More Alternative Music Notation Systems

“With so many solutions, you know there must be a problem.” — MNMA member Andre Lippens

Out of the hundreds[1] of alternative notation systems that exist, we primarily focus on those that meet our particular set of desirable criteria (see Guided Tour and Gallery). Below we list a number of additional systems that take a different approach, in one way or another. We include links to their websites (or other documentation) and numbers to indicate which of our criteria each system does not meet, to the best of our knowledge. Suggestions for corrections are welcome. (This is intended to be a factual analysis, not a judgment on whether the system is well designed or meets the inventor’s goals, because those goals might be different from those of the Music Notation Project.)

Some websites linked below are in languages other than English. Use Google Translate if needed.

Contents

Systems with twelve vertical staff positions per octave (chromatic staff)

Ambrose Piano Tabs
by Russell Ambrose
Website. See criteria 7 and 8, and comment about Klavar below. Formerly known as “keyPlay” at keyPlay.co.uk

Dodeka Notation
by Jacques-Daniel Rochat
Website. See criteria 1, 2, and 17.

Drielijn Notation
by Pierre Hendriks
Website (Netherlands). See criterion 11.

Hass Notation, 5-Line Version
by Peter Hass
Website, (Denmark). Wiki Page. See criteria 9 and 15.  Hass notation uses a five-line, pitch-proportional chromatic staff whose lines are spaced three semitones (a minor third) apart. Three notehead shapes are used: an oval on lines, and downward and upward triangles in the spaces. This regularly alternating pattern of three noteheads corresponds directly to the three rows of a chromatic button accordion, which has an isomorphic layout. The 5-line staff does not cycle at the octave (criterion 9), but Hass later designed a 3-line version that meets all the MNP criteria. For more see also the Hass Notation Wiki Page.

Hellenic Music Notation
by Pablo Bellinghausen
Technical paper on academia.edu (2010).  See criteria 9 and 15.  Hellenic Music Notation is so named because of its nomenclature, which assigns the Greek letters α (alpha) through μ (mu) to the pitches of the chromatic scale from C through B.  Rhythmic notation is traditional. The system’s alternating oval and upward or downward triangular notehead shapes make it similar to Tom Reed’s Twinline, but there are some important differences. As in traditional notation, notehead color depends on duration (open for whole and half notes, solid for shorter values), and a 5-line staff is used rather than a 2-line staff.  The 5-line staff does not cycle at the octave (criterion 9), but rather at two octaves.  Multiple staves can be placed contiguously (criterion 15), but each represents two octaves, always resulting in an even number (rather than an “arbitrary” number) of octaves. Traditional ledger lines are used beyond the staff, but Bellinghausen recommends using “octave modifiers” frequently to avoid ledger lines when possible.  These modifiers are either Roman numerals indicating octave numbers, or the traditional sharp, flat, and natural signs, used to indicate octave changes rather than chromatic alterations.

I-Accord Music Notation
by Saieb Khalil
Wiki Page. See criterion 8. The staff has three lines per octave, corresponding to the notes of the tonic triad. Thus the staff uses relative pitches rather than absolute pitches, similarly to Thumline. There are two forms of the staff: one for major keys and the other for minor. (The inventor’s description does not state how the system deals with modulation or with music in which the key is ambiguous.) The diatonic pitches are depicted by oval noteheads, and the chromatic pitches by half-ovals (optionally replaceable by hollow triangles). Traditional duration symbols can be used.

Klavar Music Notation (Klavarskribo)
by Cornelis Pot
Wikipedia Page, Klavar Music Foundation of Great Britain, Klavar Foundation of the Netherlands, Klavar Vereniging Nederland (Dutch Klavar Union), KlavarScore website. See criteria 8 and 13 — Klavar almost meets 8, but the staff is not quite pitch-proportional, because it mirrors the piano keyboard, whose white keys divide the octave into seven equal steps. Note that there are four variants of Klavar featured on our site: Pot’s own 6-6 Klavar, Jean de Buur’s Mirck Version, Tadeusz Wójcik’s Isomorph Notation, and Antoon Dekker’s variant. See also software for Klavar.

