Category Archives for Musical Theory

Musical figures inside the stave

Music is something that goes beyond being able to play the right note; it depends on the rhythm, the silences and the duration of these notes. Thus, we must learn to distinguish the duration of the musical figures and their silences when we play with a 4/4 beat.

Instead of boring you with a longer article explaining the rest of the binary measures, if you learn this, you will be able to take out the other beats such as 2/4 and 6/8 by simple deduction. Likewise, the musical figures of the notes and their most common silences corresponding to this measure are included.

Musical figures: the compass unit

A measure within the music is the musical figure that is composed of several time units: a whole note, a half note, a quarter note, an eighth note or a sixteenth note. These are indicated at the beginning of the score or after a double bar when the composer wants us to change the beat within the same piece. A measure is a fraction that tells us how many different notes fit inside it, or the amount of musical figures that can complete it.

The specific time of a measure is determined by interpreting the numbers that appear in the fraction. Let us use as an example the 4/4 measure, the numerator, indicates the value of the basic pulse note of the music. Here we interpret that the numerator 4 indicates that it is a quarter of a time, therefore, it is a quarter note. While the denominator tells us how many of these notes appear in a measure (4). Therefore, the 4/4 beat is a musical figure where four quarter notes appear.

There are different types of measures; depending on whether they are classified by forms: binary, ternary and quaternary. Or if they are classified according to the binary or ternary division of each pulse, simple compasses (binary subdivision) and complexes (ternary subdivision) arise.

The 4/4 beat

Throughout the history of music, different types of measures have emerged, among which we can highlight the 9/8 beat, the 3/4 beat, the 6/8 beat and the 2/4 beat. However, of all of them, the 4/4 measure is one of the most used today.

As we had seen in the example of how to interpret the meaning of a measure, we know that a 4/4 measure represents a musical figure where there are four quarter notes. However, it is not mandatory that all notes are quarter notes, but combinations of musical figures that result in 4 times can be used:

1 half note + 2 quarter notes = 4 times

2 quarter notes + 4 eighth notes = 4 times

8 sixteenth notes + 4 eighth notes = 4 times, etc.

The combinations can be made much more complex, depending on the intention that the composer had when creating the piece. But no matter how complex it is, as long as you know the musical figures corresponding to their notes and silences you will not have problems.

The time values of the notes and their silences

Knowing the value of each musical figure is necessary for any musician, because learned correctly you can apply them to any measure. Therefore, if you did not know the values of the previous musical figures, here is a short guide on the most important ones.

First we must start by determining which part of the measure is what determines its amount of time. This is the denominator, that is, the lower number. Here you have to think about the values of the notes and their silences, not the measure. Each one has its own value:

Whole note


This musical figure is represented on the pentagram in the shape of a circle. Its duration is equal to that of four quarter notes, that is, four times, covering all available times in a 4/4 measure. Therefore, once it is included, no other musical figure would fit the compass. The silence value corresponding to this note, as for the following ones, will be the same as its duration.

Half note


A half note is half of a whole note: two times. Therefore, it can be combined with another half note, two quarter notes or other minor notes, as long as the sum of these is equal to two times. It has the shape of an unadorned stem with a hollow oval shaped head. His silence is equal to two times.

Quarter note


A quarter note is the basic unit of time, being equal to one time. So it can be combined with whole notes and half note in a combination that completes the 4-beat measure. The shape of the quarter note is almost the same as that of the half note, only that the head is a black oval note. His silence is of a time.

Eighth note


It is represented using a stem and a bracket, its duration in a 4/4 measure is half of a quarter note. It can be combined with quarter and half notes, as long as it is fulfilled that the total sum will be 4 times. His silence is part time.

Sixteenth note


Its duration is a quarter of a time, half of a eighth note and has the shape of a black note with a stem and two square brackets. That is, to complete a 4/4 measure, 16 sixteenth notes are necessary. They can also be combined with half, quarter and eighth notes. His silence lasts a quarter of a time.

There are more musical figures and their silences, both superior (square, longa and maximum), as well as minor (demisemiquaver, hemidemisemiquaver, hundred twenty-eight note and two hundred fifty-sixth note). However, the superiors do not fit within the 4/4 measure and the latter are used rarely, since they require a level of fingering only attainable by really virtuous (God Level) musicians.

Did you find it difficult to learn the duration of the notes and their silences for the measure of four? We hope not and that with this knowledge you can take the measures of 2/4 and 6/8. Now you just have to practice a little more reading staves written in a 4/4 measure, so you never forget these musical figures.


Musical intervals: visual guide for beginners

It is possible that on more than one occasion you have heard comments like: “If you study the notes of this stave, you will see an interval of diminished sixth.” If you did not understand what they meant, do not despair: in this guide you will know what the intervals are and how you can use them.

If you are a beginner, you should keep in mind that it is impossible to understand, for example, the chords, without first studying the intervals. It’s like trying to calculate without knowing the numbers and mathematical signs.

What is a musical interval?

Music as art draws on three significant elements: harmony, rhythm and melody. However, there are certain elements that are common. We refer, of course, to the intervals.

