86 votes
Accepted

Why are there both sharps and flats?

Pretty basic and simple. Each key has 7 notes, with a different letter name for each. A B C D E F G but not always starting on A!! Let's take Gmajor G A B C D E F G - except the F needs to be F#. So ...
Tim's user avatar
  • 193k
76 votes

Found in an 1800s newspaper--what kind of march notation is this?

I find this absolutely fascinating, so I decided to use phoog's terrific answer to figure out how this march sounded. So, I present the "Princeton Hill March"! I won't pretend that this is ...
Richard's user avatar
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75 votes
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Found in an 1800s newspaper--what kind of march notation is this?

It is "a new system of music" that was set forth in the same periodical, Scientific American, in a subsequent issue, that of March 26, 1846. The image in the question was taken from the ...
phoog's user avatar
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70 votes
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What does it mean when two notes are stuck together?

Noteheads take up one full space on a staff. (The corollary to this is that noteheads placed on a line take up half of the space on either side of the line.) When notes are at least a third apart (as ...
Richard's user avatar
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62 votes
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Why do people sometimes write notes as E♯ or C♭?

NReilingh gave a good general-case answer. I'll give you a specific case just to demonstrate that the concept is useful. First consider a C major chord. C-E-G, right? Then you make it into a minor ...
Caleb Hines's user avatar
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55 votes
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Why is there no indication of relative loudness on sheet music?

There are actually many markings in music notation that have to do with dynamics. Whether it is setting the overall level, such as Piano (p = quiet) or fortissimo(ff = loud), or a crescendo (<) or ...
b3ko's user avatar
  • 7,110
54 votes

Tell pianist to play entire piece softly, except one part

Another approach would be to simply state the instructions either in a blob of text preceding the music page or perhaps somewhere between the title and the music: This though would require ...
thrig's user avatar
  • 1,556
51 votes

Tell pianist to play entire piece softly, except one part

Why are we making such a fuss over this? If you want the piece to start mp, write 'mp' in the first bar. If you want a particular section played mf, write 'mf' at that point. Then 'mp' again. A ...
Laurence's user avatar
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48 votes
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"inuendo" in a piano score

Is it possible there is a "dim" around m. 25 or so? Often a composer (or in this case, an editor) will request that an expression marking takes place over a span of time instead of instantaneously. ...
Richard's user avatar
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48 votes

Why don’t piano teachers teach the chord method of playing to young children and adults?

Just like there's pop, rock, folk, jazz, metal, etc. guitar, there are many different disciplines of piano playing, each with a different set of required skills: classical piano pop piano jazz piano ...
piiperi Reinstate Monica's user avatar
47 votes
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Two voices for a solo singer written in a sheet music

The notes with stems up are for singing in Italian, while the notes with the stems down are for singing in German. Thus, in the first picture of the original posting, in Italian it would be ... ...
Jasper Habicht's user avatar
46 votes

Why is there no indication of relative loudness on sheet music?

There are lots of indications - explicit loudness markings (from ppp, pianississimo - very very soft - to fff - fortississimo - very very loud). crescendo and diminuendo marks (which can be textual ...
Нет войне's user avatar
45 votes
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Why is this C played as an A flat?

The left hand is in treble clef.
MattPutnam's user avatar
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44 votes
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Does an accidental apply to all octaves?

Wikipedia has it right. An accidental that is written in, as shown in the example above, only applies to the note in that octave until the end of the measure. You may be confusing it with the sharps ...
Dom's user avatar
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44 votes

Why do E♯ and F♮ not sound the same (according to Wikipedia)?

I think this particular phrasing is rather confusing, as it is trying to talk about two concepts at the same time: enharmonic equivalence, and intonation. The concept of intonation (and temperament, ...
Нет войне's user avatar
43 votes

What does /r mean in a score?

This is actually tr, the notation for "trill," an embellishment (or ornament) on a note where you rapidly alternate between the main pitch and an adjacent pitch. There are many different types of ...
Richard's user avatar
  • 84.5k
42 votes

Why are accidentals not just indicated next to the note in sheet music to make sight reading easier?

It is related to "chunking", once you are used to keys, it is easier to quickly understand the single chunk "This piece is in G major" instead of having to see and interpret each of the individual ...
Dave's user avatar
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42 votes
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Two whole notes on the same measure, what does it mean?

There are two clarinets (and two bassoons) playing in unison. This notation is one way of accounting for all of the notes. Note that for all of the stemmed notes, there are stems pointing in both ...
MattPutnam's user avatar
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42 votes
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Why do E♯ and F♮ not sound the same (according to Wikipedia)?

The thing is that the "some tunings that define the notes in that way" in the Wikipedia quote include the most common tuning today, 12-tone equal temperament (12-TET). So, E# and F natural do usually ...
Dekkadeci's user avatar
  • 14.1k
41 votes

Why are there both sharps and flats?

Historically, keyboards didn't always work that way. So an A# and a Bb used to actually have different pitches. Our musical notation is older than enharmonic equivalency that you get with "well-...
Ilan's user avatar
  • 511
41 votes
Accepted

How do I know when the next note starts in sheet music?

I can't understand very well note duration notation. No wonder. The music you're trying to read is objectively incorrect in several ways. I won't list them all, but as you've noticed the vertical ...
phoog's user avatar
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40 votes
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How to play a measure with no chord notation above it?

Yes, in chord symbol notation the convention is that a chord persists until the next one is stated. If it's specifically required to not have harmony under a particular section, 'N.C.' (for No Chord) ...
Laurence's user avatar
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39 votes
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Tell pianist to play entire piece softly, except one part

The conventional method is to write sempre mp in the first measure. Sempre means always. The exceptional measure could be marked as più forte ("louder"), followed by sempre mp again. Another ...
Andrew Woods's user avatar
39 votes
Accepted

Notation - when to use staccato vs rests

I endorse Aaron's and Richard's answers, regarding what staccato means conceptually. This answer is mostly to provide some examples and details as to how staccato will typically come out in the case ...
leftaroundabout's user avatar
39 votes

What is this violin ornament?

It's not an ornament; it's a quarter rest. The Violins I are divided, and the upper half play rest + quarter note while the lower half play half notes.
Kilian Foth's user avatar
  • 7,563
38 votes
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Small Notes in Sheet Music -- NOT grace notes -- written AFTER the main note and beamed with it

Despite my comment, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is a strophic song, with verses having different numbers of syllables. The small notes are to accommodate the extra ...
phoog's user avatar
  • 22.9k
38 votes

What does it mean when a dotted half note has two dots instead of one?

To briefly expand on @Tom_C's answer (thanks to @Guidot's comment below): There is no notation for lengthening all notes of a chord; each note has to be dotted individually. More expansively... Both ...
Aaron's user avatar
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37 votes

Fermata over a rest at the end of the piece?

Do you sit there and prevent the audience from clapping until you want that rest to finish its extended duration? I've always thought this is pretty much what a fermata like this is about. When ...
Todd Wilcox's user avatar
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37 votes
Accepted

Why you need a rest here in this score?

It prevents the appearance of an overfull measure. Without it, what we see on this staff is a quarter-note chord, a half-note chord, and a quarter-note chord. 1/4 + 1/2 = 3/4, and we're in the time ...
hobbs's user avatar
  • 452
37 votes
Accepted

What do the letters D and E above the staff represent here?

According to the notes given at the beginning of my score: In large orchestras, from rehearsal [94] on, wherever the letter D appears in the 2 Flutes, Oboes, E♭ and C Clarinet parts, these parts ...
Richard's user avatar
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