Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music through the use of written symbols, including ancient or modern musical symbols. Although many ancient cultures used symbols to represent melodies, none of them is nearly as comprehensive as written language, limiting the knowledge of ancient music to a few fragments. Comprehensive music notation began to be developed in Europe in the Middle Ages and has been adapted to many kinds of music worldwide.
- 1 History
- 2 Modern staff notation
- 3 Notation in various countries
- 4 Other systems and practices
- 4.1 Cipher notation
- 4.2 Solfège
- 4.3 Letter notation
- 4.4 Tablature
- 4.5 Klavar notation
- 4.6 Piano roll based notations
- 4.7 12-note non-equal temperament
- 4.8 Chromatic staff notations
- 4.9 Graphic notation
- 4.10 Simplified Music Notation
- 4.11 Modified Stave Notation
- 4.12 Parsons code
- 4.13 Braille music
- 4.14 Integer notation
- 5 Music notation on computer
- 6 Perspectives of musical notation in composition and musical performance
- 7 Patents
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Ancient Near East
The earliest form of musical notation can be found in a cuneiform tablet that was created at Nippur, in Sumer (today's Iraq), in about 2000 BC. The tablet represents fragmentary instructions for performing music, that the music was composed in harmonies of thirds, and that it was written using a diatonic scale. A tablet from about 1250 BC shows a more developed form of notation. Although the interpretation of the notation system is still controversial, it is clear that the notation indicates the names of strings on a lyre, the tuning of which is described in other tablets. Although they are fragmentary, these tablets represent the earliest notated melodies found anywhere in the world.
Ancient Greek musical notation was in use from at least the 6th century BC until approximately the 4th century AD; several complete compositions and fragments of compositions using this notation survive. The notation consists of symbols placed above text syllables. An example of a complete composition is the Seikilos epitaph, which has been variously dated between the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Three hymns by Mesomedes of Crete exist in manuscript. The Delphic Hymns, dated to the 2nd century BC, also use this notation, but they are not completely preserved. Ancient Greek notation appears to have fallen out of use around the time of the Decline of the Roman Empire.
Byzantine music is vocal religious music, based on the monodic modal singing of Ancient Greece and the pre-Islamic Near East. The notation developed for it is similar in principle to subsequent Western notation, in that it is ordered left to right, and separated into measures. The main difference is that notation symbols are differential rather than absolute, i.e. they indicate pitch change (rise or fall), and the musician has to deduce correctly, from the score and the note they are singing presently, which note comes next. The pitch symbols themselves resemble brush strokes and are colloquially called gántzoi ("hooks") in Modern Greek. Notes themselves are represented in written form only between measures, as an optional reminder, along with modal and tempo directions if needed. Additional signs are used to indicate embellishments and microtones (pitch changes smaller than a semitone), both essential in Byzantine chant (see Romanian anastasimatarion picture, left).
The seven standard note names in Byzantine "solfege" are: pá, vú, ghá, dhē, ké, zō, nē, corresponding to Western re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do. Byzantine music uses the eight natural, non-tempered scales called Ēkhoi, "sounds", exclusively, and therefore the absolute pitch of each note may slightly vary each time, depending on the particular Ēkhos used. Byzantine notation is still used in many Orthodox Churches. Some cantors can also use standard Western notation while adding non-notatable embellishment material from memory and "sliding" into the natural scales from experience.
Persian and Arab worlds
In 1252, Safi al-Din al-Urmawi developed a form of musical notation, where rhythms were represented by geometric representation. Many subsequent scholars of rhythm have sought to develop graphical geometrical notations. For example, a similar geometric system was published in 1987 by Kjell Gustafson, whose method represents a rhythm as a two-dimensional graph.
