Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent perceived music played with instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols, including notation for durations of absence of sound such as rests.
Types and methods of notation have varied between cultures and throughout history, and much information about ancient music notation is fragmentary. Even in the same time period, such as in the 2010s, different styles of music and different cultures use different music notation methods; for example, for professional classical music performers, sheet music using staves and noteheads is the most common way of notating music, but for professional country music session musicians, the Nashville Number System is the main method.
The symbols used include ancient symbols and modern symbols made upon any media such as symbols cut into stone, made in clay tablets, made using a pen on papyrus or parchment or manuscript paper; printed using a printing press, a computer printer or other printing or modern copying technology.
Although many ancient cultures used symbols to represent melodies and rhythms, none of them were particularly comprehensive, and this has limited today's understanding of their music. The seeds of what would eventually become modern western notation were sown in medieval Europe, starting with the Catholic Church's goal for ecclesiastical uniformity. The church began notating plainchant melodies so that the same chants could be used throughout the church. Music notation developed further in the Renaissance and Baroque music eras. In the classical period and the Romantic music era, notation continued to develop as new musical instrument technologies were developed. In the contemporary classical music of the 20th and 21st century, music notation has continued to develop, with the introduction of graphical notation by some modern composers and the use, since the 1980s, of computer-based score writer programs for notating music. Music notation has been adapted to many kinds of music, including classical music, popular music, and traditional music.
Ancient Near EastThe earliest form of musical notation can be found in a cuneiform tablet that was created at Nippur, in Babylonia, in about 1400 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.
to Apollo. The music notation is the line of occasional symbols above the main, uninterrupted line of Greek lettering.
Ancient Greecemusical 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 2nd 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 Western Roman Empire.
Byzantine Empiremusic once included music for court ceremonies, but has only survived as vocal church music within various Orthodox traditions of monodic chant written down in Byzantine round notation.
Since the 6th century Greek theoretical categories played a key role to understand and transmit Byzantine music, especially the tradition of Damascus had a strong impact on the pre-Islamic Near East comparable to the impact coming from Persian music. The earliest evidence are papyrus fragments of Greek tropologia. These fragments just present the hymn text following a modal signature or key.
Unlike Western notation Byzantine neumes used since the 10th century were always related to modal steps in relation to such a clef or modal key. Originally this key or the incipit of a common melody was enough to indicate a certain melodic model given within the echos. Next to ekphonetic notation, only used in lectionaries to indicate formulas used during scriptural lessons, melodic notation developed not earlier than between the 9th and the 10th century, when a theta, oxeia or diple were written under a certain syllable of the text, whenever a longer melisma was expected. This primitive form was called “theta” or “diple notation”.
Today, one can study the evolution of this notation within Greek monastic chant books like those of the sticherarion and the heirmologion, while there was another gestic notation originally used for the asmatikon and kontakarion of the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite. The earliest books which have survived, are “kondakars” in Slavonic translation which already show an own notation system known as Kondakarian notation. Like the Greek alphabet notational signs are ordered left to right. The question of rhythm was entirely based on cheironomia. These great signs indicated well-known melodical phrases given by gestures of the choirleaders of the cathedral rite. They existed once as part of an oral tradition, developed Kondakarian notation and became during the 13th century integrated into Byzantine round notation as a kind of universal notation system.
Today the main difference between Western and Eastern neumes is that Eastern notation symbols are differential rather than absolute, i.e. they indicate pitch steps, and the musicians know to deduce correctly, from the score and the note they are singing presently, which correct interval is meant. These step symbols themselves, or better "phonic neumes", resemble brush strokes and are colloquially called gántzoi in Modern Greek.
Notes as pitch classes or modal keys are represented in written form only between these neumes. In modern notation they simply serve as an optional reminder and modal and tempo directions have been added, if necessary. In Papadic notation medial signatures usually meant a temporary change into another echos.
The so-called "great signs" were once related to cheironomic signs; according to modern interpretations they are understood as embellishments and microtonal attractions, both essential in Byzantine chant.
, the Papadic Parallage according to the trochos system, and his heptaphonic parallage according to the New Method
Since Chrysanthos of Madytos there are seven standard note names used for "solfège" pá, vú, ghá, dhē, ké, zō, nē, while the older practice still used the four enechemata or intonation formulas of the four echoi given by the modal signatures, the authentic or "kyrioi" in ascending direction, and the plagal or "plagioi" in descending direction. With exception of vú and zō they do roughly correspond to Western solmization syllables as re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do. Byzantine music uses the eight natural, non-tempered scales whose elements were identified by 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. Sometimes cantors also use transcriptions into Western or Kievan staff notation while adding non-notatable embellishment material from memory and "sliding" into the natural scales from experience, but even concerning modern neume editions since the reform of Chrysanthos a lot of details are only known from an oral tradition related to traditional masters and their experience.
13th-century Near EastIn 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.
Early EuropeThe scholar and music theorist Isidore of Seville, while 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.
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 six 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. 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 became commonplace by the end of the 17th century.
