Graphic notation

Composers and musicians take strides to avoid ambiguity in their works and performances. After all, one might argue that the intention of music is to communicate some carefully crafted ideas or emotions to the listener. As a result, notation has become more rigorous, more precise; nothing can be left to chance or the composers vision is at risk of corruption. In the mid 20th century a small group of avant-garde composers began questioning the necessity of strict notation. Among them were Witold Lutosławski, György Ligeti, and John Cage, and the idea of an abstract, free-form, graphical notation emerged. The elements of music are mapped to elements of abstract art. Check out Michel Plourde‘s fantastic discussion about graphic notations.

Hummingbird notation

Blake West invented Hummingbird notation to help students learn staff notation faster. He has had a lot of success in this direction as his students will tell you. Many new staff notations abandon the traditional five line staff and adopt some form of chromatic staff. There is no doubt that the role of chromatic harmonies and melodies have matured over the course of common period music, but most music then and now still tends to distinguish between the seven diatonic and remaining five chromatic scale steps. For this reason, I much prefer the traditional five line staff over the variety of chromatic staffs. Although my notation has no staff, the set of pitch brackets, b1 to b7, are diatonic operators and the chromatic modifiers are similar to sharps and flats.

Dodeka Notation

The Dodeka notation and keyboard was invented by Jacques-Daniel and Josua Rochat. Their notation uses a simplified chromatic staff. Notes are simply lines placed around the four staff lines. Rather than notes just on or between lines, they use on, between, above, and below. Along with their notation they invented a keyboard instrument which is an impressive feat. I don’t know of other alternative notations with a new instrument. What I like most about Dodeka is the simplicity and ease of writing music down. In fact, each note is a single stroke of a pencil.

Most classical music was written with the diatonic scale in mind or at least of more importance than the chromatic scale. So when writing this kind of music on a chromatic staff, many of the important patterns of pitch intervals tend to be obscured. This problem is amplified when trying to play music composed for the diatonic piano on a chromatic keyboard. Pianists rely on the position of black keys to stay oriented. Even so, I do think the Dodeka keyboard encourages new chromatic compositions which would be unlikely composed at the piano.

Clairnote Notation

Paul Morris invented Clairnote in 2013. The notation uses a chromatic staff with four lines. Rather than adding many lines to handle the chromatic scale, Clairnote places notes in four position around each line: on line, on space, above line, or below line. The note head style, solid or hollow, helps musicians distinguish between these new vertical note positions. Check out the official homepage here.

53 Equal Temperment

In 1932, musicologist Joseph Yasser proposed a theory about the future of music tuning and scales. He noticed that the development of music in Western cultures had transitioned from pentatonic to diatonic and it follows that this transition will continue from diatonic to “superdiatonic”. He is referring to a 19 note equal division of the octave which more closely approximates just intonation. While this transition never took root, there have been even larger divisions proposed; the largest I am aware of being 53 equal division. While it may seem impractical to construct an instrument with 53 notes in a single octave, such an instrument has been constructed.

Braille Music

I read about Braille music years ago. I can’t imagine how important this notation is to blind musicians. I’m interested in the linear scheme in which notes and intervals are encoded. This notation is very sophisticated with a massive vocabulary for writing all sorts of score information.

History of Music Notation

Watch Howard Goodall’s excellent documentary on the history of music notation.

Music Engraving

Not long ago, music was painstakingly pounded, scrapped, and etched into metal before it could be printed. What began as a practical matter to get the score in front of the musicians developed into an art form unto itself. While the visual art of typesetting still lives on in score writing software today, I doubt that the physical process of typesetting will survive much longer.