(Also Called Musical Notation)
Music Notation is any structured way of recording & understanding music "visually" so you can clearly communicate it to others to develop or play without a danger of misunderstanding the original work.
Without a repeatable way to note the development (and sometimes, changes) of your rhythm, melody, and song structure, songwriters would have a hard time collaborating with singers, composers, and musicians to produce their song.
Multiple Flavors Of Music Notation
There are many types of notation that were created for different elements in music. So certain musicians will prefer to use one type over the other, depending on how they were trained and their area of expertise.
The Five Types of Music Notation
Standard Notation - The original type of music notation that
has all of the well known music theory symbols
Lead Sheets - The simplified version of the original that only notes
the essentials like: melody, lyric, and harmony
Guitar Tabs - Visually simulating the six strings of a guitar,
this form notates the core melody of the song (as if played by a lead guitar)
with the # representing the fret (i.e. section to press on guitar neck) and
line representing the string to play.
Software Bar Notation - This type of notation is specially made for
composers who use music production software to create rhythm and melodies by
placing notes onscreen.
- Graphic Notation - More so for artist expression than communication, this type of notation uses styles and symbols completely foreign to standard music notation.
If you want to become a well-rounded musician you should get familiar with the first four types of notation, but it's not necessary to master these just to learn how to write songs.
Let me show you a version of music notation we'll use to notate a song's rhythm & melody as a beginner songwriter until you learn traditional music notation.
Meter-Tabs™ For Quick Music Notation
A meter-tabs chart shows “how much can happen” within “a moment in time”.
Normally we can only "feel" rhythm, but now we have a simple way to show lyrical rhythm and melodies of popular songs even if we don't know how to read music.
Here's How Meter-Tabs Works...
The first box shows the timing (i.e. time signature) of the
beat. "4/4" is the most common timing for today's
pop songs (see
Rhythm page for more),
and is why the chart shows 4 beats.
If a song we were studying was "5/4" the chart would look like this...
- Each blue number in the
represents one beat.
black number in
the 2nd row represents the # of syllables that
can fit in one beat.
- Each purple number in
the 3rd row represents the vocal notes for the
syllables in the 2nd row.
- Each green number in the 4th row represents the melody's notes.
The way lyrics are sung, and a melody is played, will affect how they're recorded on the chart. This is how we'll study songs and notate their structure.
Let's use Coldplay's acoustic version of their song "Princess of China", showing a Meter-Tabs visualization of their first verse as an example:
"Once upon a time somebody ran; somebody ran away saying fast as I can; I've got to go, I've got to go."
"Once upon a time we fell apart; you're holding in your hands the two halves of my heart. Oh, oh!"
- Total length of the verse: 8 bars/measures
- Chords used: Am, C, F, F (visit Autochords
and play each chord to hear)
- Length of melody: 4 bars/measures (played twice)
- Timing: "4/4" (4 beats per bar/measure)
- Tempo: 84 beats per minute
The acoustic version of this song doesn't use drums, but every "down-strum" of the guitar keeps the beat. So as SOON as you hear the first strum (at 0:12-0:13), that's the 1st beat.
The above chart is just a basic layout of the chords of the melody. You'll hear the guitarist in the song adding flair with his strumming and picking, but the first chord he plays each bar is the chord in the chart.
- Notes = A, G, E, D, C (visit
OnlinePianist and play each note to hear)
- Lyrical Rhythm = Loose Pace (see
Rhythm page for more)
- Line #1 starts at 0:12-0:13...
The above chart shows the 1st line of the first verse. Listen to the 1st line a few times on YouTube, and then see if you can follow the rhythm from the chart.
Notice the lyric is sung with the same vocal notes & rhythm style for both lines of the verse.
This is how we'll study lyrics and melodies until the process becomes automatic and you no longer need charts like the one above.
Let's Learn How to Count In Bars
Let's go in to more detail by learning how to count in bars. Join my free training group to learn everything about songwriting in 8 weeks.
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Updated: February 18, 2020
Do you play an instrument? If so were you taught a form of music notation? Post in the comments below.
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