Music is made of sounds, silence and rhythm. On the piano you make the sounds by pressing on the piano keys. The silence is the space between the sounds. The rhythm is what gives the music a beat that will make it flow. This is why learning how to count at a steady and consistent pace is very important.
Music is divided into units of time called measures. Measures are shown by vertical bar lines on the music staff. Measures usually contain the same number of beats or counts. The number of counts in the measures is specified in the beginning of the music piece or song, at the “time signature”.
The time signature is similar to a fraction in math. The upper number tells you how many beats are in each measure. The bottom number tells you what type of beats you have as the unit of time. For example 4/4 means each measure has 4 beats and each beat is a quarter note. Each quarter receives 1 count, since it is the unit of time. So in each measure you will count up to 4. If it was 4/8, the eighth is the unit of time, and each eighth receives one count. 3/4 means you have 3 quarters in a measure and you’ll count up to 3. In many ways, counting is like simple math. However it is crucial that you count evenly, like a clock, without slowing down or speeding up (unless of course, the music specifies this, which you’ll learn later).
The music notes have different time values which indicate how many beats you’ll need to count on one note. This is what makes some notes shorter and others longer.
In these examples we assume the measures have 4 quarters, the time signature is 4/4.
Musical Notes Duration
To be more efficient and get fast results, follow this procedure for each new piece:
• Clap and count the rhythm. Why is this important? As you remember, music is made of sounds and rhythm. If you can’t play the sounds in time with the correct values you have just sounds with no pulse or flow, very boring! Since in the beginning it is difficult to concentrate both on playing the correct notes and counting, we split the task. We learn the rhythm separately by clapping each note and counting loudly the values.
• After you have learned the counting you’ll play the notes and count loud. This will help you keep on track and follow the sheet music.
• Remember, the numbers under or above the notes represent the fingers numbers, not the count.
• Do not try to play the whole piece through over and over. This will be overwhelming and you will not make much progress. We need to split the task is smaller pieces.
• We practice small sections: two-three measures a few times, then one row a few times until comfortable. Do the same with the next row. You’ll find that in the beginning the patterns repeat a lot, so learning well the first row it is like learning half the piece or more.
• Isolate the problems spots: practice the measures that are more difficult to you many times, rather than always starting from the beginning. Then integrate the sections back together.
• Take breaks every 10 minutes if you can’t concentrate more.
• Make sure you practice slowly and count at the same speed. Don’t speed up sections that seem easier.
• Remember to practice each hand separate until you can handle it.
• You don’t need to practice all pieces (or books) every day if you don’t have time. Cycle through them during the week.
• It is also helpful if you keep reviewing past material. You’ll realize how much easier it seems.