In the same way that elementary magnitudes (mass, time, etc.) are qualified according to their own measurements, music also uses certain resources to calculate their characteristics. For instance, one of the best known is the pulse, by which we can measure musical time. Similarly, there is a way to measure the relationship established between two musical notes: again, the interval.

When we talk about interval we mean the contrast of the pitch between two sounds. This concept contains the same to a single sound that lots of sounds at the same time (such as chords), and to those that are played continuously as melodies.

The numerical expression to represent an interval is usually a simple proportion. If we take the relationship established between two sounds located at a distance of exact fifth, it will always be 3 and half tones. But that will be discussed in greater depth later.

We could say then that an interval is formed when different sounds are played, and when they produce different frequencies.

How to measure musical intervals step by step

So far everything is clear. However, a question arises. How do we calculate the difference between pitch? Or, in other words, can an interval be measured?

The answer is yes: an interval can be measured. The most common way is to enumerate the tones and semitones that are among the pair of notes that make up this musical pause. The first thing to do to discover the key of the interval we want to measure is to determine which first note is played.

For example, if there are a couple of notes in a stave, and the first one is F and the other is B, the most logical thing is to affirm that we are in the F major range. In other words, starting from the most deeptoned note we will always find the key.

Next, we will see that other ways can also be used to name the intervals, and this is achieved by understanding the elements by which they are formed: tones and semitones.

Tone and semitone

When we talk about tone and semitone we refer to the regulatory distance that exists between two notes, always according to the model of the western scales. These have different ways of distributing. The halftone is the smallest distance established between two notes. On a guitar, for example, it is in the distance between a fret and the one that follows it (or also between an air string and the number one fret).

Semitones types and tone

There are two kinds of semitones:

Chromatic: The two notes that constitute the halftone are called the same.

Diatonic: The two notes that constitute the halftone have different names.

Now, the difference between both types is not sound, but in their writing. The sums of two semitones form a tone. If we take the C and D notes on a piano, both are distanced by a tone, while those of E and F only separate them by a semitone. As in the procedures of Western music the halftones separate the notes, we have that between the letters C and D then an intermediate note appears.

If you look at a piano keyboard, black keys are placed at the top, between two adjacent pieces. It is interesting to note that, for each note separated by a tone of the successive one, there is a black key that divides them.

Identifying the type of interval

Usually an interval is not designated according to the tones and semitones that compose it (although it can also be done), but a numerical arrangement is established, depending on the distance between the sounds. When we talk about notes we mean the seven that everyone knows: C- D- E -F -G -A -B, in contrast to the 12 semitones that coexist between them.

To number an interval, the total number of notes it comprises is counted (counting those that constitute that interval).

Classification of intervals

To classify an interval we must take into account the order in which each of them is cataloged. Therefore, the intervals can be: Major, Minor, Fair, Increased or Decreased.

An indication to consider: The intervals of 4th, 5th and 8th may be fair, diminished or increased. Only the 8th can be fair. The intervals of 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th may be higher or lower.

To understand it better, an interval of 4th will never be less, nor will one of 3rd. In addition, when we use the denominators “increased” or “decreased”, it is important to keep in mind that they can be used at any interval. That is why the increased intervals have a semitone more than their relative major interval. On the contrary, those that are diminished comprise a semitone less than their immediate minor interval.

Of course, there are other ways to catalog musical intervals.

A good illustration would be that, although we know how to read and write, we do not need to have absolute preparation in branches such as grammar to have a good spelling. In any case, we study basic principles such as the elements that make up a sentence, the lexeme, etc., always with the intention of improving our knowledge.

Similarly, working with interval theory helps us to understand the formation of chords without having to go deeper into more complicated concepts. If we are told that a chord has a fundamental, a fair 5th and a minor 7th, we know that we are faced with intervals.

Musical signs: everything you need to know

Musical signs are the universal language of music. With them you can read and interpret any piece written by a composer from any part of the world, because they transcend language barriers. Therefore, your training as a musical artist would be incomplete if you are not able to, at least, understand the most basic musical signs.

Thinking about this, we bring you a small guide of the most common ones. Be aware that there are dozens of musical signs to overcome the complexity that a composer may include in a piece. However, here we present the ones most commonly used.

The staff


This is the basic element of written music, because it is in the staff where all the musical signs will be placed. It is composed by five lines and their respective intermediate spaces that will be where the seven tones of the diatonic scale will be placed. This can be expanded if necessary to four additional lines, two above and two below.

The G clef


Within modern vocal and musical notation, the G clef is the most used and is generally represent the high pitched sounds. The shape of this musical sign is based on a spiral similar to a G attached to an S. The spiral points to the second line of the staff counting from the bottom up, indicating that the line is G.

The F clef


This musical sign in the form of a stylized F with two points indicate that the second line of the staff, counting from top to bottom corresponds to F. It is a key that is usually used to represent deeptoned sounds, such as those produced by the electric bass and double bass.

The musical notes


These are the basis of music, because their mix with rhythms and silences make all the music, regardless of the genre. To achieve these rhythms, the notes must be assigned values, as well as silences and ligatures.



