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Singing Barbershop

Musical Notation

Over the years, and in different cultures, music has been written down in many different ways. We are only dealing here with the musical notation that is commonly used for Barbershop.

The Staff or Stave

Musical notes are written on a series of lines and spaces called a staff, or stave. The commonly seen stave has five horizontal lines and, therefore, four spaces between them.The placing of the note within those lines and spaces tells you how high or low that particular note is. The notes themselves are labelled using the letters from A to G.

Because musical instruments, including the human voice, cover a broad spectrum of notes, one stave is frequently not enough to cover this range. It is more likely that you will see music written over two staves that are placed one above the other.
So that you can tell the difference between these two staves musical symbols are incorporated at the beginning of each of the staves. These symbols are called clefs.
The  treble and bass staves fit together like this, with two spaces and one line between them
The musical note on the line that separates the two staves (shown here as a dotted line) is a C and, because it is in the middle, it is often called Middle C. The notes then work out from this Middle C letter by letter.

When music is written the words of a song often need to be included.
When the song has been written for four voices these words tend to be written between the two staves. This means that when you look at a piece of music you are more likely to see the treble and bass staves shown like they are here with more space between the two and the line for Middle C not shown.

Sharps and Flats

On the left here you can see a note on the stave. The note is a C. In front of the note is the symbol used for a sharp and this means that, instead of playing or singing the C you play or sing a note that is half a note up from a C (Half way between C and D.)
Similarly, on the right, you can see a note on the stave that is a G. The symbol directly in front of the note is the one used to show a flat. Instead of playing or singing the G note, you play or sing the note that is half a note down from G (Half way between G and F.)
The higher stave has the Treble Clef
The lower stave has the Bass Clef

Starting Notes

When singing in four parts the key note is often played on a pitch pipe, and used for each of the parts to pitch their own starting note. You will pick up tricks and tips for doing this.

The staves on the right here show the start of a piece of music.

Pitch Pipes

You can buy pitch pipes in a variety of materials but they are also freely available for mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Writing key signatures

You will sometimes see key signatures written in text using ordinary keyboard symbols.

Examples:  F# = F Sharp, Eb = E Flat

Identifying the Key of the music

Pieces of music are written with the intention of them being played or sung in a particular key. This key can be changed but, if a group of people are all playing or singing the same piece, it is important that they all know what key they should be singing in.

The key note for a piece of music, or the key that the piece has been written in, is identified by using the same sharp and flat symbols  mentioned above but this time they appear just after the treble or bass clef symbol at the start of the stave

If the symbol, or symbols, are sharps

To identify the key for the piece look at the sharp symbol furthest to the right. From this note go one half step up to get to the key note.

The rightmost sharp here gives C sharp so go up one half note to D, which is the key note for the piece of music.
If the symbol, or symbols, are flats

To identify the key for the piece look at the flat symbol that is second from the right. This is the key note for the piece.

The flat symbol that is second from the right shows an E flat so this is the key note.
If there is only one flat then you cannot look for the one that is second from the right.

When this happens the keynote is F.
If there are no sharps or flats the key is C.

More About Barbershop

You don’t need to be able to read music to sing with us. In fact many of the very accomplished singers in the chorus will tell you that they cannot read music. The following brief explanations though might help you to have a better understanding of what is meant when people talk about Key Notes or Pitching In.

One final complication
On the staves shown in the Starting Notes section above you will notice a small 8 at the base of the treble clef. You will come across this symbol very frequently so it probably needs some explanation although many people I have asked for an explanation have said, “I’d just ignore that, it doesn’t really matter.” If it is there though it does matter and the explanation is that it tells you that all notes on that particular stave are played or sung one octave down. If this was not used then the written notes on the two staves would overlap and be difficult to read or follow.