip (or skim-over) the next section.

1.3 A Quick Introduction to Written Music

If you don't know anything about reading printed music, it probably seems incomprehensible to you, or you might describe it as (I have heard non-musicians say) “chicken-scratches on paper.”

But with only a few key pieces of information, it can actually begin to make sense. So please bear with me while I try to explain it.

Each line of music has 5 parallel lines, called the lines of the staff. Notes (which are small circles (or ovals), either filled-in, or not), can go either in the space between the lines, or are centered on one of the lines. Think of the parallel lines (staff lines) as a ladder. You go up the ladder for higher notes, or down the ladder for lower notes.

The position (up & down) of a note in the staff lines tells you what note it is, or answers the question of how high, or low, the note is.

Notes (the circles) might have a 'tail' (line) going up from their right side, or down from their left side, or they may have no 'tail' at all. For faster (shorter) notes, there might be 'flags' on the 'tail' lines. Flags might be connected together in a continuous line, or not. There might also be a dot to the right of the note, which makes it half-again as long as a note with no dot to its right.

All of these variations – the tail, whether the circle is filled-in, whether the tail line has one or more flags, and even a dot to the right of the note, are used to tell us how long the note sounds. Meaning, is it a long held-out note, or a note that ends quickly. Open circle notes are long notes, but a tail on them will make them shorter. Filled-in circle notes are shorter still, and if they have flags on the tail, they are shorter still – the more flags, the shorter.

But the important thing to remember here, is that the circle portion of the note tells you the pitch (how high, or low) the note is, and it can be positioned either on a staff-line, or between staff-lines.

The notes in the staff-lines are read from left to right, going (to successive staff-lines) from top to bottom, which is the way English-speakers are used to reading written text.

Just to cut through the complexity (and make it simple), look at the printed version of the music above (included with the materials you received), while you play the demo-piece by clicking on (selecting) the “here” link after the paragraph. As it plays, watch each circle (whether filled-in, or not), going from left to right, top to bottom. Notice how the higher notes are higher in the staff-lines, and lower notes are lower in the staff-lines. Notice how each separate note has its own circle (except for the last two long notes, which are tied-together by the curved line).

Play the music now by clicking here (use the “back” button of your browser when it finishes playing).

So having followed the notes in the printed music, while the music played, you should have a pretty good idea of how the notes go up and down, and how there is one circle (note) in the music, for each note you hear. Feel free to repeat the exercise if you're unsure.

There are a few other things that are important to know in reading music. You will notice that the staff-lines are divided into sections by vertical lines every so often, spanning the 5 lines of the staff. These vertical lines are called “measure bars”, because they separate each distinct “measure” of music.

Also notice that if there are only filled-in-circle notes with a tail (with no flags) in a given measure, there are four such notes in every such measure. Also notice that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th staff-lines are preceded with a number, which is the number of the first measure of the line. Check this claim by counting measures (starting with 1), continuing on each staff-line of the piece. The measure numbers should match what you counted. Be aware that not all printed music has measure numbers.

In the first measure of the piece, there is a large, upper-case “C”. This stands for “Common time”, and is the “time-signature” of the piece, which could also be shown as a fraction 4/4 (with the two “4” digits above/below each other), and it indicates “4 quarter (¼) notes per measure”. A filled-in-circle note with a tail (and no flags) is a quarter (¼) note, and as pointed out in the paragraph above, in a measure having only that type of note, there are exactly 4 of them per measure.

In 4/4 time (also called common time), there are 4 counts per measure, and a quarter note gets precisely one count. How fast those counts are done, is also usually shown at the beginning of a piece (as it is on this one). The speed of the counts is specified as follows:

Picture of the tempo marking, quarter-note equals 75 beats per minute.
This means that a quarter-note gets one count, and that these counts are counted at a rate of 75 counts per minute. In classical music, you might have an Italian word (such as “Andante”) instead of (or in addition to) the tempo marking. You can do an Internet search for that Italian word, and it will tell you the speed.

