Music notation looks wrong

Know when something looks wrong

Tell me what is wrong with this music?

  1. Does it show the natural accent? (with barlines)
  2. Does it show the beat? (with beams.)

Let’s correct the notation.

In the correct notation I can tell at a glance where the beat starts. I can see the point of natural accent. The musician will give a great performance. They will keep track of their part in relation to the rest of the orchestra. Correct notation phrases the orchestra’s time in regular, recognisable rhythmic motion.

The tie holds the note over the beat / barline

We introduced a new element of notation above, the tie.

The tie is a curved line between two note-heads of the same pitch. The musician plays smoothly through the duration of notes under the tie.

There is no difference between the sound of two tied quavers and the sound of a crotchet. The tie allows you to write any length of note through any beat or barline.

The semibreve in the incorrect notation (above) disguises the beat and barline. When replaced with a dotted crotchet tied to a minim tied to a quaver, the musician sees the note’s length (still a semibreve) in relation to the music’s beat and natural accent.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of clear beams

Is this pattern in 3 – 4 or 6 – 8?

This pattern is in 3 – 4.

This pattern is in 6 – 8.

Sure you have the time signature, but look how effectively the beam shows the beat. In an instant, at first glance, you know where the beat starts.

Never disguise the beating heart of the music.

4 beats to the bar. Can you cut the measure in half?

When there are 4 beats to the bar, clearly distinguish the first half of the measure from the second. This greatly enhances legibility.

Imagine cutting the measure in half with a pair of scissors. You can do so easily with these examples. We have tied over the halfway mark.

When there are four quavers in one half of the measure you may beam them to clearly separate the halves of the measure. Surprise! Here is a rare instance where beaming two beats aids legibility.

When the smallest unit of time in a 4 – 4 bar is a crotchet, a minim or semibreve can cross over the bar’s halfway mark.

In simple time all music is in patterns of 4. You will study this more soon.


Position your rests to reinforce the beat with as much rigor as the notes.

  • Don’t tie rests. Sound may be tied, but not silence.
  • Use your rest notation to cleanly and clearly show the beat.

Reinforce what we have learnt so far with a step-by-step real-life exercise

Let us correct this notation. We choose a time signature of 4 – 4.

Let us get our bearings with a feel of quavers.

Our notation must clearly define

  • the natural accent (with a barline every 8 quavers),
  • each half of the bar (every four quavers)
  • and each beat (every two quavers).

The quaver rest offends no-one. The semibreve is clearly offensive. The final group of rhythms are incorrectly beamed.

The quaver rest stays where it is.

A dotted crotchet takes us halfway through the measure.

A minim takes us to the end of the measure.

A quaver takes us to the end of the semibreve.

A quaver completes the beat. (This is the first quaver to follow the semibreve)

The next beat is quaver – semiquaver – semiquaver. (Hint: in the incorrect notation the beams are incorrect. They disguise the true place of the beat.)

Two semiquavers complete the notes. Now we must complete beat 3 with a quaver rest. Rests show the beat.

The fourth beat is silent. We conclude with a crotchet rest.