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The Parsons code, formally named the Parsons code for melodic contours, is a simple notation used to identify a piece of music through melodic motion—the motion of the pitch up and down. Denys Parsons developed this system for his 1975 book The Directory of Tunes and Musical Themes. Representing a melody in this manner makes it easy to index or search for particular pieces.
The first note of a melody is denoted with an asterisk (*), although some Parsons code users omit the first note. All succeeding notes are denoted with one of three letters to indicate the relationship of its pitch to the previous note:
- * = first tone as reference,
- u = "up", if the note is higher than the previous note,
- d = "down", if the note is lower than the previous note,
- r = "repeat", if the note has the same pitch as the previous note.
Tune for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
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- "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star": *rururddrdrdrd urdrdrdurdrdrd drururddrdrdrd
- "Silent Night": *udduuddurdurdurudddudduruddduddurudduuddduddd
- "Aura Lea" ("Love Me Tender"): *uduududdduu
- "White Christmas": *udduuuu
- First verse in Madonna's "Like a Virgin": *rrurddrdrrurdudurrrrddrduuddrdu
- First verse in "We Are the World": *rduduururdrddrududuu
- "The Parsons Code for Melodic Contours". Musipedia.
- Parsons, Denys (1975). The Directory of Tunes and Musical Themes. S. Brown. ISBN 0-904747-00-X.
- Parsons, Denys (2002). The Directory of Tunes and Musical Themes. Bohmeier. ISBN 3-89094-370-5.
- Parsons, Denys (2008). The Directory of Classical Themes. Piatkus. ISBN 978-0-7499-5178-8.
- "Was Parsons right? An experiment in usability of music ..." (PDF). ismir 2003.
- Themefinder allows searching musical themes by Parsons Code (called "Gross Contour" on the search page).
- "The Open Music Encyclopedia" uses Parsons code for encoding songs in their database
- FolkTuneFinder.com uses Parsons code (amongst other methods) to search a database of folk tunes.