In the printed music, it is important to notice that at the beginning of each staff-line, is the key-signature. In this piece, it looks like this:

Picture of the start of a treble-clef staff line, with five sharps in the key-signature.
The line begins with a stylized symbol, which is the clef sign. In this case, it is the symbol for the treble clef. On a piano music part, you will have pairs of clefs, with the treble-clef above, and the bass-clef below. In this case, the part (played by an oboe sound) is a treble-clef instrument, so there is only a treble-clef sign.

Beyond the clef symbol, there are five “#” symbols in a pattern you will come to recognize. The middle part of the “#” sign can be thought of like the circle-part of a note, and (like a note) it can be centered on a staff-line, or in the space between two staff-lines. It actually indicates which notes in the clef need to be “made sharp”.

A note is made sharp by raising it half-step. So if the note is a white key on a piano keyboard, and the next possible note above it (to the right) is a black key, every instance of that note will be a black key rather than its white key.

The opposite of a sharp is a flat (which looks like a stylized “b”). A note is made “flat” by lowering it a half-step.

An easy memory-trick to remember this, is that if a tire goes flat, it drops down. If you sit on something sharp, you jump up.

In the key-signature, it indicates that each note a “#” sign is centered-on, needs to be made sharp, along with every other same note in whatever octave (this will make better sense when we show you the piano keyboard diagram).

Another thing in printed music you need to know about, is that there are symbols for spaces where no note is sounded. These “empty spaces” in music are called “rests”. There are different symbols for each length of rest. In this particular piece, the only rests used, are the same length of time as a quarter-note. These rests are called quarter-note-rests. They look like this:

Picture of a quarter-note rest.
One final thing in the demo-piece to take notice of, is the following:

Picture of a staff-line measure with two D-notes, with a natural-sign in front of the first one.
In the picture above, you have a quarter-note-rest (as explained above). Then you have a strange looking symbol, followed by three quarter-notes. The symbol is called a “natural” sign. The reason for it is that in the key-signature used (5 sharps), every “D” note is a “D-sharp”. But here, to accommodate a “B-minor-7th” chord (that's the chord the “Bm7” above the staff-lines stands for), a D-natural (neither sharp, nor flat) is required. Such a note (which is different from the notes of the key-signature) is called an “accidental”.

You can play accidentals by pressing the Page-Down (or left shift) key for a half-step lower, or the Page-Up (or right shift) key for a half-step higher. In this case, the accidental was introduced into the tune simply by playing the B-minor-seventh chord on the chord-pad.

The reason I showed the entire measure in the small picture above, is that once you put a sign (flat, sharp, or natural) for an accidental in a measure, that sign applies to every other instance of the same note, until the measure-bar that ends the measure. So the next quarter-note after the first one (with the natural-sign) is also a natural because it is an instance of the same note, and we haven't yet reached the next measure bar.

So with these extra details of information explaining things, it might me useful to play the music again (using one of the links above), while looking at the printed music. Return to this tutorial by pressing your browser's “back” button.

So there we have our quick introduction to music notation. It will make more sense in the next section where we describe the music notation and keyboard display of the KeyMusician keyboard.

1.4 The Music-Notation Display of the KeyMusician Keyboard

In every performance-panel of the application (a tabbed-panel where you can play notes), there is a graphical display, showing the musical staff-lines of both the bass and treble-clef, the key-signature being used, the sign of any 'accidental' (a note not in the key-signature) being played, the circle-part of the note (or notes) being played, in their proper position on the staff-lines. At the right is a diagram of a traditional music keyboard, with the keys being played marked.

On the left side of that keyboard diagram, are the letter-names of the notes of the keyboard. The letters “A” through “G” are used, repeating over and over again for each octave (an octave is a note, along with the note 8 notes above it, or 8 notes below it). Notes in different octaves sound almost identical (but are higher, or lower). Because they sound so much the same, they have the same letter-name.

