The Thumline staff is similar to the MUTO system, except that it has alternating solid and dotted lines spaced a tritone apart. Between these lines are two ledgerlines that provide a 6-6 line pattern of alternating line and space notes.
However, unlike most other notations on this site, the lines and spaces of the Thumline system do not represent particular pitches. Instead, it takes a relative pitch approach much like moveable-do solfege note syllables, shape note notation, or the Nashville number system. Instead of absolute pitches, its lines and spaces represent the degrees of the chromatic scale, starting from the tonic note Do:
Do – ra – Re – me – Mi – Fa – se – So – le – La – te – Ti – Do
The staff depicted above shows pitch names in the key of C, but in other keys these absolute pitch names would be shifted, in order to keep the bottom line as Do. The pitches that correspond to these scale degrees are indirectly determined by the current key signature. The solid lines always represent Do and the dotted line Se, whatever pitch they may be in the current key. The arcs at the beginning of each staff help with visual orientation, with the points of the arc always pointing to the Do line, and the Se line falling at the middle of the arc. A symbol system is used to indicate key changes and how far up or down in pitch the key has modulated.
Note that in minor keys the basic underlying diatonic pitch pattern remains in the same position on the staff. Do is still located on the bold line, but it becomes the third degree of the scale as the tonic note shifts to La. In other musical modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc…) the tonic also changes places on the staff while the basic diatonic pitch pattern stays fixed. The current tonic note is given in the key signature, indicating whether a key is major or minor, or whether the piece is in some other mode.
An advantage of this relative pitch approach is that it makes it easy to recognize common interval patterns (like those of the diatonic scale) as they occur across different keys, since they will consistently appear at the same vertical position on the staff. A disadvantage is that a note’s pitch is not directly given, but must be calculated indirectly through reference to the key signature. This may make it less than ideal for use with instruments that are difficult to play by reading only the interval relationships between notes. In other words, for instruments where it is important to be able to easily read the pitch values of notes in the notation. (Thumline was designed with the Thummer in mind, an electronic isomorphic button-field instrument that emphasizes playing by interval relationships.) For this reason it is not clear how well Thumline would work as a general-purpose notation, and it might not pass the MNMA’s third criterion for being “readily adaptable to all instruments”. Nevertheless this approach is worthy of consideration, and could be used in conjunction with various chromatic stave systems by those interested in it.
Website: www.thummer.com (no longer exists)
First introduced: 2005 (Thumtronics website)