“The Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…it had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel…the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The bible is rich with numerical symbolism, and possibly the most prevalent number used is twelve. This verse from Revelation conveys elements of the past – 12 tribes of Israel; present – 12 apostles of Jesus; and future – the construction of the new Jerusalem.
The musical significance of twelve is the twelve distinct pitches used in Western music. On the piano, a pattern of 12 keys repeats to form octaves. As many of you guitar players know, if you move your hand position up 12 frets, you will be playing the same chord.
Each of these 12 notes are spaced equally apart from each other, and the name of the interval, or pitch distance between each successive note is called a half-step. These 12 different pitches are the most basic building blocks of music.
You may find other references to twelve in these and many other parts of the bible:
Music can be learned in a few different ways: by ear, by reading chord charts, or by reading sheet music. You are most likely more familiar with the first two ways, so let’s begin with sheet music. Standard music notation (found on sheet music) conveys three elements: pitch, duration, and volume.
Pitch is the frequency of the audible sound wave. Pitches are named by letters A-G, and may be sharp (e.g. G#), which is higher in pitch, natural (e.g G), or flat (e.g. Gb) which is lower in pitch. On a standard piano, the first pitch on the far left is a very low A, followed by the black key Bb, the white key C, the black key C#, the white key D, and so forth, becoming progressively higher in pitch as you move to the right. On a stringed instrument like the guitar or bass, the shorter and/or thinner the string, the higher the pitch. The pitches on guitars become higher as you move along the fret board getting closer to the body of the guitar.
The lowest C displayed here corresponds with the 10th white key from the left on a piano. The lowest E displayed here corresponds with the lowest string on a standard-tuned guitar. Note that the pitch names on the top staff, indicated by the treble clef (𝄞), are different than those on the bottom staff, the bass clef (𝄢). We will refer back to this graphic many times, as the ability to instinctively know the letter names of each note when you see it is key to reading music. To help simplify your memorization of these notes, we will work in groups of three pitches at a time. Here are the first notes we will learn:
To help you learn and memorize these pitches on the staff, I have attached three worksheets and directions on how to use them. In a few days I’ll post a quiz to help you test your progress.
Now that we have a better idea of what note to play, our next pursuit is to figure out how long to play it. Music notation also tells you the important character of duration. Duration is conveyed by the shape of the note, and not by its location on the staff. In common time (also known as 4/4 time), there are 4 beats in a measure. Therefore, in common time, use a whole note (which counts as 4 beats) to fill a whole measure with one note:
These distinct durations combine together to make rhythms. In future lessons, we will cover some simple rhythm combinations and how to calculate the way they sound. Once we have an understanding of how to “work out” simple rhythms, complex rhythms will come much easier.
Thanks for reading this week! I know this was kind of a lot to throw at you, I promise to make shorter posts in the future. Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions at all, I would love to help.