Tapping Out the Rhythm of a Song

Even if you don’t read music well, you can tap out the rhythms. Just look at the rhythms on the page and try to tap them out without worrying about words or speed. The first time you try, it may be difficult, but after some practice, you get accustomed to certain rhythm patterns and can quickly master them.

For more help on reading rhythms, pick up a copy of Piano For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Blake Neely (Wiley).

After you tap out the rhythm of your new song, try speaking the words in rhythm. Speaking the words in rhythm can help you solidify some of the rhythms and divisions of syllables.

Reading the time signature

To figure out a song’s rhythms, you have to know a little about reading music. At the very beginning of a song, you can find some numbers that look like a fraction. This fraction, or time signature, tells the singer how to divide the beats between each bar line.

As you look at the music in the following illustration, notice the single vertical line between the words simple and feeling at the beginning of the song. That line is called a bar line. In that bar, or measure, the time signature indicates that you find four beats:

The top number of the time signature 4/4 indicates how many beats you find in each bar; the bottom note indicates what kind of note gets one beat. (4/4 is also notated as C, which means common time.) Because the top number is four, each measure has four beats. The bottom note is also four, which means the quarter note gets one beat.

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Knowing how long to hold notes

In “Simple Things,” the song in the following illustration, you find three kinds of rhythms: eighth notes, quarter notes, and half notes. The duration of notes is similar to math.

The first two notes in “Simple Things” are eighth notes, and because quarter notes get one beat, eighth notes get half a beat each.

When you see a note with a dot next to it, you hold the note for the full duration of the note plus half of the original value. For example, the quarter note with the dot next to it at the word are indicates that you hold the note for one beat plus another half, for a total of one and a half beats.

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Even though listening to a recording to get a song in your ear is easy, try to avoid that method. You may want to hear your favorite artist singing the hit song you’ve chosen to sing, but most recordings differ from the music as it’s written. Of course, if you want to hear and sing a song just for fun, by all means, get out the recording and sing along.

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