Scholar and music theorist Isidore of Seville, writing in the early 7th century, considered that "unless sounds are held by the memory of man, they perish, because they cannot be written down." By the middle of the 9th century, however, a form of neumatic notation began to develop in monasteries in Europe as a mnemonic device for Gregorian chant, using symbols known as neumes; the earliest surviving musical notation of this type is in the Musica disciplina of Aurelian of Réôme, from about 850. There are scattered survivals from the Iberian Peninsula before this time, of a type of notation known as Visigothic neumes, but its few surviving fragments have not yet been deciphered. The problem with this notation was that it only showed melodic contours and consequently the music could not be read by someone who did not know the music already.
To address the issue of exact pitch, a staff was introduced consisting originally of a single horizontal line, but this was progressively extended until a system of four parallel, horizontal lines was standardized. This is traditionally attributed to Guido of Arezzo, who set out his thoughts on the changes in his first musical treatise, Micrologus. The vertical positions of each mark on the staff indicated which pitch or pitches it represented. (Pitches were derived from a musical mode.) Although the four-line staff has remained in use until the present day for plainchant, for other types of music, staffs with differing numbers of lines have been used at various times and places for various instruments. The modern five-line staff was first adopted in France and became almost universal by the 16th century (although the use of staves with other numbers of lines was still widespread well into the 17th century).
Notation had developed far enough to notate melody, but there was still no system for notating rhythm. A mid-13th-century treatise, De Mensurabili Musica, explains a set of six rhythmic modes that were in use at the time, although it is not clear how they were formed. These rhythmic modes were all in triple time and rather limited rhythm in chant to 6 different repeating patterns. This was a flaw seen by German music theorist Franco of Cologne and summarised as part of his treatise Ars cantus mensurabilis (the art of measured chant, or Mensural notation). He suggested that individual notes could have their own rhythms represented by the shape of the note. Not until the 14th century did something like the present system of fixed note lengths arise. The use of regular measures (bars) became commonplace by the end of the 17th century.
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The founder of what is now considered the standard music stave was Guido d'Arezzo, an Italian Benedictine monk who lived from about 991 until after 1033. He taught the use of solmization syllables based on a hymn to Saint John the Baptist, which begins Ut Queant Laxis and was written by the Lombard historian Paul the Deacon. The first stanza is:
- Ut queant laxis
- resonare fibris,
- Mira gestorum
- famuli tuorum,
- Solve polluti
- labii reatum,
- Sancte Iohannes.
Guido used the first syllable of each line, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol and La, to read notated music in terms of hexachords; they were not note names, and each could, depending on context, be applied to any note. In the 17th century, Ut was changed in most countries except France to the easily singable, "open" syllable Do, said to have been taken from the name of the Italian theorist Giovanni Battista Doni.
Modern staff notation
Modern music notation originated in European classical music and is now used by musicians of many different genres throughout the world.
The system uses a five-line staff. Pitch is shown by placement of notes on the staff (sometimes modified by accidentals), and duration is shown with different note values and additional symbols such as dots and ties. Notation is read from left to right, which makes setting music for right-to-left scripts difficult.
A staff (or stave, in British English) of written music generally begins with a clef, which indicates the position of one particular note on the staff. The treble or G clef was originally a letter G and it identifies the second line up on the five line staff as the note G above middle C. The bass or F clef shows the position of the note F below middle C. Notes representing a pitch outside of the scope of the five line staff can be represented using ledger lines, which provide a single note with additional lines and spaces.
Directions to the player regarding matters such as tempo, dynamics and expression appear above or below the staff. For vocal music, lyrics are written. For short pauses (breaths), retakes (looks like ') are added.
In music for ensembles, a "score" shows music for all players together, while "parts" contain only the music played by an individual musician. A score can be constructed from a complete set of parts and vice versa. The process can be laborious but computer software offers a more convenient and flexible method.
Specialized notation conventions
- Percussion notation conventions are varied because of the wide range of percussion instruments. Percussion instruments are generally grouped into two categories: pitched and non-pitched. The notation of non-pitched percussion instruments is the more problematic and less standardized.
