17 May Lesson 21: Stemming Musical Notes
In my last blog post, I discussed tuplets, a rhythmic concept in music. In this lesson, we’ll be looking at a notational aspect of reading music: how stems on the staff should be written.
The quarter note and all other smaller note values have a stem, which we learned in previous lessons is a line attached to the note head. Stems go either up or down depending on the placement of the note on the staff.
Generally speaking, notes below the third line of the staff should have their stems going up on the right side of the note head. Notes written on or above the third line of the staff typically have their stems going down on the left side of the note head. These rules apply for both treble and bass clef. Check out these examples:
Note values smaller than the quarter note have flags when written as single notes. Stemming rules for flagged notes are exactly the same. When the stem is going up, the flag curves downward on the right side of the stem, and when the stem is going down, the flag curves upward, still on the right side of the stem. Here are some examples of single flagged notes:
You may remember from previous lessons that multiple small note values are grouped together by beams, which are lines connecting the stems. Sometimes, depending on what notes are beamed together, the typical stemming rules may be ignored if doing so makes the phrase easier to read. For instance, in the first example below, the note on the fourth line has an up stem because it’s beamed with two other up stemmed notes. And in the second example, the note on the second space has a down stem because it’s beamed with two other down stemmed notes:
Try drawing a series of note heads on blank staff paper and see if you can tell which way the stem should go for each note. Then try adding a flag to each note! You can also have a look at some musical scores to see if you can find phrases of beamed notes that don’t follow typical stemming rules so the phrase is convenient to read.
The next lesson will explain another notation in musical scores, the ottava marking.
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