Here is an example of the graphical display of the KeyMusician keyboard, in this case with no flats or sharps in the key-signature:

Picture of the KMK music display graphics area, with middle-C, the E-flat above it, and the G above that, being played.
In the diagram, notice that there are two sets of staff-lines, with the treble-clef sign (you've already seen) on the top set of lines. The curved line in the bottom set of staff-lines is the bass-clef sign (pronounced 'base').

Notice that there are a lot of shorter lines to the right, near the keyboard diagram. When notes are above, or below the staff-lines, short lines such as these (spaced the same as the staff-lines) are used so that you can tell precisely what the note is, above or below the staff-lines, without having to get a ruler and measure how far up (or down) it is.

One of these short lines to take note of, is the short line between the two sets of staff-lines. Notes on this line are called “Middle-C” - kind of like the home-keys of the typing keyboard, from which you can find your place.

Notice that I was playing three notes simultaneously when the screen-shot was taken, and one of them was the “Middle-C” we just told you about.

In the demo-piece, we had a key-signature containing 5 sharps, but here, the key-signature has no flats or sharps. In this case, the note letter-names of the keyboard (just to the right of the staff-lines) are the same as the note letter-names of the staff-lines & spalce, so the letter-names are the names of both, and they line up precisely.

On the typing keyboard, I pressed the (QWERTY keyboard) letters 'q', 'e', and 't', which in the keyboard-map used, result in a key-press of middle-C, the E above it, and the G above that.

The unusual thing thrown-in here (I'm always throwing in unusual things), is that when I pressed the 'e' typing keyboard key, I pressed the Page-Down key, which requested that note be made a half-step lower than the note that would normally be in the key-signature at that position. The staff-line display dutifully shows this by putting a flat-sign (it looks like a stylized 'b') in front of it.

I must mention here (to avoid confusing you) that although the typing keyboard 'e' and the music keyboard 'E' happen to be the same letter, there is nothing dictating that they must be the same. It depends totally on the keyboard-map. In the Dvorak keyboard-map, it happens to be a period (.) for the same note.

At the far right of the diagram, notice that there are rectangular blue marks, showing what keys on the music keyboard were pressed. The typing keyboard keys always map to white keys. The black key (for the E-flat) is requested by other means (such as the key-signature, or (in this case) the Page-Down Key being pressed.

If this were a picture of the Chords panel, and I had pressed the numeric keypad keys requesting a C-minor chord, the same notes (including the flat-sign for the necessary accidental) would have been played, except they would have been an octave (8 notes) lower, in the bass clef.

In looking at the letter-names of the music-keyboard notes, notice that a C is always just below any group of two black-keys, and an F is always below any group of 3 black-keys. This same pattern repeats for every octave (group of 8 notes, counting the first and last notes). Notice that the letter-names of the notes repeat, never going out of the range A through G.

So the important things to remember in the picture above, are:

Here (below) is another diagram from a performance pane, this time having a key-signature the same as in the demo-piece. In this case, the picture includes the entire panel of the application display:

Picture of the F6 performance pane, with the C, E-flat, and G keyboard notes being played, but being transposed to the B, D-natural, and F-sharp notes being played in the musical staff.
In the above picture, notice that the Transpose button (near the top-right) has a “-1 = 5-sharps” in it. This means that when you play a “C” on the music-keyboard, it will be transposed one half-step down (negative numbers mean “down”).

A half-step is a single note of what is called a chromatic scale, which is a scale made up of every key (white-key, or black) on the music-keyboard.

So on the keyboard diagram above, the very next key down from a “C” is a “B” (in this case also a white-key). So when we play the middle-C on the music-keyboard, it now lines up with the “B” note (just below middle-C) in the staff-lines. This shows precisely what we are doing. We play a middle-C on the music-keyboard, and it is transposed one half-step down, making its actual note the B just below middle-C.

