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western Musical notation—Page 4



the significance of Modern Western Musical notationinterpreting music scores

The version of Auld lang syne you heard on the preceding page (page 3) was sung by Jean Redpath, a renowned Bobby Burns interpreter. It is taken from her album The Songs of Robert Burns, Volumes 1 & 2, which was researched and arranged by Serge Hovey. She's pictured at the left.

The famous Scots poet, Bobby Burns (see picture at right), who wrote lyrics for over 300 old Scots tunes out of his determination to preserve them, wrote the lyrics to Auld lang sayne to record it for posterity. He gets the credit for writing these songs even though the music came from other sources and the traditional canon.

All the songs in Redpath's album, which include the version of Old lang syne you just heard on page 3, above, are part of a special project aimed at documenting Burns' unique musical contribution. Hovey thoroughly investigated each song to ensure the correct match between lyrics and tune-variant that Burns intended.

Redpath's goal was to sing the song the way Burns meant it to sound. In your opinion, does Money's score faithfully reproduce Burn's intentions as Redpath and Hovey uncovered them? In other words, does the song as Redpath sings follow the notation in the score? You may want to play the song again and examine the score to confirm your answer.

Redpath's interpretation probably doesn't sound much like the Auld lang syne you're accustomed to hearing. To The Muse Of Music and to most other people, another version—one recorded by the band known as Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians on September 29, 1947—sounds more like the real thing.

To explore the interpretation of musical scores, The Muse Of Music will now enlist the help of Guy Lombardo.

Who's Guy Lombardo? He's the guy pictured on the left.

In case you don't already know Guy Lomabardo's story, he was a famous band leader who flourished throughout the first half of the 20th century. His orchestra, founded 1919, became the longest-running act in show business history, with over 500 hit songs to its credit, more than any other musical organization. He started playing big band bandstand dance music in person and on radio in 1945 and continued for decades. His music is so corny, he was crowned The King of Corn.

His first televised New Year’s Eve Party occurred in 1954 and his orchestra, which has played for more than 1½ billion viewers, made an international New Year’s Eve tradition out of the Scottish ballad. His New Year's Eve broadcast itself became a tradition heard by millions every year. His fans refused to start the new year without it.

Can you guess the very last number Lombardo always played after midnight just before signing off on every one of his New Year's Eve radio and TV shows? Right! He played Auld lang syne. If anyone should know how to play Old lang syne, he should.

To help further sharpen your Western music notation wits, The Muse suggests that you now take the following steps:

  • Click the image of the media player below to start it playing. This time, listen to the cornball strains of the Lombardo version of Auld lang syne.
  • As Lombardo's music plays, follow the lyrics on the page of sheet music, below.
  • Now, play the Lombardo version of the song again while you read the description of Western notation that follows the score. Look for notations on the score that correspond to points made about notation in the description of Western notation.
  • Listen carefully to the music. Does the music match the score?
  • Check back and forth between the notation description and the score until you are satisfied that you understand the differences between what you're hearing, seeing on the score, and reading about in the description of the notation. Play the song as many times as you need.

play the Guy Lombardo version of the song

Sorry, you can't hear this music because Java is not enabled on your computer or browser.



Description of Western Notation

About Auld lang syne Notation—General

  • Modern Western notation uses a five-line staff on a page of music, one line under another, to provide a field on which to represent music that is to be played or read. Pitch is indicated by placement of notes on the staff and duration is shown with different note values and additional symbols such as dots and ties.
  • Notation on a staff is read from left to right and top to bottom.
  • A staff of written music normally begins with a clef, which indicates the particular range of pitches encompassed by the staff. Notes representing a pitch outside of the scope of the standard five line staff are represented using ledger lines, which display a single note with additional lines and spaces.
  • Unless otherwise indicated, the key signature follows clef on the staff. It indicates the key of a piece by specifying certain notes to be flat or sharp throughout the piece.
  • A time signature is next, following the key signature.
  • Measures (spaces between vertical bars) divide the piece into regular groupings of beats, and the time signatures specify these groupings.
  • If needed, text directions to musicians, called markings, are placed above or below the staff wherever they are needed. Markings are usually derived from standard Western notation musical nomenclature. theyspecify such items as tempo, dynamics, and other musical characteristics the composer wants to achieve.

