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How do you write music?

Writing music is a complicated thing to learn. Here, an explanation of key, time signature, notes, clefs, etc.

Writing music is a very challenging and rewarding experience. However, there are certain basics that one must have before attempting to do so, no matter what type of music is being written. All music writers must be informed about clef, key signature, key, accidentals, etc.

Clef is the first thing that one needs to know. It s the symbol at the very beginning of each staff (five-line grid that music is written on). If it looks kind of like an S, it s treble clef. Treble clef is by far the most common; it s used by violins, pianos, all brass and woodwind instruments (except possibly the very low ones), and many other higher-pitched instruments. It s the basic music-reading that everyone learned in school: FACE going up in the spaces, and Every Good Boy Does Fine (EGBDF) going up on the lines. Another common clef is bass, which looks kind of like a C. Cellos and pianos use it (pianos have a double staff). The music is almost an octave lower: it goes up in ACEG along the spaces and GBDFA along the lines. Tenor clef is bass clef which has been transcribed up five notes, and is much less common. Alto clef is used for violas, and it goes up GBDF in the spaces and FACEG on the lines.

After the clef has been decided (it s pretty uniform, depending on the instrument), the key signature must be decided. This tells how many sharps or flats the piece has. No key signature can have sharps and flats. These sharps and flats are added in a particular order, by fifths. When counting in fifths, there are only seven of them before one hits the same note again this is because there are only seven DIFFERENT notes in a scale the first and last are the same.

The sharps start with F#, then C#, then G#, then D#, then A#, then E#, then B#. They are always added in this order and no sharps can be added without the preceding sharps also written into the key signature. These sharps come in fifths, starting with the lowest and ascending. With no sharps, the key is C major. With one sharp, the key signature is G major. Two sharps, D major. Three sharps, A major. Four sharps, E major. Five sharps, B major. Six sharps, F# major. Seven sharps, C# major. These keys come in fifths.

The flats start with B-flat, then E-flat, then A-flat, then D-flat, then G-flat, then C-flat, and finally F-flat. These flats start with the highest and come in descending order. No flats is, of course, C major. One flat is F major, two flats is B-flat major, three flats is E-flat major, four flats is A-flat major, five flats is D-flat major, six flats is G-flat major, seven flats is C-flat major. These keys also come in fifths.

For each of these major scales, there is a relative minor. To find the relative minor, look at the key signature and take it up three steps for example, if it has three sharps, it s A major. Up three steps would be F# major. Thus, F# MINOR (which, as a minor scale, would have the same key signature as A major, three sharps all are lowered three sharps as minors) is the relative minor. What if there are less than three sharps? Once all the sharps have been subtracted, add flats. What if there are more than five flats? Transfer it to its equivalent major scale (C flat is the same as B natural). Another example: the relative minor of C major is A minor, because A major has three sharps. When it s lowered three fifths, it has the same key signature as C major no sharps.

A fifth is a way of counting notes. From C to G is a fifth because if one counts CDEFG one gets five notes. Fifths are always used in major chords. Fourths ABCD (from A to D) are occasionally used, as are sevenths CDEFGAB is a seventh (that is, from C to B). A chord containing, for example, both C and B, which are not combined in regular major chords are called major seventh chords. Chords are built on thirds DEF# is a third. D and F# are the first two notes in the D major chord. A, which is a third from F# and a fifth from D, is the third note. The fourth and final note is a D an octave higher. All regular major chords are built this way. Minor chords are built similarly, except that the second note in this case, F# - is lowered half a step. Here, it becomes F (natural).

There are also different versions of minor chords, such as the harmonic minor (when the scale is played almost like a major scale on the way up the first lowered note is left alone. On the way down, it s played the usual way). For example, the notes is A minor are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and A, all natural. On the way up, one would play A, B, C (this is the note which is left alone), D, E, F#, G# (these two notes are altered), A. On the way back down, one would play the original minor scale. Another version is the melodic minor, when one only alters one note. In the A minor example, one would play A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, A both up and down. This creates what s known as a step and a half between F and G#. A step is when notes are more than just half a pitch apart G# and A are a half step, while G and A are a whole step. F# to A would be a step and a half. These step-and-a-halfs are thirds.

Notes don t always have to fit into the proper key signature. If the key signature is G major, which has F#, and one wants to write an F natural, then use an accidental sign (meaning that the note should be marked with a natural sign to distinguish between it and the F# in the key signature). Also, the key signature can be changed in the middle of the piece, even several times if one desires it. A double bar line must be shown, along with the new key (this must include naturals in place of what used to be sharps or flats). After this, the next line is written normally, including the new key.

After key has been decided, one must decide on a time signature. These are the numbers that are displayed in fractional form at the beginning of the line, after the clef and key. 4/4 is the most common. This means that there are four beats in a measure. ?? is also a common one. This means that there are three beats in a measure this is the time signature of waltzes. 2/4 is also written, which is two beats to a measure. 2/2 is four beats in a measure, but twice as fast as 4/4. 6/8 is another fairly common one, which is 3 beats in a measure, but the 6/8 means to count the eighth notes there are then six beats in a measure. In 3/8, there are three beats in a measure, with the eighth note getting the beat. Much less common time signatures include 5/4, 12/8 (four beats in a measure, but much slower, and played like triplets), 6/4. Also, time (shown as c) and cut time (shown as a c with a line though it) represent 4/4 and 2/2, respectively.