So what was in the prior example of the music display, in the key of C (no flats or sharps), is now the key of B, which has 5 sharps.

You can do this same transposition on a MIDI keyboard or synthesizer. You just specify how far up or down (the interval) you are transposing. Then you can play everything on the synthesizer in the key of C (no flats or sharps) and have it transpose to a key-signature with many flats or sharps.

The difference with the KeyMusician keyboard, is that you can change key-signatures (transposition) much more quickly – simply by hitting a function key, so you can do it in the middle of performing a piece.

So with that mass of complexity out of the way (the KeyMusician keyboard handling it for you), we are actually playing the same keyboard notes as in the prior picture. I pressed the QWERTY-keyboard letters 'q', 'e' (with Page-Down), and 't', which in the keyboard-map used, result in a key-press of middle-C, the E (made a half-step lower)above it, and the G above that, on the music keyboard. Notice that the music-keyboard notes are still named the same as in the earlier picture.

However, the staff-lines part of the diagram are shifted up according to the transposition requested. So our music-keyboard “C” is a “B” in the staff-lines. The key-signature also has the required five sharps.

The accidental in this case, requesting that the middle note of the chord be a half-step lower, has a natural-sign instead of a flat-sign. This is because any “D” in the key-signature is actually a D-sharp. So to make it a half-step lower (in music notation) we cancel-out the sharp-sign of the key-signature, with a natural-sign to the left of the note itself.

I'm sure this seems horribly complex to you, but THE GOOD THING about it, is it's complexity that the keyboard takes care of for you. All you have to do, is click (tab-to and activate) the transpose button, and set the key-signature as shown in the diagram, matching the key-signature in the sheet-music. Then all you do is play the notes, letting the software take care of the flats or sharps.

You no longer have to play endless boring scales, learning by-heart the various flats and sharps of every key-signature. With the KeyMusician keyboard, every key-signature is played the same way – no difference, other than in the transpose setting, which you set up just once.

1.5 Using the Numeric-Keypad to Play Chords

The numeric-keypad is used (by your right hand) for playing chords. You play chords with your thumb, usually with one or two preparatory keystrokes.

For playing from sheet-music, it is best to use standard chords. You select standard chords on the “F1 (Help/Setup)” panel, by clicking (selecting) the radio-button shown below, just above the “Help Panes” title:

Picture of part of the F1 pane, with the "Stardard Chords" radio-button selected.
The Numeric-Keypad Chords shown below is for standard chords, in the key of B-major, set to play a B major 7th chord.

Picture of the Chords window, with the numeric keypad 1-key, the plus-key, and the 9-key selected, and "Play B-major-seventh" in the 0-key's button-face.
Note: If the Num Lock keyboard light isn't lit, you must press the Num Lock key to light it, indicating the numeric-keypad number keys are selected. If the Num Lock keyboard light isn't lit, you can't use the numeric-keypad for playing chords.

In the picture above, the last chord played was a B major 7th chord, and the numeric-keypad keys 1 through 7 (which reference the notes of the current key-signature's scale) show the notes of the key of B major, which is what we get with a transpose interval of -1. This is what is used in the demo-piece.

To play chords, you first specify the root-note of the chord (in this case, the 1st note of the scale), referenced by the “1” numeric-keypad key, which is in this case a “B” (as highlighted above). You then specify the type of chord to play. In the screenshot above, we pressed (on the numeric-keypad) the “+” key, which specified a major chord, and the “9” key, which specified a 7th chord (a chord that includes the 7th interval).

When you start specifying a new chord (when using standard chords) all notes and attributes from the prior chord are cleared. This lets you just type-in the new chord, without having to worry about what attributes are already set. Since when you are playing from sheet-music, your eyes stay on the music, this is convenient, since you don't have to glance at the chords dialog to see what's already set.

