Symbol of the Week

This series of posts is aimed at people who sing in choirs and each section should make the printed music more helpful and less of a mystery to you.

Music involves a lot of repetition – songs frequently have several sections that are exactly the same with different words, or very slightly different.

Rather than starting with the note names and the way different rhythms are shown, I am going to concentrate on the signs and symbols that tell you how to navigate around a song.

5. Bar

Not really a symbol, just a word. An explanation of what this multifariously-defined word means in a musical context.

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Not to be confused with any of these:

Who’d have thought it? There is a Hunter’s Bar in Amsterdam as well as Sheffield.

 

This is what a musical bar looks like:1_y9mx5

 

It is the space in between the two lines. These are the bar-lines.

You will see bars as little sections of a piece – they are like the lego blocks that build up a piece of music. Here’s a set of four bars – a lot of songs and pieces are built out of four-bar sections.

yckLLX9cESingers and musicians who don’t read music need to know what a bar is because it is how we measure the music.  You don’t say,   “Come in when I’ve played this intro for 14.2 seconds”, you say, “Come in after 8 bars”.

NB: If you are American (it’s all right, you can’t help it), you will find the word “measure” used instead of bar, and bar-lines may be referred to as “bars”.

In a piece of music, each bar consists of a certain number of beats,  usually 2, 3 or 4.  (Imagine all your lego blocks neatly lined up, each one with the same number of bumps on it).  The first beat of the bar is stronger than the others.  You can feel the music going

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

or 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3  1 2 3

or 1anda2anda1anda2anda

Being able to feel the beat, and the metre (whether it’s 2 or 3 or 1anda2anda) comes with practice. If you can feel where the strong beat is at the beginning of the bar it helps you to stay with the other musicians and find your way back in when you get lost.

In written music you will sometimes see little numbers written above the stave at the beginning of each line – these are the bar numbers. They can be very useful for knowing where you are (particularly in those songs where you sing the same words a lot and it’s very hard to know which “Put a little love”  you’re supposed to start at this time.

That’s all for now.

Click here for previous weeks in full:

1. Repeat Sign

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2. First- and Second-time Bars

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3. Coda
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4. D.C. and D.S