- Figured bass notation originated in Baroque basso continuo parts. It is also used extensively in accordion notation. The bass notes of the music are conventionally notated, along with numbers and other signs that determine the chords to play. It does not, however, specify the exact pitches of the harmony, leaving that for the performer to improvise.
- A lead sheet specifies only the melody, lyrics and harmony, using one staff with chord symbols placed above and lyrics below. It is used to capture the essential elements of a popular song without specifying how the song should be arranged or performed.
- A chord chart or "chart" contains little or no melodic information at all but provides detailed harmonic and rhythmic information, using slash notation and rhythmic notation. This is the most common kind of written music used by professional session musicians playing jazz or other forms of popular music and is intended primarily for the rhythm section (usually containing piano, guitar, bass and drums).
- Simpler chord charts for songs may contain only the chord changes, placed above the lyrics where they occur. Such charts depend on prior knowledge of the melody, and are used as reminders in performance or informal group singing.
- The shape note system is found in some church hymnals, sheet music, and song books, especially in the Southern United States. Instead of the customary elliptical note head, note heads of various shapes are used to show the position of the note on the major scale. Sacred Harp is one of the most popular tune books using shape notes.
Notation in various countries
The Indian scholar and musical theorist Pingala (c. 200 BC), in his Chanda Sutra, used marks indicating long and short syllables to indicate meters in Sanskrit poetry.
In the notation of Indian rāga, a solfege-like system called sargam is used. As in Western solfege, there are names for the seven basic pitches of a major scale (Shadja, Rishabh, Gandhar, Madhyam, Pancham, Dhaivat and Nishad, usually shortened Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni). The tonic of any scale is named Sa, and the dominant Pa. Sa is fixed in any scale, and Pa is fixed at a fifth above it (a Pythagorean fifth rather than an equal-tempered fifth). These two notes are known as achala swar ('fixed notes'). Each of the other five notes, Re, Ga, ma, Dha and Ni, can take a 'regular' (shuddha) pitch, which is equivalent to its pitch in a standard major scale (thus, shuddha Re, the second degree of the scale, is a whole-step higher than Sa), or an altered pitch, either a half-step above or half-step below the shuddha pitch. Re, Ga, Dha and Ni all have altered partners that are a half-step lower (Komal-"flat") (thus, komal Re is a half-step higher than Sa). Ma has an altered partner that is a half-step higher (teevra-"sharp") (thus, tivra Ma is an augmented fourth above Sa). Re, Ga, ma, Dha and Ni are called vikrut swar ('movable notes'). In the written system of Indian notation devised by Ravi Shankar, the pitches are represented by Western letters. Capital letters are used for the achala swar, and for the higher variety of all the vikrut swar. Lowercase letters are used for the lower variety of the vikrut swar.
In Byzantium and Russia, sacred music was notated with special 'hooks and banners'. (See "Byzantine Empire" above.)
The earliest known examples of text referring to music in China are inscriptions on musical instruments found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (d. 433 B.C.). Sets of 41 chimestones and 65 bells bore lengthy inscriptions concerning pitches, scales, and transposition. The bells still sound the pitches that their inscriptions refer to. Although no notated musical compositions were found, the inscriptions indicate that the system was sufficiently advanced to allow for musical notation. Two systems of pitch nomenclature existed, one for relative pitch and one for absolute pitch. For relative pitch, a solmization system was used.
The tablature of the guqin is unique and complex; the older form is composed of written words describing how to play a melody step-by-step using the plain language of the time, i.e. Descriptive Notation (Classical Chinese); the newer form, composed of bits of Chinese characters put together to indicate the method of play is called Prescriptive Notation. Rhythm is only vaguely indicated in terms of phrasing. Tablatures for the qin are collected in what is called qinpu.
Gongche notation used Chinese characters for the names of the scale.
