Music in MIDI


Part I

By David J. Williams...

Music theory is a vast and often confusing subject to deal with. Even the word "theory" can put most people off. Yet theory is only the knowing of what you want to put into practice - the rules that make everything work and fit into place.

In sequencing, you are allowed to enter your own songs by using the editor that comes as part of the sequencers package. This is besides the ability to record MIDI input directly. But you must know what you are doing, what the rules are, if you are going to do more with the editor than just using it to correct mistakes. I can't play the keyboard, so I very rarely play my MIDI data in from one but prefer to write my songs directly from the editor. In this way I get much better results than my one-finger efforts using a keyboard.

I hope to show you over the next few issues of AtariPhile how to write in your own songs using the knowledge of written music and it's rules that you will acquire here. I will not go into details of any specific sequencer, or MIDI for that matter. I aim to help you see that a knowledge of music, in t's written form, is a jolly good thing to know when sequencing.

You don't require a masters degree in music to get good results with your MIDI work, so let us look at the very basics and go on from there.

The first thing to learn is the names of the different notes (or pitches) used in writing music. Look at the diagram below, concentrating for now on the white notes only:

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In music the first seven letters of the alphabet are used to identify each separate note - from 'A' through to 'G' and back to 'A' again, etc. This cycle from one note (it doesn't matter which) to the next note of the same name is called an OCTAVE. You'll see why later in the series. In the diagram I have shown the example of 'A' to 'A' but any note can be moved an octave, either up or down in pitch. If I had chosen to extend the example to the next furthest right 'A' then the distance between the two notes would be two octaves, and so on.

You can also see from the diagram that there are more than seven notes in an octave. Look at my example and you will see that between the two 'A's there are five black keys. This shows us that there are twelve differently named notes in western music theory. I shall explain the black notes in the next issue of AtariPhile.

The diagram above covers the range of piano notes that can be displayed in the standard way on sheet music. Look at this:

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The five lines on which music is displayed is called a Staff or Stave. The example above is used to show the notes to be played by the right hand on a piano. This is indicated by the funny looking symbol on the left - known as a Treble Clef. The lower the note is in pitch the lower it sits on the stave, and both lines and spaces are used to show which note is to be played.

If you look again at the keyboard diagram, you will see that I have marked out one note as being 'Middle C'. (This is usually refered to as 'C3' in sequencer programs). To keep things simple, I am going to say that this is the point at which the keyboard is split into left hand and right hand. You will also notice that 'C' is the lowest note on the stave diagram, and it is this note that is used to represent 'Middle C' (as opposed to the 'C' on the third space up, which is an octave above 'Middle C'). So all the notes that are displayed on the treble clef stave are to the right of 'Middle C'.

Tip: The fives lines on the treble clef stave spell out the initials of the phrase Every Good Boy Deserves Fun. The four spaces between the lines spell out the word FACE. This is how you can remember where each note sits on the stave.

The stave can be extended above or below the usual five lines and four spaces by using some additional lines called Leger Lines. The 'Middle C' in the diagram above is an example of this, but I'll go into all that in more detail next time.

Now for the left hand.

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The funny shaped symbol on the left here is called the Bass Clef. The same rules apply here as on the treble clef stave - the lower the note the lower it's position on the stave. Notice the note on the top end of the stave - it is the same 'Middle C' that we saw on the bottom of the treble clef stave. This is the point at which the bass and treble clefs meet, so all notes displayed on the bass clef stave are to the left of 'Middle C'.

Tip: The five lines on the bass clef spell out the initials of the phrase Good Boys Deserve Fun Always. The four spaces spell out the initials of the phrase All Cows Eat Grass. Again, this helps you to remember the positions of each note on the stave.

Your homework until next time is to remember the positions of the notes on both staves (i.e. the names of the lines and spaces) and to relate these positions to the right note on the keyboard (e.g. the second space up on the bass clef stave is a 'C' - an octave below 'Middle C').

To help you, I have put both clefs together as you would see them written in sheet music - notice that the keyboard diagram relates exactly to the one below.

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Remember - We are only talking white keys at the moment.


If you have any real difficulties with any points in this series I will be happy to help in person. Just telephone 0161 226 2551 after 6p.m.
[That's a generous offer, so don't abuse it - and don't call late in the evenings! - Ed]

Happy learning!


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