Dave Clews breaks down dots and ties

Computer Music - - Contents -

At its most fun­da­men­tal level, mu­sic is es­sen­tially a col­lec­tion of notes of vary­ing pitches and lengths. This is rep­re­sented on the printed page via a sys­tem of no­ta­tion that has evolved grad­u­ally through­out the cen­turies into what we know to­day, with pitches rep­re­sented by the ver­ti­cal po­si­tion­ing of the notes on the stave.

The rhyth­mi­cal side of things, how­ever, has al­ways been de­picted by the use of dif­fer­ent note styles that re­flect dif­fer­ent du­ra­tions, such as crotch­ets (quar­ter-notes), qua­vers (eighth­notes) and min­ims (half-notes). That’s all well and good, but to en­hance the flex­i­bil­ity of this pic­to­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of rhythm, early mu­si­cians de­vised a sys­tem of amend­ments to these ba­sic note forms, in the form of dots and ties – aka aug­men­ta­tion dots and tenuto ties. Es­sen­tially, adding a dot to the right of a note head ex­tends its du­ra­tion by half its orig­i­nal length. Mean­while, ties are used to link notes of the same pitch to­gether and ex­tend them so that if they cross bar lines or beat di­vi­sions, they can be in­ter­preted as a sin­gle long note.

Al­ter­ing note lengths in this way can have a dras­tic ef­fect on the feel and the rhythm of a part, so for this month’s EasyGuide, I’m go­ing to take a look at the prin­ci­ple be­hind dots and ties and see how these mys­te­ri­ous no­ta­tion de­vices trans­late into the real world.

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