The jianpu system of notation (probably an adaptation of a French Galin-Paris-Cheve system) had gained widespread acceptance by 1900. It uses a movable do system, with the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 standing for do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. Dots above or below a numeral indicate the octave of the note it represents. Key signatures, barlines, and time signatures are also employed. Many symbols from Western standard notation, such as bar lines, time signatures, accidentals, tie and slur, and the expression markings are also used. The number of dashes following a numeral represents the number of crotchets (quarter notes) by which the note extends. The number of underlines is analogous to the number of flags or beams on notes or rests in standard notation.
Jeongganbo (or Chong Gan Bo, 정간보, 井間譜) is traditional Korean musical notation system introduced by Sejong the Great and known as the first musical notation system that is able to represent durations of notes in the Eastern. Among various kinds of Korean traditional music, Jeongganbo targets a particular genre, Jeongak(정악, 正樂).
Japanese music is highly diversified, and therefore requires various systems of notation. In Japanese shakuhachi music, for example, glissandos and timbres are often more significant than distinct pitches, whereas taiko notation focuses on discrete strokes.
Notation plays a relatively minor role in the oral traditions of Indonesia. However, in Java and Bali, several systems were devised beginning at the end of the 19th century, initially for archival purposes. Today the most widespread are cipher notations ("not angka" in the broadest sense) in which the pitches are represented with some subset of the numbers 1 to 7, with 1 corresponding to either highest note of a particular octave, as in Sundanese gamelan, or lowest, as in the kepatihan notation of Javanese gamelan. Notes in the ranges outside the central octave are represented with one or more dots above or below the each number. For the most part, these cipher notations are mainly used to notate the skeletal melody (the balungan) and vocal parts (gerongan), although transcriptions of the elaborating instrument variations are sometimes used for analysis and teaching. Drum parts are notated with a system of symbols largely based on letters representing the vocables used to learn and remember drumming patterns; these symbols are typically laid out in a grid underneath the skeletal melody for a specific or generic piece. The symbols used for drum notation (as well as the vocables represented) are highly variable from place to place and performer to performer. In addition to these current systems, two older notations used a kind of staff: the Solonese script could capture the flexible rhythms of the pesinden with a squiggle on a horizontal staff, while in Yogyakarta a ladder-like vertical staff allowed notation of the balungan by dots and also included important drum strokes. In Bali, there are a few books published of Gamelan gender wayang pieces, employing alphabetical notation in the old Balinese script.
Composers and scholars both Indonesian and foreign have also mapped the slendro and pelog tuning systems of gamelan onto the western staff, with and without various symbols for microtones. The Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw also invented a three line staff for his composition Gending. However, these systems do not enjoy widespread use.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Indonesian musicians and scholars extended cipher notation to other oral traditions, and a diatonic scale cipher notation has become common for notating western-related genres (church hymns, popular songs, and so forth). Unlike the cipher notation for gamelan music, which uses a "fixed Do" (that is, 1 always corresponds to the same pitch, within the natural variability of gamelan tuning), Indonesian diatonic cipher notation is "moveable-Do" notation, so scores must indicate which pitch corresponds to the number 1 (for example, "1=C").
Other systems and practices
In many cultures, including Chinese (jianpu or gongche), Indonesian (kepatihan), and Indian (sargam), the "sheet music" consists primarily of the numbers, letters or native characters representing notes in order. Those different systems are collectively known as cipher notations. The numbered notation, or numerical notation, is an example, so are letter notation and Solfège if written in musical sequence.
Solfège is a way of assigning syllables to names of the musical scale. In order, they are today: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do' (for the octave). The classic variation is: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do' . The first Western system of functional names for the musical notes was introduced by Guido of Arezzo (c.991 – after 1033), using the beginning syllables of the first six musical lines of the Latin hymn Ut queant laxis. The original sequence was Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La, where each verse started a scale note higher. "Ut" later became "Do". The equivalent syllables used in Indian music are: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. See also: solfège, sargam, Kodály hand signs. In China Xi is used instead of Ti.
Tonic sol-fa is a type of notation using the initial letters of solfège.