After specifying the chord (as above), we play it using the thumb of our right hand, pressing (and holding) the “0” key of the numeric-keypad. When you release the “0” key, the chord stops playing.

Once a chord is specified, it can be played repeatedly by repeatedly pressing the “0” key (we refer to it as the Play Key, or Play Button).

Notice that the name of the chord appears in the Play Button, and also in the title-bar of the chords dialog, but not until the Play Button is first pressed after the chord is specified.

1.6 Reading Chords in Sheet-Music

Chords are shown in sheet-music by their names, and may also be shown with their fret-fingerings for guitar. The guitar fingerings aren't useful to you when using the KeyMusician keyboard, but the chord names are.

Both guitar chords and piano chords are sometimes shown, and they will be different if a capo is used on the guitar. For the KeyMusician Keyboard, always use the piano chords.

Be aware that some sheet-music (usually classical music) doesn't show the chords used.

The chord names are shown above the staff-lines, at the point in the music when they are to be played, or when they change. The chord names use a simple short-hand notation.

If you see just a capital letter (using the letters A through G – possibly with a flat or sharp after it), it is a major chord, starting (based on) the note named by the letter. For example, if you see (above the staff-lines) “Eb”, it means an E-flat-major chord is to be played at that point in the music. If you see another “Eb” beyond it, it means to play another E-flat-major chord, at that point-in-time in the music.

Beware that when you specify the root note of the chord (when using standard chords), as the chord appears in the music, you also have to specify the implied “major” attribute. If you don't do that, it will only play the root note of the chord, rather than the entire chord.

The short-hand for a minor chord, is the note-letter the chord is based on, followed by a lower-case “m”. So if you see “Am”, it means A-minor”.

In the case of 7th chords, you also need to specify whether the 7th interval of the chord is the default (minor), minor, or major. So with 7th chords, if it is shown as B7, it means B dominant 7th (different from major 7th or minor 7th). Bm7 means B minor with a minor 7th, and BMaj7 means B major with a major 7th. It works the same way for 9th, 11th, or 13th chords.

So in the demo-piece, when you see BMaj7, it means B major with a major 7th. You specify it by selecting the “7” button (for 7th), and selecting the “major” button.

To change from a BMaj7 chord to an EMaj7 chord, simply press the “4” key (of the numeric-keypad), which will remove the former highlighting, and in its place, it will highlight the “E” key. Then (as before) you press the “+” key (to select “major”), and the “9” key (to select the 7th). When you next press the Play Button, the name of the chord will change to “Emaj7”.

Notice that major and minor are more spelled-out in the names displayed in the chord dialog than they are in sheet-music.

To specify a Bm7 chord, you pres the “1” key (B), the “Enter” key (minor), and the “9” key (7th). The next time you press the Play Button, the chord name will change to Bmin7.

Okay, so let's look at some actual chords in sheet-music. Examine the demo-piece's music below, noting the chord names above each staff-line of the music. Refer to the numeric-keypad chords picture above to figure out what numeric-keypad keys need to be pressed to play them.

Picture of the KeyMusician Keyboard Demo piece music, from the KMK Songbook.
As a final exercise for the chords, try playing each of the chords specified in the sheet-music above, one after the other. You will probably find that playing chords with the keypad is not all that difficult, and certainly easier than picking out the notes on a regular music keyboard.

1.7 Playing Music From Sheet-Music

We are now (finally) at the point where we can start playing sheet-music notes on the KeyMusician keyboard. This section will show you how.

If you're using one of the the configuration files distributed with the KeyMusician Keyboard, the “Chords” panel is already setup to use a sustained sound (String Ensemble 1), and is set at a lower volume and velocity then the other performance panels. The F6 performance panel was also set up for the oboe sound.

If that is still the case, go to the F6 panel, and there (assuming you haven't already changed it (which have always been welcome to do), click on (tab-to and select) the Transpose button, and in the dialog that appears, click (tab-to and open) the “Number Flats/Sharps” drop-box, choosing its “-1 = 5-sharps” entry. Then click (activate) the dialog's “OK” button. When you set that value, you will see a key-signature of 5 sharps in each clef.

