We ended yesterday with music, today is all about music, and a little bit of math.
When I started playing guitar, my teacher made an attempt at teaching me to read music. One of the first thing I had to learn was the notes and what each shape signified. I learned that a whole note was equivalent to two half notes, a half note was equivalent to two quarter notes, a quarter note was equivalent to two eighth notes, and an eighth note was equivalent to two sixteenth notes.
It wasn’t long before I realized that it was just as easy to listen to the song on the record and pick it up from there, which would have been easy, except Mel Bay’s Modern Method for Guitar (books 1 through 6) didn’t come with records, at least not in 1967, so I was basically shooting in the dark as far as reading “Etude #1” and “The Volga Boatman.” I knew what the notes were, I knew what tones they represented on the staff, blah blah blah, but I had no idea how to make them sound like they were supposed to. Finally I said “screw this noise” and taught myself by ear.
Logan’s Tutor (source: Amazon.com)
Ten years later, I decided to take up the bagpipes, and got a copy of Logan’s Tutor, edited at the time by Pipe Major John MacLellan, at the time the principal of the Army School of Piping. This came with a tape of PM MacLellan reading through the material and demonstrating it on the practice chanter. All fantastic, except both the book and MacLellan used English terminology for the note values. I was now told that a semi-breve was the equivalent of two minims, a minim was the equivalent of two crotchets, a crotchet was the equivalent of two quavers, a quaver was the equivalent of two semiquavers, and a semiquaver was the equivalent of two demisemiquavers. Now, I was smart enough to know that it was the same whole note-half note stuff I already knew, but whenever MacLellan used the English names, I had to flip back to the page that explained each one.
Anyway, a quaver is an eighth note, then it gets cool: a semiquaver is a 16th note, a demisemiquaver is a 32nd note, a hemidemisemiquaver is a 64th note, then you tack on a “hemi,” “demi,” and “semi” for each successive power of 2 (e.g. semihemidemisemiquaver, demisemihemidemisemiquaver, etc.). In pipe music, grace notes and patterns (e.g. taorluaths, leumluaths, and crunluaths) are written as 32nd notes. In practical terms, people don’t generally use anything shorter than a sixteenth (or semiquaver), and if they do, they deserve all the grief they get for it.
Back in my piping days, I met a guy who had been a piper in one of the Scottish regiments, and he told this story. One day, Gordon (probably not his name) was helping the person who was trying very hard to teach a large group of slow-footed young Highland laddies how to do the Highland fling for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. After a while, he started playing the decidedly non-Scottish “Pop Goes The Weasel” for them to dance to. PM MacLellan heard this, and had Gordon thrown in the stockade for it. He got out when his commanding officer said, “hey, MacLellan isn’t your boss” and had him released. I don’t think he went back to playing “Pop Goes The Weasel,” though.
I hope you’ve had as much fun reading this as I had writing it.