As the name says, ligatures are musical signs that are used to prolong a note. This can be a ligature, when two notes joined together play as if they were one; a ligature of expression, which indicates that the two notes must be played uninterruptedly. In this case, unlike normal ligatures, it can join notes of different expressions. There is also legato, which indicates that the notes covered by this sign are played without articulating a separation through the interruption of sound.

The arpeggio


This sign is also called “broken chord”. It is like a chord, only that the notes are played sequentially, usually in an ascending manner. It is very easy to perform with the guitar, in which it is enough to place the chord you want and play from its deeptoned to the most acute note.



The length of a silence is not absolute: is given in proportion to the duration of the other notes and silences, although it is common to use a quarter note as a basic unit of time. Taking this measure as a reference, the times can be: maximum (32 times), longa (16 times), square (8 times), whole note (4 times), minim (2 times), quarter note or crotchet (1 time), quave (1 / 2 time), semiquaver (1/4 time), demisemiquaver (1/8 time), semidemisemiquaver (1/16 time), hundred twenty-eight note (1/32 time) and two hundred fifty-sixth note (1/64 time).

Bar followed by silence


When we play a piece with other musicians, this sign indicates that we must wait in silence for the number of times indicated. Generally silence lasts six bars, but it can be extended as long as the composer wants.

The fermata


It is a musical sign that indicates the indefinite prolongation of a note or a silence. Its duration varies according to the will of the interpreter and is usually placed to indicate a stop in the tempo.

Syncopated note


These musical signs are intended to break the regularity of the rhythm, accentuating a note in a weak or semi-strong part of the stave. Syncopations can be regular or irregular, belonging to the latter category when the duration between both parts of the syncopa does not last the same time. Syncopas are the rhythmic basis of musical styles such as jazz and other African-American rhythms.



These musical signs modify the height of a note that follows in the same line of the staff within a new measure. These alterations can be:

B-flat, decreases the tone of the note by two chromatic semitones.

Flat and medium, decreases the tone in ¾.

Flat, decreases the pitch of a note in a semitone.

Demi-flat, decreases the tone by ¼.

Natural, modifies the tone of a previous flat or flat according to the key represented at the beginning of the staff.

Demi-sharp, increases the pitch of the note by ¼.

Sharp, increases the pitch of the note by a semitone.

Sharp and medium, increases the pitch of the note by ¾.

Double sharp, increases the pitch of the note by two chromatic semitones.

Precautionary Accidentals


They are alterations that are enclosed in parentheses, flat, sharps or natural. This is done because sometimes a passage is too difficult and when interpreting it we may not realize that they are altered. Therefore, it is important to remember that if in a measure there is a note with an accidental alteration, and there are more equal notes within it, it must also be altered.

Key signatures


Key signature is a musical sign that defines the alterations that the notes will have in that space or line. If there is no key signature in the staff, it can be interpreted as being major / minor, although it can also mean that it is a neutral key signature.

The Key signatures can be flats signatures, which decrease the corresponding line or space note by a semitone, determining whether the tonality is less or greater. The sharps key signature causes the inverse effect, increasing the halftone the note of the corresponding line or space. Both key signatures will be affected by the amount of flats or sharps in each one.

Repetition signs


These musical signs serve the composer to indicate that the passage within the repetition signs must be repeated from the beginning.

Simple and double time signatures


When they appear in the stave, these musical signs indicate that we have to go to the repetition sign and, when we repeat, skip box number one, to go to the second.



The measure determines the measure of the music. And it is represented with two numbers, one on top of the other. Within modern music, the most common measures are: 4/4, 3/4, 2/4 and 6/8. Although there are other measures, such as 9/8, but they are hardly used today.

Abbreviation for repeating measures


Once the composer has written the part of the piece that he wants to be repeated later, he uses these musical signs so he doesn’t have to rewrite everything. These signs can be put in as many measures as we want and have the same function as the quotes.

Dynamic overtones


These are musical signs that usually appear under the staves and are used by the composer to indicate to the performer the intensity with which he wishes the indicated passage to be played. These overtones can range from the pianississimo (extremely soft) to the fortississimo (extremely strong), there being the sforzando that is literally a sharp intensity. Similarly, the overtones may indicate a gradual increase in volume (crescendo) or, conversely, gradually decrease the volume (decrease or decrease).

Eighth high and eighth low


Sometimes, it is necessary to add notes that are too sharp or too deeptoned and the composer do not want to add additional lines to the score. To achieve this, the musical signs of high octave and low octave are aided, which when placed on a note indicate that the pitch of the note should be increased or decreased by an octave.

The trill


This musical sign corresponds to an ornament that modifies the heights pattern of an individual note. The trill specifically, is a rapid alteration between the specific note and the highest tone or semitone within its duration. When a wavy horizontal line follows the sign of the trill, it means that it is a long trill.



The mordant is another musical ornament similar to the trill but where the written note alternated with its upper note (upper mordant) or lower (lower mordant) is executed quickly. An example would be C, B, C, B, and C.

As you must have noticed, the musical signs are not difficult to learn once you have studied them enough. Once you learn the ones that appear here, you will be able to easily read most of the staves that falls into your hands.