Assuming you haven't radically changed the keyboard-map, the notes of the tune will all be in the row of keys of the typing-keyboard just above the home row, and the first note will be the 3rd key to the right of the Tab key. Press that key, and see if you get a filled-in-circle in the staff-lines, just below the bottom line of the treble-clef. If so, you have found the first note of the piece.

If you start by playing a B-major-7th chord on the numeric-keypad, and add that melody note, it should sound pretty good. The next note of the piece is the same note, so just press the key (qwerty-keyboard “e”, or dvorak-keyboard “.”) again.

The next note is higher, so it will be to the right of the key we started with. Also, since notes are on either lines of the staff, or in the spaces between, we will be skipping one key, since the next note skips the note that would be on the bottom staff-line. So the next note should be the 5th key to the right of the Tab key.

But don't take my word for it. When you press a key, guessing it to be the right note, look at the staff-lines diagram. Is the filled-in-circle in the same place as the note in the sheet-music? If not, try a lower (to the left on this row), or higher (to the right on this row) key.

So that is pretty much the process. Notice how far the sheet-music is telling you to skip up or down to the next note. Usually, it will be skipping over just one key, but sometimes it will skip over several keys, and sometimes it will be just the next key (without skipping any).

This piece is easy to play because almost all of the notes are the same length, and it is basically a walking tempo, with notes coming at about the rate as steps you take when walking.

You should fairly quickly realize that you are actually playing a tune from sheet-music, and you are doing it in a key-signature with 5-sharps, no less! Congratulations!

Of course, you will hit your share of wrong notes, but correct yourself, remembering the keys you use (or how far you need to reach on skipping to the next note).

Try playing the chords (with your right hand on the numeric-keypad) at the same time, and it will sound even better.

The process should work quite well until until you get to measures 12, and 16, where you have an accidental. The easiest way to play this accidental (the natural-sign), is to play the B-minor-7th chord on the numeric-keypad first, then just play the same melody note you've been playing, and as if by magic, the natural-sign will appear in front of it, and it will be a half-step lower.

The next accidental (four notes farther into the piece) will also have a natural-sign, again as if my magic, simply because you are still playing the B-minor-7th chord. In the next measure, when you change the chord to a B-major-7th, those same notes will play without the natural-sign (as long as you change the chord before you play the melody notes).

Work at it for awhile, and you will be able to play it perfectly. Show-off to your friends. Congratulations on playing your first piece, which hopefully has been more interesting than “Mary had a little lamb”. And you did it in a key-signature having five sharps!

You were able to do it because you had heard the piece before, so you already knew the rhythm (which was simple anyway).

That same process will work for other pieces you are already familiar with. If you're playing a familiar piece of music, you only need to know where the round-part of the notes are, to determine the pitch. You already know the rhythm, because you remember how the music goes.

In the next section, I will show you how to recognize how long notes are, by what they look like. But already if you get the sheet-music for a piece you are familiar with, you can figure out the notes by seeing if the circle-part of the note you play (in the staff-lines diagram) is in the same place as in the sheet-music.

In doing this, play only the solo (sung) part, along with the chords (on the numeric-keypad). Playing the piano accompaniment part would be much more challenging, but can be done if you work at it. With a guitar, you would only play the chords for accompaniment, and here, you play the chords using the numeric-keypad, and the melody notes with your left hand.

If you need an accidental (a note not in the key-signature), not generated by playing the chord, simply press the Page-Down Key (to make it lower), or the Page-Up Key (to make it higher). The Page-Up (or Page-Down) must be pressed (and held down) before you hit the note key. After hitting (and holding the note key, you can release the Page-Up/Down key, and the accidental-note will remain unchanged. As you play it, check the staff-lines diagram to make sure the sign (sharp, flat, or natural) is the same as shown in the sheet-music.