Meloz Music Tablature
by Jerald Lepinski
See criterion 8, and comment about Klavar above. The website (http://www.meloz.com) no longer exists.

Numbered Notes
by Jason MacCoy
Website. See criterion 17. Places numbers (1-12) in front of each note to help with note identification and interval calculation. See also the only notes version and the only numbers version on our site.

NUME (New Understanding of Musical Expression)
by Mike Ellis
Website. See criteria 10 and 15. Uses an alternative symbol system of noteheads for rhythmic notation.

SuperMusic
by Ernest Moore Hume
Link to Book. See criteria 8 and 15.

Symmetrisch Chromatisches System (SCS)
by Robert Doll
See criteria 10 and 15. The website (http://www.scs-rad.de) no longer exists, formerly in German and English.

Untitled 4-line notation system
by Johann Ailler
Wiki page. See criterion 9.  The earliest 4-line chromatic staff system, dating from 1904.  It does not cycle on the octave, but places only one ledger line between vertically stacked staves.  See wiki page for details.

Chro-Nat
by Adam A. Król
Website.  A 12-degree chromatic system using 5 shapes (downward triangle, leftward triangle, oval, rightward triangle, upward triangle) to distinguish octaves. Unlike most notation systems, Chro-Nat places notes that have the same pitch class at the same vertical position on a single 5-line staff, regardless of the notes’ octave registers.  This feature greatly reduces the use of space in music with a wide range, but it interferes with pitch proportionality. (See criterion 8.) The website also presents two other systems, 3SiT and 2SiT, described below, but it indicates that the inventor prefers Chro-Nat.

Systems with six vertical staff positions per octave (two pitches per position)

See criterion 8 for all of the notation systems in this group. They are all 6-6 systems since they group the 12 chromatic pitches into two whole-tone scales. As such, they have a certain amount of isomorphism, but do not have full pitch proportionality (criterion 8). By reducing the pitch proportionality, they allow the staff to occupy less vertical space.

Black White Notation (BWN)
by C.J. Wang
Website (2011). See criterion 8. Uses a six-degree staff rather than either a pitch-proportional twelve-degree chromatic staff, or a traditional staff. Hollow and solid noteheads are used to help indicate pitch, otherwise rhythm notation is similar to traditional notation.

Chromatic Pairs
by C.J. Wang
Wiki Page (October 2011). See criterion 8.

Equiton Notation
by Rodney Fawcett
Wiki Page. See criterion 8. Published by Fawcett in Zurich in 1958, with a more recent version by Mark Gould (2004). A system with an innovative and comprehensive approach to rhythmic notation. It uses a six-degree staff rather than either a pitch-proportional twelve-degree chromatic staff, or a traditional diatonic staff.

Howe-Way Music Notation
by Hilbert A. Howe
Wiki Page (1964). See criterion 8. Uses a six-line staff that spans two octaves, a six-degree-per-octave staff with three lines and spaces per octave. Each line or space represents two of the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. The two pitches appearing on a given line or space are distinguished by having black or white noteheads.

MusiScript
by André Lippens and Luc Lippens
Website. MusiScript is a hybrid 6-6 and 7-5 system in that its two notehead shapes (oval and right-pointing isosceles triangle) form a 6-6 pattern, while its two notehead colors (blue and black) form a 7-5 pattern.  Rhythm is traditional.  There are six distinct vertical positions per octave (criterion 8). The space for F# and G is shaded (see criteria 2 and 7).  MusiScript uses four colors: black, white (background), gray (the space for F# and G), and blue (see criterion 7). The inventors propose a criterion for notation systems that they call a “peeping hole“, which states that a note’s pitch should be detectible when looking only at the notehead and its immediate vicinity, rather than at a larger context such as a whole staff.  MusiScript passes this test by using multiple notehead colors and a shaded space.

2SiT
by Adam A. Król
Website. See criteria 8 and 9. A six-degree, 6-6 system using two shapes (oval and triangle) to distinguish the two neighboring chromatic pitches that occupy the same vertical position.  The staff consists of five lines, reducing the clarity of the octave cycle as compared to a two-line staff. The website also presents two other systems, Chro-Nat (described above) and 3SiT (described below).

