READING MUSIC WITH WEBRHYTHMS
Welcome to WebRhythms - an easy step-by-step method for learning to read rhythm, created by Vic Firth artist and educator Norm Weinberg. Starting at the very beginning, you'll progress through 20 lessons, where each introduces a new topic. By the end of the series, you'll be a master at reading rhythm!
In this WebRhythms lesson, you'll learn about Rhythmic Abbreviations. The exercise you'll be working on in this lesson will include audio play-along tracks in five different levels that you can use to track your progress!
In past WebRhythm lessons, we’ve dealt primarily with pure rhythm – note values, counting systems and such. This lesson will take a little detour to learn about one of the notational oddities that can occur in the world of reading percussion music: rhythmic abbreviations.
In a way, these abbreviations are very similar to contractions or acronyms in the English language. Words like “can’t”, “I’m”, or “she’ll” are popular in contemporary language because they are quicker to say and write than their complete counterparts. Likewise, acronyms such as ASCAP or PASIC are springing up all over the place because it just takes too long to write or say “American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers”.
With rhythmic abbreviations, certain rhythms can be written quicker, but remember that no time is saved during a performance – each note still gets its full time value regardless of how abbreviated its script. Take a look at example 1. Both measures in this example indicate the same rhythm. In the first measure, you see a series of sixteen sixteenth notes. The second measure shows one of the abbreviations that can be used in place of the sixteen different notes.
As you can see, writing all those sixteenth notes would take sixteen motions of your pencil or pen (or mouse clicks for that matter), the stems would add another sixteen strokes, and the beams would add eight more movements. The abbreviated version uses only two noteheads, two stems, and four slashes. Obviously, there can be no argument that eight movements are more efficient than forty.
Why would two half notes with two slashes through their stems indicate a full measure of sixteenths? The slashes are the abbreviated symbols for note values with beams.
An analogy can be made between rhythmic abbreviations and penny candy. I remember riding my bike to a small drug store near my home. With twenty to thirty cents in my pocket, I could really put myself into a sugar coma. I’d tell the guy behind the counter that I wanted six cents worth of these, three cents worth of those, or ten cents worth of whatever.
The amount of candy that I could buy was related to two factors — first, the price of each type of candy and second, the amount of money I wanted to spend on that particular goodie. If I bought ten cents worth of candy that sold for a penny each, then I ended up with ten pieces of candy. If I bought ten cents worth of candy that sold for two pennies each, I ended up with only five pieces of candy.
So, what does penny candy have to do with rhythmic abbreviations? Slashes through a note’s stem are abbreviated beams. In the second measure of the first example, the two slashes indicate the type of note that has two beams (sixteenths). The fact that the slashes are through the half note’s stem means that the composer is asking for “a half note’s worth of sixteenths”. And everyone knows that eight sixteenths equal the value of a half note. Put two of these figures next to each other and presto – a full bar of sixteenths!
In example 2, the half note’s stem has a single slash. Since each slash is an abbreviation for a beam, the composer is asking you to perform “a half note’s worth of eighths” (the note value that has one beam). Because eighth notes are longer than sixteenths, there will be only four eighths in the time of the half note (like more expensive candy).