The notes of the 12-tone scale can be written by their letter names A–G, possibly with a trailing sharp or flat symbol, such as A♯ or B♭. This is the most common way of specifying a note in English speech or written text.
In Northern and Central Europe (e.g., Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and the Netherlands—and with diminishing frequency in Sweden), the letter system used is slightly different for historical reasons. In these countries' languages, the note called simply B in English (i.e., B♮) is called H, and the note B♭ is named B. (The C chromatic scale is thus: C C♯ D D♯ E F F♯ G G♯ A B H C). Also, the endings -is (for sharp) and -es/-s (for flat) are used. The note a semitone above C is either "Cis" or "Des", and A♭ is "As". Often this is also used in writing (instead of using the sharp or flat symbol), especially in flowing text. Another difference is that these languages often write the notes in lower case, e.g., ais, c, d, es, fis. Lower case denotes the minor, upper case denotes the major, so A = Amaj and a = Amin.
Tablature was first used in the Middle Ages for organ music and later in the Renaissance for lute music. In most lute tablatures, a staff is used, but instead of pitch values, the lines of the staff represent the strings of the instrument. The frets to finger are written on each line, indicated by letters or numbers. Rhythm is written separately with one or another variation of standard note values indicating the duration of the slowest moving part. Few seem to have remarked on the fact that tablature combines in one notation system both the physical and technical requirements of play (the lines and symbols on them and in relation to each other representing the actual performance actions) with the unfolding of the music itself (the lines of tablature taken horizontally represent the actual temporal unfolding of the music). In later periods, lute and guitar music was written with standard notation. Tablature caught interest again in the late 20th century for popular guitar music and other fretted instruments, being easy to transcribe and share over the internet in ASCII format. Websites like Tablature#OLGA.net (currently off-line pending legal disputes) have archives of text-based popular music tablature.
Klavar notation (or "klavarskribo") is a chromatic system of notation geared mainly towards keyboard instruments, which transposes the usual "graph" of music. The pitches are indicated horizontally, with "staff" lines in twos and threes like the keyboard, and the sequence of music is read vertically from top to bottom. A considerable body of repertoire has been transcribed into Klavar notation. Klavar notation eliminates the need of accidentals and key signatures, and its advocates claim that this facilitates music-reading.
Piano roll based notations
Some chromatic systems have been created taking advantage of the layout of black and white keys of the standard piano keyboard. The "staff" is most widely referred to as "piano roll", created by extending the black and white piano keys. The best known application of the "piano roll staff" is in digital music producing computer software such as Cubase, GarageBand, etc. Piano sheet music (traditional music notes on the piano roll staff) have also been printed and published, for the claimed benefit of visual matching of music notes and the piano keys to play. Examples are klavarskribo, Hao Staff and Ambrose Piano Tabs.
12-note non-equal temperament
Sometimes the pitches of music written in just intonation are notated with the frequency ratios, while Ben Johnston devised a system that represents just intonation with traditional western notation, with the addition of accidentals that indicate the cents to lower or raise a pitch.
Chromatic staff notations
Over the past three centuries, hundreds of music notation systems have been proposed as alternatives to traditional western music notation. Many of these systems seek to improve upon traditional notation by using a "chromatic staff" in which each of the 12 pitch classes has its own unique place on the staff. Examples are the Ailler-Brennink notation, Jacques-Daniel Rochat's Dodeka system, Tom Reed's Twinline notation, Russell Ambrose's Ambrose Piano Tabs,  Paul Morris' TwinNote, John Keller's Express Stave, and José A. Sotorrio's Bilinear Music Notation. These notation systems do not require the use of standard key signatures, accidentals, or clef signs. They also represent interval relationships more consistently and accurately than traditional notation. The Music Notation Project (formerly known as the Music Notation Modernization Association) has a website with information on many of these notation systems.
The term 'graphic notation' refers to the contemporary use of non-traditional symbols and text to convey information about the performance of a piece of music. Practitioners include Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Anthony Braxton, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Krzysztof Penderecki, Cornelius Cardew, and Roger Reynolds. See Notations, edited by John Cage and Alison Knowles, ISBN 0-685-14864-5.
