A Fable from the Land of Music Notes

2011 Symposium2

Children love stories. Sometimes stories can be used to teach difficult concepts. I remember a story that a music teacher used to tell to explain dotted quarter notes, and some 58 years later, I still remember it. Here’s is another story about note values. I hope you enjoy it.

There once was a land where all who lived there were musical notes. They were not wealthy, but they had all they needed. They lived in common time, and followed all the rules of governor measure. As many are wont to do, they would at times enjoy the company of only others like themselves; quarter notes stayed together, half notes stayed in their own groups, and so forth. This pleased them for a time, but eventually they became quite board with themselves, and decided to try meeting with notes that were different from them. Quarter notes spent time with half notes, and even the sixteenth notes, though they were always in a hurry and didn’t stay anywhere very long, began to accept invitations to spend time with some eighth note acquaintances. The notes realized that they could do things and make things with notes that were different from them that they could not make with only those of their own kind.

The notes became excited about their new friends and what they could do with them. They began to become adventurous and tried new things. Then one day, a quarter note named Willy asked another quarter note whose name was Fred if he could spare him some time. His fellow quarter notes gasped at the thought. How dare Willy ask Fred to give him part of himself? What would happen to Willy? Then they were even more astonished when Willy said yes. He broke off part of himself and gave to Fred. Fred placed the part of Willy right next to him, and suddenly Fred was half of a beat longer. Meanwhile, Fred grew a funny looking curvy line out of the top of him that kind of flowed down his right side. Fred stood in front of Willy, and they were surrounded by curious quarter notes wondering what would happen. They were all delighted to learn that Willy and Fred now made a pretty cool rhythm.

A whole note who happened to be watching the whole time called allchoosing-beautiful-music the other notes around him so that he could speak to them. Whole notes often did this; they always had something wise to say because they always had so much time to think before they had to move no. “I have observed a valuable lesson from what just happened” he said. “In order for Fred to get more, Willy had to give up part of what he had. We can’t grow longer unless someone else pays the price for us by getting shorter. No one can have more unless someone else has less.” One of the whole note’s twin half note sons chimed in, “but by giving to Willy, Fred and Willy together became better.” “Very good, my half note son” replied the whole note. That is how it is sometimes. It is sometimes better to give what you can do without to someone who needs it more than you do. The result is that both are the better for it, and are connected in a new a wonderful way.

Once the notes had let this profound truth sink in, they began looking for ways to make all of them sound better by giving and receiving time from each other. Of course, it wasn’t always harmonious. Fights broke out about who got more time, and there were from time to time thieves who stole time and gave it to others or kept it for themselves. But eventually these criminals were caught when they exceeded their measure’s allotment of beats, or came up short. When this happened everyone knew there had been a theft, and the criminal was usually caught and brought to justice. In spite of this, music became ever more interesting as all kinds of combinations of note lengths began mixing with each other. Over time, the measures relaxed their laws somewhat and an occasional five or even seven beats was allowed to stand. The whole notes made sure things didn’t get too far out of hand, and they always hoped that humans would someday see what good could come of being generous and kind to others.


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