Composing Music – Part 1 – Exploring Rhythm

Whilst having completed up to grade 5 ABRSM theory exams and currently on Grade 7, I am familiar with The AB Guide to Music Theory Part 1 by Eric Taylor however I have re- read these chapters.

Focus on Rhythm

Untuned Percussion

Most of these are allocated single line stave and the following are the suggested guidelines.

Metallic instruments first, highest sounds at the top.


Cymbal (high and low, suspended with two beaters)

Less controlled cymbal “clash” – two cymbals brought together lightly or heavily.

Gong and Tam Tam

The Tambourine is a hybrid and might be placed next

Wooden Instruments – some instruments will need more than one stave


Wood blocks (sometimes called Chinese wood blocks -) – allocated a two line stave, produce sounds ar two contrasting indeterminate pitches.(refer to Oxford dictionary of music)

Temple Blocks (sometimes called Korean temple blocks) – sets of five ornamental hollow wooden skull or clam shaped blocks in different sizes approximating a pentatonic scale. Usually noted on a five line stave. ((refer to Oxford dictionary of music).

Below these are the membranes – highest to lowest.

Snare Drum (side drum – snares are ON by default)

Tom Toms


Tenor Drum

Bass Drum

Drum Kit (drum Set) – usually notated on a five line stave, notation is generally minimal as most jazz drummers find it easier to improvise than to read the music.

As I am getting used to Sibelius I decided to try the layout for percussion using as many instruments as they had. This is what I initially came up with in the hope I have done it correctly as stated.

I now have to bear in mind the sticks or beaters that are used with percussion instruments and how the other instruments are played. The harder the stick the thinner and brighter the sound produced. Normally a metal beater is used for the triangle. Large soft headed sticks are normal used for gigs and tam tams, but for these instruments wooden side drum sticks would create a different sound. Wood blocks and temple blocks wicked be played with marimba mallets or snare drum sticks.

Untuned percussion notation

For sustaining instruments )cymbals, gongs tam tams) the duration of notes need to be accurately indicated from the start to the point of finish when the sound is dampened and stopped. Drums have very little resonance, and there is virtually no difference between a staccato semiquaver and an unmarked crotchet. Percussion players take the tremolo to indicate measured notes. The trill on untuned percussion is a multi stroke unmeasured roll.

I listed to example two, and it is odd trying to listen and follow with the notes. It is very strange getting used to listening to the drum going through the notes.

Indication of speed and dynamic are essential, even in the rough sketches for a piece. Without known how quickly or slowly or how loudly or softly the composer intends the performance to be, the player cannot easily judge the notation or what it all adds up to. The composer makes decisions, for example about whether to use a group of crotchets at a fast temp,or semiquavers at a slower speed.

Research point

I am already familiar with Tempo but I have read the chapter in The AB guide just to refresh my knowledge. I have also started to do some reading from the essential reading list. I thought it would be a good idea to read about percussion as this is not a field I am familiar with. I have summarised my thoughts on this book

Dynamics should be carefully thought about, remembering that a triangle ff is much softer than the cymbal or tam-tam with the same marking. Crescendos and decrescendos should have clearly marked starts and finishes, players will adapt their technique to these differing requirements.

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