Notation uses symbols for sounds used in music.

Symbols – An Explanation

When people wanted to tell others how many dinosaurs they saw, or how many fish they almost caught, they used numbers to represent ‘how many?’.

The words we use for numbers are:

one   two   three   four  five,  six...

Because words take up a lot of room on writing spaces people invented shapes called figures to represent numbers, figures are number symbols.

1   2   3   4   5   6...


When people wanted to talk about the fish they almost caught they invented words made up of sounds.
They invented shapes called letters to represent the sounds used in words they had invented. They could them write down their stories using the symbols called letters of the Alphabet.

A a   B b   C c   D d   E e   F f...


When musicians wanted to remember the rhythm patches they had composed they found the music was often too long to use lines to represent length, so they invented shapes called notes to help them to remember and to write down the long and short lines of the movement patterns, and the sound patterns. Notes are symbols for long and short sounds.


Common Symbols in a Nutshell


*Duration means the length of time taken for an action or a sound.


Music Notes

In PART 1 SESSION 1: Attributes of Sound examples of long & short sounds were given as:


a little dog's 'yap' is
a short sound.


a cow's 'moooooooooo' is
a long sound.

A drawing of a long sound could look like this:


Because drawings would take up too much room in a book and be too hard for eyes to focus on quickly, musicians used an egg-shape to represent long sounds. The egg-shape was easy to see among many other notes.
The egg-shaped symbol for a long sound has two names: whole note and semi-breve.


A drawing of 2 sounds, each only half as long as the long sound, could look like this:


So they could recognise a sound half as long as a whole note musicians added a stick to the egg shape. These notes also have two names: half-note and minim.


When musicians wanted a symbol for shorter sounds only a quarter as long as the whole note they coloured the egg black.
These notes also have two names: quarter-note and crotchet.


4 quarters of a whole note 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 = 1
A drawing of sounds a quarter as long as a whole note could look like this:


When musicians broke quarter-note sounds in half they needed a symbol for these shorter sounds, so they added a hook to the stick.
These notes also have two names: eighth note and quaver.

A drawing of a sound only an eighth as long as a whole note could look like this:


8/8 (eight eighths) of a whole note 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 + 1/8 = 1


The shape symbol for even shorter sounds has a second hook on the stick.
These notes also have two names: sixteenth note and semi-quaver.

4 x 1/16 + 4 x 1/16 + 4 x 1/16 + 4 x 1/16

A drawing of 16 sounds only a sixteenth as long as a whole note could look like this: