Beams and groups
In this guide...
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We have looked at notes and rests, dots and ties, bars and beats, and time signatures.
Now let's bring it all together!
Finding the beat
When we read a piece of music, it’s really important to be able to see where the beat divisions in a bar fall. Notice how hard it is to make any sense of this example, even though it is in simple common time:
If we think of the notes as being grouped together according to beats, we can re-write this example and use beams to join notes in the same beat together much more clearly, revealing it to be quite a simple rhythm.
When we first encountered the note symbols, we saw how quavers and shorter notes have "flags" added to their tails which can be joined to each other. This "joining together" is called beaming, and the beams are the joined-together flags - the straight lines that join notes together.
As a basic rule, we only beam together the notes that occur within the same beat; we do not beam across the beat divisions.
Here is the same example again, with beams used incorrectly, across the beat. Look at how much hard it is to read!
Semiquavers and quavers
Semiquavers and shorter notes are beamed in exactly the same way, but notice that semiquavers have two beams (corresponding to the two flags on their tail) instead of one.
Also look at how two semiquavers connect with beams to a single quaver: the quaver (with only one flag) is distinct from the semiquavers (with two flags), as in the first beat of the correctly-notated example above.
Crotchets and minims
As we have seen above, beams are the equivalent of the "flags" on quavers and semiquavers. However, crotchets and minims do not have these curled flags on their tails, and therefore they are never beamed together.
Here is a very contrived example showing how notes of different time values are beamed together:
Rests don't even have tails, let alone flags on their tails, and so they can't be beamed together!
Instead, when you need to fill a gap with rests, you should combine smaller-valued rests together to fill the space available. However, we need to maintain the legibility of our writing, so a fine line must be drawn!
We will look at the issue of combining rests in Combining rests - it can become quite complicated, so it gets a whole guide to itself!
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