Simplified Music Notation
Simplified Music Notation is an alternative form of musical notation designed to make sight-reading easier. It is based on classical staff notation, but incorporates sharps and flats into the shape of the noteheads. Notes such as double sharps and double flats are written at the pitch they are actually played at, but preceded by symbols called history signs that show they have been transposed. The notation was designed to help people who struggle with sight-reading, including those who suffer from working memory impairments, dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
Modified Stave Notation
Modified Stave Notation (MSN) is an alternative way of notating music for people who cannot easily read ordinary musical notation even if it is enlarged. Such users include those with visual impairments and those who are dyslexic.
Parsons code is used to encode music so that it can be easily searched. This style is designed for individuals with no musical background.
Braille music is a complete, well developed, and internationally accepted musical notation system that has symbols and notational conventions quite independent of print music notation. It is linear in nature, similar to a printed language and different from the two-dimensional nature of standard printed music notation. To a degree Braille music resembles musical markup languages such as MusicXML or NIFF.
In integer notation, or the integer model of pitch, all pitch classes and intervals between pitch classes are designated using the numbers 0 through 11. It is not used to notate music for performance, but is a common analytical and compositional tool when working with chromatic music, including twelve-tone technique, serial, or otherwise atonal music.
Music notation on computer
Many computer programs have been developed for creating music notation (called scorewriters or music notation software). Music may also be stored in various digital file formats for purposes other than graphic notation output.
With the integration of computers and music, a variety of file formats have emerged for storing notation. One simple format is the Abc notation. A special category in this field is format for computer video games.
Perspectives of musical notation in composition and musical performance
According to Philip Tagg and Richard Middleton, musicology and to a degree European-influenced musical practice suffer from a 'notational centricity', a methodology slanted by the characteristics of notation.
Notation-centric training induces particular forms of listening, and these then tend to be applied to all sorts of music, appropriately or not. Musicological methods tend to stress those musical parameters that can easily be notated ... they tend to neglect or have difficulty with widened parameters that are not easily notated. Examples include the unique vocal style of Joni Mitchell and the String Quartets of Elliott Sharp. Because of conventional musical notation limitations, many present-day composers in various genres prefer to compose music that is either not notated, or notated only through the computer language of digital recording.
In some countries, new musical notations can be patented. In the United States, for example, about 90 patents have been issued for new notation systems. The earliest patent, U.S. Patent 1,383 was published in 1839.
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- Modern musical symbols
- Music engraving
- Music OCR
- Neume (plainchant notation)
- Sheet music
- Time unit box system, a notation system useful for polyrhythms
- Tongan music notation, a subset of standard music notation
- Znamenny chant
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- Saoud, Rabah (2004). "The Arab Contribution to the Music of the Western World". Manchester: Foundation for Science, Technology, and Civilisation, Limited.
- Savas, Savas I. (1965). Byzantine Music in Theory and Practice. Boston: Hercules. ISBN 0-916586-24-3. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Stone, Kurt (1980). Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook. W. W. Norton & Company.
- Strayer, Hope R. (2013) "From Neumes to Notes: The Evolution of Music Notation," Musical Offerings: Vol. 4: No. 1, Article 1. Available at: http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/musicalofferings/vol4/iss1/1
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Music:Music Notation Systems|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Musical notation.|
- Byzantine Music Home Page. Contains a Guide to Byzantine Music Notation (neumes).
- CCARH — Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities Information on Stanford University Course on music representation. Links page shows examples of different notations.
- Music Markup Language. XML-based language for music notation.
- Byrd, Don. "Extremes of Conventional Musical Notation."
- Gehrkens, Karl Wilson Music Notation and Terminology. Project Gutenberg.
- Gilbert, Nina. "Glossary of U.S. and British English musical terms." Posted 17 June 1998; updated 7 September 2000.