Systems with four vertical staff positions per octave (three pitches per position)

3SiT
by Adam A. Król
Website. See criteria 8 and 9.  A four-degree system using three shapes (leftward triangle, oval, rightward triangle) to distinguish the three neighboring chromatic pitches that occupy the same vertical position.  Like the systems in the previous category (six vertical staff positions per octave), this system has a certain amount of isomorphism but lacks pitch proportionality (criterion 8). The staff consists of five lines, reducing the clarity of the octave cycle. The website also presents two other systems, Chro-Nat and 2SiT (described above).

Systems with non-standard diatonic staves

See criterion 8 for all the notation systems in this group.

Color Coded Music
by Mary Hale
Website. Wiki Page. See criteria 7 and 8.  Uses a 7-degree staff of four lines and three spaces for A through G.  The five “black-key” notes are named H, I, J, K, and L, exactly as in Express Stave.  They are indicated by diamond-shaped noteheads whose vertical position generally lies between the positions of the neighboring naturals. (The seven “white-key” notes use oval noteheads, as in traditional notation.)  Rhythm is traditional. The notehead optionally contains the note’s letter name. The staff’s spaces are colored, with a different color used in each octave.  Multiple octaves can be placed continuously, with enough space between the staves for the notehead of L (G#/Ab) (which seems to be centered on the G line, however).

Leszer Notation
by Eduardo Terol
Website. See criterion 8. Uses a non-standard diatonic staff that cycles on the octave.

Nydana Notation
by Dan Lindgren
Website. See criterion 8. Uses a non-standard diatonic staff that cycles on the octave. The staff consists of two lines, for E and G, and a ledger line for C.  Thus the staff can be read identically to part of the traditional treble clef: the part that ranges from the B below Middle C to the A above Middle C. Originally the noteheads had a 7-5 coloring, with white and black noteheads for the respectively colored piano keys; later the inventor switched to a 6-6 notehead coloring, with black noteheads for the whole-tone scale containing C and white noteheads for the other whole-tone scale.  A novel system of “ledger bands” allows the staff to be temporarily extended upward or downward in a distinctive manner without ledger lines per se.  See also Chromatic Nydana Notation.

Systems with other types of non-standard staves

See criterion 8 for all the notation systems in this group.

Finkeys Notation System
by Victor Mataele
Link to Patents. See criteria 8, 9, and 3. Pitches are represented by the numbers 1-9 followed by the letters X, Y, and Z (C is 1 and B is Z). Time is represented on the vertical axis. Duration is indicated with colors. (See Criterion 7.) The horizontal axis does not represent pitch but finger number, so it is divided into ten columns, five per hand. (See criteria 8 and 9.) The music therefore has a different appearance for different instruments, as well as for different ways of fingering a passage on the same instrument. (See criterion 3.)

Hamburg Music Notation
by Robert Elisabeth Key
Wiki Page. See criterion 8. (Note that “Robert Elisabeth Key” is a pseudonym.) Uses a series of numbers and letters (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B) rather than noteheads, to represent the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. The letters are used in order to avoid having to use numbers with double digits. 1 corresponds to the traditional C, and 0 to the traditional B (or H in Germanic pitch nomenclature).   All pitches within the same octave from C to B (traditional names) are written at the same vertical level. A variant of this system uses the letter C in place of 0.

Dozenal Conventional Music Notation
by Robert Elisabeth Key
Website. See criteria 8, 9. Also known as Hamburg Music Pianotype Notation or Hamburg Music Emoji Notation. Uses a 5-line quasi-diatonic staff whose lines are C, E, G, A, and C and whose spaces are D, F, G#/Ab, and B. (The notes are not named using these traditional letter names but instead using dozenal numbers as in Hamburg Music Notation, above.) Pitches corresponding to white keys on the piano have a normal notehead; those corresponding to black keys have an x for the notehead, giving this system a 7-5 notehead pattern. C#/Db is placed on the C line, D#/Eb on the E line, F#/Gb on the G line, and A#/Bb on the A line. Between successive five-line staves, ledger lines occur on E, G, and A; thus the staff pattern can be considered to cycle every two octaves. Rhythm is traditional, except that half and whole notes on “black-key” pitches have a notehead consisting of an x inside a hollow circle.

