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Music Symbols and Musical Bars

The Music symbols and musical bars page is part 12 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory. All of the music symbols we are learning in this course sit on staves which we have talked about. The staves are divided into measures or musical bars. These terms mean the same thing.

A measure is counted from the beginning of the song to the first vertical line. From there on the space between each vertical line is called a measure or a bar. Each vertical line indicates another measure or bar.


Music Symbols

How many measures are there in the following traditional song, Aura Lee?

If you said 8 measures than you are correct :-)

Let's break down each measure to make sure we understand.


*measure 1-4 quarter notes
*measure 2-2 quarter notes, 1 half note
*measure 3-4 quarter notes
*measure 4-1 whole note


*measure 5-4 quarter notes
*measure 6-2 quarter notes, 1 half note
*measure 7-4 quarter notes
*measure 8-1 whole note

*The last measure always ends in a double bar line

Measures or bars came into use when we began counting the meter or time signature in music. They generally organize beats into groups of 2s, 3s and 4s. We will discuss what meters and time signatures are and we’ll look at a variety of them.

Measures are numbered to allow musicians to communicate what measure they would like to practice again with the band or orchestra. I love being able to call out to musicians that I'm playing with, sections of songs that need work.

Composers find bars invaluable in their composing. Not all songwriters notate their songs on sheet music. Many just write down their lyrics and just memorize what notes they sing and play on guitar. However, most songwriters would be able to tell you how many bars there are in a particular verse, chorus or bridge section in one of their songs.

NOTE: You may have heard of the 12 bar blues. It's a 12 measure pattern that repeats over and over again for a whole song. The melody is sung or played for the first time through the form. Then musicians take turns “soloing over the form.”

After which the band returns to repeat the melody again. Many jazz arrangements work the same way. Again, knowledge of measures and musical bars allows these musicians to know where they are in the form.

Now, let's take a look at music tempo!

Continue to Part 13, Music Tempo

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