A publication of the Batish Institute of Indian Music and Fine Arts
Western Staff Notation Part 1
by Ashwin Batish
In all our works at the Batish Institute, we stress educating yourself on the basics of Western staff notation. The reason is twofold. First, It is a great tool for disseminating musical information (and we can all benefit from that). Second, It makes our (Batish) musical works comprehensible by a large majority of Western musicians that have for many years been in the dark about Indian music. To see Indian music in a recognizable format has helped many of our students grapple with, and come to terms with raga compositions.
In this first article, I will try to give you an overview of this wonderful system of notation. In upcoming lessons, I will elaborate on the more complex areas of staff notation. But to learn Indian music via staff, you really need only a basic understanding, and this is really the goal of these articles in RagaNet. For anyone interested in becoming an expert in this field, I suggest you buy good primer on this subject. Also, take some lessons with a Western music teacher. Use your favorite Indian instrument or just a simple keyboard.
Keep things simple. I am going to list the basics for you. Then, with the help of midi files, I'll try and give you a microscopic view into the application of each staff element.
Staff notation is a musical map for you to follow. The elements you have to familiarise yourself with are as follows
Those little dots on horizontal lines. Here is an example of the basic note set
Vertical squigles placed on the staff. Here is what these look like. They follow the same time value as the notes above eg. whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and thirty second.
This tells you which note is the tonic (Sa). Since we only plan to wirte in the key of C, I won't list the various key signature possibilities here. If you want to research this further, please buy a good primer on staff notation.
To tell you the rhythm the music is composed in. Here is what these can look like
The 3/4 means that there are 3 beats in each measure and each beat is given the value of a quarter note.
The 3/8 Time signature means that there are 3 beats in each measure and each beat has the value of an eighth note.
THe 4/4 time signature means that there are 4 beats in each measure and each is given the value of a quarter note.
Note identifiers and modifiers
These tell you if a certain note is, or should be, considered a flat, sharp, or natural. Here is what they look like
Treble, Bass, Alto, Tennor, and in some cases Percussion. Here is an image of these.
By putting a clef on a staff, you identify note placement. For instance the treble clef circles around the G note hence it is also called the G clef. The bass clef circles around the F note is is hence also called the F clef. The two are the most commonly used clefs. That's all we will use for writing Indian music.
These are symbols like repeats, Segno, Coda, 1st ending, 2nd ending etc. They tell you how to travel on the chart. Here are some commonly used symbols you should know about
These are symbols that "humanize" the music. They can be thought of as "hints" and they will help you understand what the composer had in mind when the piece was created. Here is a collection of these
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