About Auld lang syne Notation—Details

  • This sheet music is arranged for piano. It contains three rows of three staves each. Top stave contains the vocal or melody line. Center stave contains chords to be played with the right hand. Third stave contains chords to be played with the left hand.
  • Top and center staves in each row each contain a treble clef at the left. Bottom staves in each row contains a bass clef at the left.
  • The note symbol (resembles the letter "b") denotes a flat symbol. This music is written in the key of B-flat. It follows the clef symbol on each stave of each row.
  • Kinds of notes (whole, half, quarter, etc.) are indicated by note shapes.
  • The 4/8 symbol that follows the flat symbol denotes meter (beats per measure) and what kind of note receives one beat.
  • No textual directions, otherwise known as markings, appear on this page.
  • If music is vocal, lyrics are usually written below the notes on the staff where they are to be sung. Breathing directions (markings) are sometimes added where breaths are to be taken. In this case, there are no breathing directions; additional lyrics are supplied at the bottom of the page.
  • There are no tempo markings (speed at which the music should be played) on this score. If present, tempo markings would most likely appear early, probably on the first stave in the first row.


Redpath vs. Lombardo

The Lombardo version is definitely not the Redpath version. Lombardo's version is pure schmaltz; the Redpath version is pure folk art. But both versions are based upon the same score, the one printed on the sheet music. How can this be the case when the two versions sound so different?

As observed earlier, musical scores are analogous to pages in books; a musical notation system is analogous to a written language. But, while words on a page are not meant by authors to be changed and are exactly what they seem, notes on a score are subject to change and interpretation by music arrangers and performers.

Differences like these between a composer's original intentions (the score) and the music that is actually played are the result of differences in a song's arrangement and performance. No doubt, Lombardo performed his version of Burns' music from a score prepared by arrangers which deviated from the score shown above. Lombardo's musicians were reading a score that had been significantly altered from the one Burns had in mind.

Redpath deliberately tried to make her performance represent the song as Bobby Burns meant it to be heard (the score); Lombardo did not. Lombardo had another role in mind for his music. And that's OK, in principle; it's done by performers most of the time. In fact, interpretation is the life blood of conductors, orchestras, musical soloists, and so-called song interpreters; they thrive on it. Interpretation is usually acceptable to musicians and the public so long as a piece of music remains faithful to the composer's intent; skillful interpretation can add richness and variety to any piece of music.

Some degree of interpretation is inevitable whenever music is played from a score. Redpath, for example, could not sing in Bobby Burns' voice; the most she could hope for was to sing in a voice that was similar to the kind of voice a folk singer might have of the type Burns had in mind.

In fact, so many factors go to make up a musical performance, no score can explicitly represent all of them. All scores and all performances must necessarily fall short of representing the music as it's actually meant to be heard by the composer; at best, they can come close. Some composers encourage interpretation by performers. Even a performer like Redpath, who deliberately sets out to be faithful to the intentions of the composer, must interpret the score. A performer seeking to faithfully interpret a score must do research to discover the composer's original intentions, and even then the performance will vary between performers. It is likely to vary even from one performance to the next by the same performer.

A sidebar about music variations

Don't misconstrue The Muse. Pointing out differences between Redpath and Lombardo's renditions of Burns' music is not a condemnation.

As with all the arts, variations are common in popular and classical music. As long as a variation is not a slavish copy but something new and creative, it is not only permitted by art, it is relished as a consequence of artistic freedom. Variations are one of the joys of art. The Muse smiles upon them.

Variations are not necessarily infringements on an artist's rights. Artistic freedom and artistic protection work for and against the artist and for and against each other. There is and should be a middle ground or balance between artistic protectionism and infringement. Violations of an artist's rights are complex matters of copyright law on one hand and ethical and artistic protections of an artist's personal rights on the other hand. There are always reasons to seek room for—to allow—a legitimate degree of variation.