The founder of what is now considered the standard music staff 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.
but rather Do have been taken from the word "Dominus" in Latin with the meaning "the Lord".
Catholic monks developed the first forms of modern European musical notation in order to standardize liturgy throughout the worldwide Church, and an enormous body of religious music has been composed for it through the ages. This led directly to the emergence and development of European classical music, and its many derivatives. The Baroque style, which encompassed music, art, and architecture, was particularly encouraged by the post-Reformation Catholic Church as such forms offered a means of religious expression that was stirring and emotional, intended to stimulate religious fervor.
Modern staff notationModern music notation is used by musicians of many different genres throughout the world. The staff acts as a framework upon which pitches are indicated by placing oval noteheads on the staff lines or between the lines. The pitch of the oval musical noteheads can be modified by accidentals. The duration is shown with different note values, which can be indicated by the notehead being a stemless hollow oval, a hollow rectangle or stemless hollow oval with one or two vertical lines on either side, a stemmed hollow oval, or solid oval using stems to indicate quarter notes and stems with added flags or beams to indicate smaller subdivisions, and additional symbols such as dots and ties which lengthen the duration of a note. Notation is read from left to right, which makes setting music for right-to-left scripts difficult.
A staff of written music generally begins with a clef, which indicates the position of one particular note on the staff. The treble clef 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 clef or F clef shows the position of the note F below middle C. While the treble and bass clef are the most widely used clefs, other clefs are used, such as the alto clef and the tenor clef. 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. Some instruments use mainly one clef, such as violin and flute, which use treble clef and double bass and tuba, which use bass clef. Some instruments regularly use both clefs, such as piano and pipe organ.
Following the clef, the key signature on a staff indicates the key of the piece or song by specifying that certain notes are flat or sharp throughout the piece, unless otherwise indicated with accidentals added before certain notes. When a sharp is placed before a note, this makes that note one semitone higher. When a flat is placed before a note, this makes that note one semitone lower. Double sharps and double flats are less common, but they are used. A double sharp is placed before a note to make it two semitones higher. A double flat is placed before a note to make it two semitones lower. A natural sign placed before a note renders that note in its "natural" form, which means that any sharps or flats applying to that note from the key signature or from accidentals are cancelled. Sometimes a courtesy accidental is used in music where it is not technically required, to remind the musician of what pitch the key signature requires.
Following the key signature is the time signature. The time signature typically consists of two numbers, with one of the most common being. The top "4" indicates that there are four beats per measure. The bottom "4" indicates that each of those beats are quarter notes. Measures divide the piece into groups of beats, and the time signatures specify those groupings. is used so often that it is also called "common time", and it may be indicated with rather than numbers. Other common time signatures are ; ; and . Many other time signatures exist, such as,,,,, and so on.
Many short classical music pieces from the classical era and songs from traditional music and popular music are in one time signature for much or all of the piece. Music from the Romantic music era and later, particularly contemporary classical music and rock music genres such as progressive rock and the hardcore punk subgenre mathcore, may use mixed meter; songs or pieces change from one meter to another, for example alternating between bars of and.
Directions to the player regarding matters such as tempo, dynamics appear above or below the staff. Terms indicating the musical expression or "feel" to a song or piece are indicated at the beginning of the piece and at any points where the mood changes For vocal music, lyrics are written near the pitches of the melody. For short pauses, retakes are added.
In music for ensembles, a "score" shows music for all players together, with the staves for the different instruments and/or voices stacked vertically. The conductor uses the score while leading an orchestra, concert band, choir or other large ensemble. Individual performers in an ensemble play from "parts" which 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 was laborious and time consuming when parts were hand-copied from the score, but since the development of scorewriter computer software in the 1980s, a score stored electronically can have parts automatically prepared by the program and quickly and inexpensively printed out using a computer printer.
A ♭ in music lowers a pitch down one semitone. A ♯ in music raises a note one semitone. For example, a sharp on B would raise it to B♯ while a flat would lower it to B♭.
Variations on staff notation
- 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 less standardized. Pitched instruments use standard Western classical notation for the pitches and rhythms. In general, notation for unpitched percussion uses the five line staff, with different lines and spaces representing different drum kit instruments. Standard Western rhythmic notation is used to indicate the rhythm.
- 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 which chords the harpsichordist, organist or lutenist should improvise. 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 or voice-leading information at all, but provides basic harmonic information about the chord progression. Some chord charts also contain rhythmic information, indicated using slash notation for full beats and rhythmic notation for rhythms. 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.
- 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. Some chord charts intended for rhythm section accompanists contain only the chord progression.
- 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.
In various countries
KoreaJeongganbo is a unique traditional musical notation system created during the time of Sejong the Great that was the first East Asian system to represent rhythm, pitch, and time. Among various kinds of Korean traditional music, Jeong-gan-bo targets a particular genre, Jeong-ak.
Jeong-gan-bo tells the pitch by writing the pitch's name down in a box called 'jeong-gan'. One jeong-gan is one beat each, and it can be split into two, three or more to hold half beats and quarter beats, and more. This makes it easy for the reader to figure out the beat.
