Music, as with most people, is a pretty important aspect of my life. While others are content with consumption, however, I enjoy composing and understanding the theory behind it. With it being such a passion of mine I find it odd that I haven’t written about it at all since I began this website. It is due to this that I am beginning a new series of posts dealing with music. The intent is to spark conversation and introduce people to different types of musical styles and composition techniques. I will be doing so using the most basic language I can so that anybody can understand, kind of in a Music 101 format. While most of the theory and terminology stems from older western music, I plan on focusing on newer or popular songs as to make the information relevant and easier to remember. There is some terminology that needs to be covered first, though, as they form the basics for talking about music.
The easiest to understand is beats per minute, or BPM. Beats are the most basic unit for measuring time in music. If you find yourself nodding your head or tapping your foot in time with the music then you have found the beat. The higher the BPM the faster you will tap you foot and vice versa. For reference, an average BPM for most upbeat pop music is around 120 while slower songs tend to sit around 100.
The time signature determines how we count those beats. In sheet music, a time signature appears as one number over the other but is usually typed out like a fraction. The top number means how many beats are in a bar and the bottom number means what length of note gets an entire beat. The most common time signature is 4/4 which means that each bar gets four beats, and the 4 on the bottom means that the quarter note lasts a whole beat. For the time being, the top number will be what we will focus on (I will cover note lengths in another post).
The final term is the key of the song and this tells what notes and chord progressions the song will use. In western music we have 12 notes but usually use about 7 per key. It’s difficult to talk about key without getting into chord theory but just know that certain keys tend to have distinct feels or moods about them. For example, most songs written in a major key will sound uplifting or positive while songs written in minor thirds tend to sound sad. This isn’t true in every scenario though, it’s simply that these keys have an easier time evoking these emotions. Any key can be used to write any emotion into a song.
Hopefully all of that was easy enough to understand. If there are any questions or need for clarity please leave a comment. With that said, head on over to the first article in my music series of posts, Is There A Wrong Way to Cover a Song.