Notes are next. A whole note is an open circle with no stick. It gets four beats. A half note is an open circle with a straight stick, which gets two beats. A quarter note is a filled-in circle with a straight stick, which gets one beat. An eighth note is a filled-in noted with a stick that has a curved flag on the end, which gets half a beat. A sixteenth note is a filled in circle with a stick and a double curved flag, which gets a one-fourth beat. This goes on right through thirty-second, sixty-fourth, etc. notes, each half the value of the last note. Dots are added to all notes at times in order to create a more syncopated rhythm. These dots represent half the value of the note. For example, when added to a half note, it becomes a dotted half note, which is then worth three beats instead of two. This can be applied to notes of all lengths. Use as many notes as desired as long as it fits the beat requirements for that measure.

An interesting variation is the triplet. A triplet is notated as three notes with a bracket over them. The number three is written above the bracket in order to show that it s a triplet. Usually triplets are written with quarter or eighth notes, though any amount of notes that fit the measure s requirements can be put in. The idea is to play three notes in the time that s allotted for two notes. In other words, one must play 1.5 times as fast in order to play all the notes in the original time. It s like playing in 6/8 while everyone else is playing in 4/4.

When one begins writing music, one must keep in mind an interesting melody first of all. Write it, generally, for the most dominant instrument. From that, create chords with the other instruments based on the key that s being written in. Use all varieties of chords thirds, fifths, sevenths, even ninths or thirteenths. The chords don t always have to be for the key that s being written, and dissonance (purposely making the music sound bad due to two similar notes F# and G, for example being played at the same time) can be used to create effect. Vary the structure. The harmony parts don t have to fit exactly with the melody in rhythm, even in easy music. Using all of these techniques will help to create interesting, well-written music.

One should take a note of caution: when writing for instruments other than string instruments, the notes are not always the same. For example, on a B-flat soprano clarinet, the B-flat is the same as the A on a stringed instrument or a piano. The note will sound the same, but it will be called by a different name. This must be taken into account when writing for a B-flat instrument and an A instrument.

After this point, music writing starts to get much more complicated. These are simply the basics which anyone attempting to write music should know.

Written by Kate Hillard -

On Raga Bhatiyar

Raga Bhatiyar is heard at the crack of dawn, attendant with the quotidian, crepuscular rite where Indian ladies, armed with state-of-the-art spices, take control of their sovereign space to negotiate the day's culinary projects. The name of this old rAga is said to derive from King Bhartrhari; this may well be a good example of inventive etymology. Throughout the following discussion M = shuddha madhyam and m = teevra madhyam.

Bhatiyar's attractive fašade belies its complexity. It exhibits bi-directional (i.e. Arohi and avarohi) assymetry in tonal construction and punctuation. The seed capital is supplied by Ragas Mand and Marwa, their respective strands conjoined by special swara-sangatis. Bhatiyar is of 'abstract' type, where the whole is not the sum of the parts. While the latter comment may be generally true of every rAga, the gaps to be filled in the more 'abstract' melodies require substantial reflection and internalization of the underlying aesthetic spirit. In this essay I propose to touch upon the rAga's central features.

The definitive movement in Raga Bhatiyar is the propulsive leap S-->D , an artifact of its Marwa heritage. The dhaivat thus approached is rendered deergha (elongated) and followed up by a Mand-inspired (N)D N P, D M, culminating with a nyAsa on the madhyam. The melodic thought at this juncture is typically concluded on the shaDaj via P G, P G r, S - where the second (P G) subgroup looks to the rishab. The crucial point here is the avarohi nyAsa on the madhyam, that swara being of utmost value to this rAga. A pause on the pancham following S->D must be avoided.

A S-->M launch is just as frequent. The madhyam is elongated but not accorded full nyAsa in the Arohi flow. A typical foray may look like:

S M, M P, M D P M, P G, P G r, S

Or, when the avarohi nyAsa on the madhyam is illustrated, it may assume:

S D, D N P D M, M (P)D P, P g r S

The uttarAnga forays have a life of their own and are initiated from the teevra madhyam in a Marwa-like cluster: m D S". For instance (caveat: careless handling may invite unwanted memories of Marwa):

m D S", N r" G" r" S", r" N D P D N (D)P D (P)M

To get the gestalt of Bhatiyar we must turn to the supporting audio clips. Only the 'big picture' has been outlined above, the auxiliary details of interest to the more excited reader have been skimped. The following chalan in the voice of Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang" holds Bhatiyar's concentrate (notice the special treatment of the swaras enclosed in square brackets):

S M, M M P [P] G, G M P G r, S

S M M P P D D [N] P [D] M M M (P)D P, M P G P G r S

S D, D [N] [N] P, m D S", N r", N P D [N] P [D] M M M (P)D P, P G P G r, S

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