Composing sounds

Composing some sound, or maybe some music, is done by putting tones to together, one after another.

Musical notes

A note is a tone that is recognized as part of music. A note has a name like ‘C‘. A note is played for an amount of time called its duration.

On your Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, a note is played on the speaker by sending a signal to a it with a certain frequency called Hertz. Frequency is how fast something vibrates during one second. If you ring a bell that was made to play an ‘A‘ note, the bell will vibrate at 440 Hertz (440 times per second). So, notes are just certain frequencies that have special names.

In history, music came from tones that seemed nice to hear. The tones were played on wood, strings, metal, and skins. These tones were given names and they became what we know today as musical notes. Notes were named so we could write them down and remember how to play them again later.

How are notes named?

Basic notes have names that use one of the first nine letters of the alphabet. They are:

|A|, |B|, |C|, |D|, |E|, |F|, |G|

Ther are other notes named like the basic notes but have extra parts to the name called sharp and flat. These other notes are just a bit different from the basic notes and have frequencies a little higher or lower than the basic note. This makes music a little more complicated but much more interesting!

Some of these other notes look like:

|C#|, |Eb|

When a small amount music or even a song is written down it is called sheet music.

Sounds and music in code

Of course, we can’t use written music in our code. We can make music another way. The way to do it is to put names of notes together as a string. We make our notes using letters, symbols, and numbers. Notes put together in our code look like:

"E3:3 R:1 D#:3 R:1 D:4 R:1 C#:8"

What you see is not some alien language but a bunch of notes with their duration. The form of a single note is note : duration or C:2. This means play the ‘C‘ note for 2 beats of time. The notes are placed one after the other with a space between them, like "B:2 C#:6". If you want a note to play for 4 beats, you don’t need to use any duration number (a note with 4 beats is called a whole note). Just say something like "E" with no colon (leave out the ':') and no duration number.

You might notice that the sound string has an R:1 in it. The ‘R` means rest and to rest for one beat. A rest is a pause, or a time of silence, in the sound.


The amount of time a note is played (duration) is measured as beats. The standard number beats per minute (bpm) in music is 120 bpm which is one-half of a second of time. A whole note lasts for 4 beats and a quarter note takes just one beat.


Compose the first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony.

let beet5 = "G:1 G:1 G:1 Eb F:1 F:1 F:1 D"

See also