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How to Read Suzuki Music
Treble clef with three eighth notes on a staff.Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
Memorize the following terms that will help you read the music:
Staff - each group of five parallel horizontal lines.
Clef - shows the pitches that your instrument uses. The treble clef is shown on a staff in the picture, followed by three notes. The Suzuki Method instruments that play in treble clef are flute, guitar, harp, piano, recorder and violin. The Viola plays in alto clef. The Suzuki Method instruments that play in bass clef are bass, cello, harp and piano. Piano music is often shown in "grand staff," with two staves bracketed together: the top staff is treble clef, the bottom staff is bass clef.
- 2). Learn the following concepts to start decoding the music:
-The music notes on the staff are read left to right, from the top of the page to the bottom.
-Notes directly on top of each other are played at the same time (this occurs in violin, viola, cello, bass, harp and piano Suzuki music).
-Each music note tells two pieces of information: which pitch you are to play on the instrument and the duration of the note. The placement of the note head, or oval part of the note, on the staff shows the pitch. The shape of the note head and the note stem (vertical line connected to the right side of the note head) show the duration.
- 3). Use the music dictionary to familiarize yourself with all of the unknown words and symbols. Words written in and around the music are most often in Italian. These words and markings describe the speed of the music, volume and other instructions.
Pitch and Duration
- 1). Determine the pitch of the first note on the staff. Decide whether the note is "on a line" or "in a space." Notes on a line will have the line going directly through the middle of the note head. The note head of a note in a space is between two lines. From there, follow the rules for your particular clef. The lines and spaces are read from lowest to highest.
Treble clef: The lines are E, G, B, D and F, respectively. The spaces are F, A, C and E. There are several mnemonic devices for remembering the order of the lines. One is "Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips." The spaces spell the word "face."
Alto Clef: The lines are F, A, C, E and G. The spaces are G, B, D and F. Alto clef is less common and has no standard associated mnemonic devices. Make your own if necessary.
Bass Clef: The lines are G, B, D, F and A. The spaces are A, C, E and G. Common mnemonic devices for the Bass clef are: "Good Boys Do Fine Always" and "All Cows Eat Grass."
- 2). Calculate the rhythm, or duration, of the first note on the staff. If the note head is completely black, the note will most often be one beat or less (1.5 beats if followed closely on the right side by a dot). If the note head is not filled in in the center, the note will be two beats or more.
Common rhythms are:
Note head not filled in, no stem - "whole note" - four beats
Note head not filled in, with stem - "half note" - two beats
Note head not filled in, with stem, followed by dot - "dotted half note" - three beats
Note head filled in, with stem - "quarter note" - one beat
Note head filled in, with stem, followed by dot - "dotted quarter note" - 1.5 beats
Note head filled in, with stem, stem has a flag - "eighth note" - .5 beat
Two or more notes with stems connected by a single horizontal bar - "eighth notes" - each is .5 beat, so every two eighth notes represent one beat
Note head filled in, with stem, stem has two flags - "sixteenth note" - .25 beat
Two or more notes with stems connected by two horizontal bars - "sixteenth notes" - each is .25 beat, so every four sixteenth notes represents one beat
- 3). Check to see if some of the symbols in the piece are "rests." A rest is a pause of a specific duration. If there is a symbol inside the staff that does not look like a note head, it is likely a rest.
Small rectangle placed under fourth line from the bottom - "whole rest" - usually four beats
Small rectangle placed on top of middle line - "half rest" - two beats
Vertical shape, like a "z" with a "c" below it for a tail - "quarter rest" - one beat
Small shape, like a number 7 - "eighth rest" - .5 beat
Small shape, like a number 7 with an extra horizontal piece - "sixteenth rest" - .25 beat
- 4). Figure out the pitches and duration of the notes and rests for the rest of the piece. Listening to the Suzuki recording of the piece while looking at the music will make it easier to understand how long to hold each note. Groups of notes are broken up into "measures" by "measure lines" - vertical lines that are drawn from the lowest line on the staff to the highest. These measure lines have very few functions beyond denoting where to start counting at beat one again. Music is most often written in measures of two beats, measures of three beats, and measures of four beats.
- 1). Go slowly at first. Play no more than two measures at a time until you are certain that you can play them with a steady beat, using all of the correct rhythms and notes. Repeat each section at least ten times in a row without mistakes before starting on a new section.
- 2). Group measures you have learned into larger sections until you can play the whole song.
- 3). Use the recording to make sure you are playing correctly and musically. Repeat the song several times per day.