It's no disgrace to copy or change another person's music. Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and a host of others wrote variations that actually helped promote the music of the artists who conceived the original music on which they were based. These variations helped spread the original composer's music to the benefit of all partiesthe original artist, the artist who wrought the variation, and the wider audience. Where would jazz be if performers didn't take liberties with music? the number of such cases is countless. Composers will write variations and performers and arrangers will alter scores; these practices should, and no doubt, will be perpetuated.

Some questions for further thought

Whether or not the Redpath and the Lombardo versions are the same from the point of view of lead sheet notation, the two versions of Burn's song certainly don't sound the same. Stark differences between the two versions illustrate how profound an effect the art of music arrangement, orchestration, and performance can have on the sound, meaning, and feeling induced by a piece of music.

  • If Lombardo's version is different from Redpath's version, and if Redpath's version is identical to what Burns intended, as she and Hovey claim, is Lombardo's version valid?
  • How much can a piece of music be changed before it becomes an original creation? Given that Lombardo's arrangement is very different, if Burns were alive today and his song copyrighted, should Lombardo be required to pay royalties to Burns? Why?
  • What do the large differences between the original Burns score and Lombardo's version have to say about a score and copyright protection? Should Lombardo be able to copyright his arrangement of Burns' song?

Explore Music notation further at these web sites

Want to continue your exploration of music notation and theory? Visit these web sites:

  • Visit the Treblis Software commercial web site pages on music theory and notation. theyexplain much of the most common nomenclature that arises in connection with Western notation. The site also contains a glossary of Italian and French terms that frequently come up: click here.
  • At the CPL.org web site (Choral sheet Music), see what the Western music notation system looks like when it appears on a score. Explore a huge collection of choral sheet music and manuscripts that you can download free. Find and download scores, texts, translations, and information about composers. Donate scores, including music of your own creation: click here.


take it easy

Rome wasn't built in a day, as the saying goes. As you read more about notation, you may encounter some musical facts you don't have the background or musical training to understand. If that turns out to be the case, don't let that discourage you. The Muse hopes you'll stick to your guns and keep trying; you'll probably walk away understanding more than you realize and you'll lay a foundation for future progress.


the musical score

As we have seen, a musical score is a written record, usually on paper, that contains musical notes and directions a musician follows when he plays a specific piece of music, that is, when he performs. Most musicians follow a score when they play, practice, or learn to play a piece of music. The score tells them what music to play and how to play it. In effect, a musical score is the music.

Any musical notation system is a system for writing music. To a large extent, musical notation exists to allow people to write scores. In sports, they say you can't follow the players or the game without a score card. In a similar manner, in music it can be said that you can't follow the music without the score.

A specific musical score is written with and in the language of a given musical notation system. To explore the nature of a musical score is to explore the nature of the musical notation system with which it is written.

  • Continue your exploration of modern Western notation. Begin an exploration of musical scores. Visit The Muse Of Music's page titled Welcome To The Musical Score: click here.

music terminology

As with sports, so with music: You can't read the score card without learning the words. Musical terminology is an important part of any music notation system. The Muse invites you to explore the following pages at Electricka's web site.

  • Explore music terminology at The Muse Of Music's page called Music Terminology: click here.

the glossary of musical terms

The Muse Of Music is pleased to offer you an extensive automated glossary of musical terms designed to assist anyone interested in looking up the meaning of a musical term, whether a professional, amateur, or non-professional. It takes the form of a searchable and sortable table containing hundreds of musical words, signs, symbols, and their definitions.

The Glossary is divided into two sections:

Section 1A page called About the Glossary Of Musical Terms that explains the Glossary and how to use it. If you are accessing the Glossary for the first time, The Muse recommends that you visit this page first: click here.

Section 2The Glossary Of Musical Terms itself in the form of an automated table. If you are familiar with the Glossary and have used it before, you are ready to look up a word now: click here.

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