Also, there are lots of markings indicating things such as ornaments. Most of these were later created by Ki-su Kim.
IndiaThe Samaveda text contains notated melodies, and these are probably the world's oldest surviving ones. The musical notation is written usually immediately above, sometimes within, the line of Samaveda text, either in syllabic or a numerical form depending on the Samavedic Sakha. The Indian scholar and musical theorist Pingala, in his Chanda Sutra, used marks indicating long and short syllables to indicate meters in Sanskrit poetry.
A rock inscription from circa 7th–8th century CE at Kudumiyanmalai, Tamil Nadu contains an early example of a musical notation. It was first identified and published by archaeologist/epigraphist D. R. Bhandarkar. Written in the Pallava-grantha script of the 7th century, it contains 38 horizontal lines of notations inscribed on a rectangular rock face. Each line of the notation contains 64 characters, written in groups of four notes. The basic characters for the seven notes, 'sa ri ga ma pa dha ni', are seen to be suffixed with the vowels a, i, u,e. For example, in the place of 'sa', any one of 'sa', 'si', 'su' or 'se' is used. Similarly, in place of ri, any one of 'ra', 'ri', 'ru' or 're' is used. Horizontal lines divide the notation into 7 sections. Each section contains 4 to 7 lines of notation, with a title indicating its musical 'mode'. These modes may have been popular atleast from the 6th century CE and were incorporated into the Indian 'raga' system that developed later. But some of the unusual features seen in this notation have been given several non-conclusive interpretations by scholars.
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. 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. These two notes are known as achala swar.
Each of the other five notes, Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni, can take a 'regular' pitch, which is equivalent to its pitch in a standard major scale, 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 .
Ma has an altered partner that is a half-step higher . Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni are called vikrut swar. 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.
Other systems exist for non-twelve-tone equal temperament and non-Western music, such as the Indian Swaralipi.
RussiaZnamenny Chant is a singing tradition used in the Russian Orthodox Church which uses a "hook and banner" notation. Znamenny Chant is unison, melismatic liturgical singing that has its own specific notation, called the stolp notation. The symbols used in the stolp notation are called links=no or znamena. Often the names of the signs are used to refer to the stolp notation. Znamenny melodies are part of a system, consisting of Eight Modes ; the melodies are characterized by fluency and well-balancedness. There exist several types of Znamenny Chant: the so-called Stolpovoy, Malyj and Bolshoy Znamenny Chant. Ruthenian Chant is sometimes considered a sub-division of the Znamenny Chant tradition, with the Muscovite Chant being the second branch of the same musical continuum.
Znamenny Chants are not written with notes, but with special signs, called Znamëna or Kryuki, as some shapes of these signs resemble hooks. Each sign may include the following components: a large black hook or a black stroke, several smaller black 'points' and 'commas' and lines near the hook or crossing the hook. Some signs may mean only one note, some 2 to 4 notes, and some a whole melody of more than 10 notes with a complicated rhythmic structure. The stolp notation was developed in Kievan Rus' as an East Slavic refinement of the Byzantine neumatic musical notation.
The most notable feature of this notation system is that it records transitions of the melody, rather than notes. The signs also represent a mood and a gradation of how this part of melody is to be sung Every sign has its own name and also features as a spiritual symbol. For example, there is a specific sign, called "little dove", which represents two rising sounds, but which is also a symbol of the Holy Ghost. Gradually the system became more and more complicated. This system was also ambiguous, so that almost no one, except the most trained and educated singers, could sing an unknown melody at sight. The signs only helped to reproduce the melody, not coding it in an unambiguous way.
ChinaThe earliest known examples of text referring to music in China are inscriptions on musical instruments found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. 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.
Gongche notation used Chinese characters for the names of the scale.
JapanJapanese 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.
Ryukyuan sanshin music uses kunkunshi, a notation system of kanji with each character corresponding to a finger position on a particular string.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 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 and vocal parts, 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 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. Unlike the cipher notation for gamelan music, which uses a "fixed Do", Indonesian diatonic cipher notation is "moveable-Do" notation, so scores must indicate which pitch corresponds to the number 1.
Other systems and practices
Pitch bracket notationIn pitch bracket notation music is written with melody lines and pitch brackets. Melody lines are like staff lines except they can change pitch by writing pitch brackets on them. Pitch brackets add or subtract scale steps to the melody line. The shape of the bracket, determines the number of scale steps to add. The direction of the bracket, opening or closing, determines whether to add or subtract scale steps. As a result of the mathematical nature of pitch bracket notation, arithmetic and algebra can be directly applied to the notation. Musical variations can be mathematically generated from their themes.
Cipher notationCipher notation systems assigning Arabic numerals to the major scale degrees have been used at least since the Iberian organ tablatures of the 16th-century and include such exotic adaptations as Siffernotskrift. The one most widely in use today is the Chinese Jianpu, discussed in the main article. Numerals can of course also be assigned to different scale systems, as in the Javanese kepatihan notation described above.
SolfègeSolfège 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. 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, 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.
Tonic sol-fa is a type of notation using the initial letters of solfège.