Sunday, July 01, 2012

How to answer the question: “What note is that?”

We’re in the middle of learning a song. People are struggling a bit. Then someone asks: “What note is that?”

musical notes
Photo by photosteve101

A seemingly simple question, but how on earth do you answer it?

what kind of answer do you want?

It’s impossible to know why someone is asking the question.

They may be struggling with the transition from the end of the verse into the chorus, or perhaps they’re not quite hearing that the next note is only a semitone higher than the one before, not a whole tone.

It’s also hard to know what the frame of reference is for the question.

Does the person know how to read music? What kind of answer will help them most? How much musical jargon can you use?

some possible answers

  • “It’s the same note as the end of the previous line.”
  • “It’s a semitone higher than the start note.”
  • “It’s an F sharp.”
  • “It’s the same note as the altos.”
  • “It’s higher than you think.”
  • “It’s the root note of the chord.”
  • “It’s a third above the tenors.”
Any of these can be helpful, it’s just a matter of choosing the one that suits the person asking the question!

they don’t really want an answer!

Sometimes the person asking the question doesn’t really mean “What note is that?” but just needs some help with the overall ‘map’ of the song they’re learning.

Many of the answers above won’t actually help a singer learn the song any easier, it’s just something concrete that they can hang on to.

So next time someone asks, you need to find out more about WHY they’re asking and what kind of response will help them the most.

Do you get this question much in your choir? How do you respond? Is it ever helpful to give an answer like “It’s an F sharp”?

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Do leave a comment and share your experience.

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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