In my experience, the KeyMusician keyboard is the easiest musical instrument I have ever learned to play. I hope your experience is the same.

1.8 Recognizing the Lengths of Notes and Rests By Their Shapes

Here is a printed piece of music, having measures filled-up with particular length notes, along with text stating the length of the notes. The time-signatures start out with 4/4, which has 4 quarter-notes in one measure. It changes to 6/4 time, which has 6 quarter-notes in 1 measure. Finally, it changes to Common-time (specified by an upper-case “C”), which is the same thing as 4/4 time.

Picture showing what the notes look like, with lengths from whole notes through thirty-secondth notes.  It includes dotted versions of the the same notes.  It also shows triplet-versions of some of the notes.
Notes with a dot to the right of them (not below them – that means something entirely different) are 1 ½ times the length of such a note without the dot.

In the case of the triplets, there are three notes in the space of time that would normally be filled by two such notes.

For any of these notes having solid lines connecting the tops (or bottoms) of the tails, if there were only one such note, there would be a flag for each such solid line, as in the following picture, showing both individual notes and rests, coming to a total of 4 counts of time:

Picture of an isolated sixteenth note, and an isolated eighth note, having flags instead of bars.
In this example, the tail goes up on one note, and down on the other. There is no significance to which direction the tail goes. They go up, or down mainly to avoid taking up too much room above or below the staff-lines, and sometimes to aid in connecting the tails of a group of notes, you might have part of a phrase going up, and the other part of the phrase with the tails going down, but all of them connected with a (often slanted) bar.

Here (below) is a piece of printed music, showing measures filled-up entirely by different length rests (as with the notes example above):

Picture showing the corresponding rest-notes for note-lengths of whole notes through thirty-seconth notes.  It also includes dotted versions of those rests, and triplet versions of rests.
Rests with a dot to the right of them are 1 ½ times as long as the same symbol rest without the dot. With triplets, there are 3 rests in the same amount of time that two of the same sort of rest would normally occupy.

Hopefully, having carefully examined the above illustrations, you will now be able to recognize all of the different notes and rests. But then, I didn't show all of them. I only went down to thirty-second notes. There are faster (shorter) notes. For these shorter notes, the addition of each additional flag (or bar connecting the tails) reduces the time of the note by ½.

In the case of the dotted whole rest above, there is actually no dot. The reason for this, is that if an entire measure is a rest (no notes), it is indicated as appears above. If it hadn't filled up the entire measure, there would have been a dot to the right of it.

There are also other types of “tuplets” than just triplets. For example, if you saw a group of 6 sixteenth-notes with a 6 above it, it means that the 6 sixteenth-notes occupy the same amount of time as 4 sixteenth-notes normally would.

Time-Signatures, and What They Mean

The timing of notes and rests in music are important to understand. A time-signature appears after the key-signature, but before any notes. It normally appears as a fraction (one number above another, above/below the middle-line of the staff).

The bottom number of the fraction tells you the type of note that gets a single count (beat) in each measure. For example, if the lower number of the fraction is a “4”, then a quarter-note gets one beat. If it's an “8”, then an eighth note gets one beat. If it's a “2”, then a half-note gets one beat.

The top number of the fraction tells you how many beats are in a measure. So if you see a time-signature of 9/8, there are 9 eighth-notes in a measure, and an eighth-note gets one beat.

But then, along with the above, there are a few abbreviations you have to know about. If you see an upper-case “C” for the time-signature, it stands for “Common time”, which is the same as 4/4. If you see an upper-case “C” with a vertical line through it, it stands for “Cut Time”, and it is the same thing as 2/2, which means a half-note gets one beat, and there are 2 beats in a measure.

Time-signatures can change within a piece. A time-signature remains in-effect from where it appears, to where it is changed (or to the end of the piece).

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