Systems that do not use a staff

3JCNGUYEN Music Notation
by Thomas Nguyen
Website. See criterion 8. A note is represented by a lower-case letter for the pitch class (a through g), preceded by the note’s octave and followed by the note’s duration (for example, 4c1 for a quarter note on Middle C). Sharps, flats, and naturals are indicated by +, -, and o respectively. Rests are represented by numbers without letters (for example, 0.5 for an eighth rest). Durations of notes can be written as decimal fractions (for example, 1.5 for a dotted quarter) or ratios (for example, 3/4 for a dotted eighth). A group of notes that would be slurred in traditional notation is instead enclosed in parentheses. All notes are written at the same elevation.

The Music Integrated Solution
by Enrique Prieto
Website. See criteria 2, 7, and 13. Notes are represented by horizontal line segments (called note traces) whose length is proportional to duration, as in a piano-roll notation. (There are no explicit duration symbols; see criterion 13.) A note trace is typically attached to a “reference head.” The reference head looks rather like a notehead in other systems, but instead of representing a note it is a guide that aids in identifying the pitches of nearby notes, as there are no staff lines. A reference head has one of four shapes. There are three vertical positions at which a note trace can attach to a reference head: at the head’s bottom, middle, or top. This 3 x 4 pattern is also reflected in a correlated system of nomenclature for pitches, intervals, and chords. The system generally uses shaded horizontal bands in the background behind the notes to aid with pitch orientation. (Formerly called “NoteTrace”.)

Systems that use the traditional diatonic staff

See criteria 8 and 9 for all the notation systems in this group.

Amadeus Musique
Website. See criteria 8 and 9.

Cleanotation
by Clark Battle
Website. See criteria 8 and 9.

iCanPiano Notes
by Ophir Atar
Website. See criteria 8 and 9. Formerly known as “Prima Vista Notes”.

Shape Note Notation
See criteria 8 and 9.
Sacred Harp and Shape Note singing (fasola.org) and Shape Note Bibliography by John Bealle.
Sacred Harp Singing
and Samples of Musical Notation by Warren Steel.

Simplified Music Notation
by Peter Hayes George
Website. See criteria 8 and 9.

VaWu
by Robert Stuckey and Richard Parncutt
Wiki Page. See criteria 7, 8, and 9. VaWu uses traditional notation with some modifications: the staff has white lines and gray spaces, and the noteheads are letters (one of twelve letters indicating the twelve chromatic pitches per octave).  The five “black-key” pitches use the letters V, W, X, Y, and Z.  The seven “white-key” pitches use the traditional English (or, optionally, German) letter names (or, optionally, the initials of the fixed-do solfege syllables). Harmonic functions are optionally indicated above the staff using the initials of the relative-do solfege syllables.

Websites of systems presented elsewhere on our site

Chromatic 6-6 Notation by Johannes Beyreuther (German Site)

Clairnote Music Notation by Paul Morris

MUTO Music Notation (MUTO Music Method Foundation) (Japanese Site)

Thumline Music Notation (Thumtronics) by Jim Plamondon.  Website no longer exists.
(thummer.com/thummusic1.asp)

TwinNote Music Notation by Paul Morris

Ailler-Brennink Notation (Chroma Institute) by Albert Brennink. Website no longer exists. (http://www.islandnet.com/~chroma/)

Bilinear Music Notation (Spectral Music) by Jose Sotorrio. Website no longer exists. (http://www.spectralmusic.com/)

More specialized systems that may be of interest

Tablature, and a Novel Guitar Tablature by Michael Harris

Symecord, an alternative guitar tablature by Mark Lee.  Unlike standard guitar tab, which uses the non-time axis to represent strings, and symbols to denote fret numbers, Symecord uses the non-time axis to represent frets, and symbols to denote strings.

Braille Music Notation, and Opus Technologies offering software, print, and braille materials for learning and using braille music notation.

[1] The MNMA collected over 500 notation systems, as documented in Thomas Reed’s Directory of Music Notation Proposals (1999). An earlier collection is Gardner Read’s Source Book of Proposed Music Notation Reforms (1987). See also Wikipedia’s Musical Notation page.