Music Notation Systems

As stated in ClassicalMusicMyths: MythNr1 the notation systems for music (sheet music) are rough approximations, leaving space for creative interpretations.

Jazz musicians need even less (up to nothing) notation sketches (e.g., chord sequences) for playing music.

At the other end The MIDI language can be seen as a very precise notation system, aimed to machine execution of coded musical structures.

Who knows/likes other MusicNotationSystems for humans or machines?

-- FridemarPache

In fact, MIDI is a bad "notation" system, since it is insufficient and ambiguous.

Pitches are stored in semi-tones: you lose all tonality information (G-sharp and A-flat are the same), and quarter tones can't be represented. Durations are stored as ticks (384 ticks to the quarter note), so you can't represent quintuplets exactly.

G-sharp and A-flat are the same, when it is just the single note. Which it is could always be inferred from what the surrounding notes are, and only matters if you are trying to alter the piece.

Some systems allow higher time resolution, but every MIDI-conformant system allows 3-Byte-pitchbend-control-messages <En LSB MSB> in hex, where the channel number n ranges from 0 to F and the least and most significant Byte LSB,MSB use 7 significant bits, in total 14 bits to subdivide a semi-tone. -- FridemarPache

It would be better to compare MIDI to a multi-track tape-recorder.

MIDI is precise but not accurate - that is, it tells you precisely what happens when, but doesn't have fine enough temporal and pitch quantization to accurately capture all music. ("precision" and "accuracy" are WordsThatArentSynonyms.)

Another widely-used notation system, particularly on the 'net, is guitar tabulature, which shows which notes to play by visually representing the neck of the guitar. No consistent scheme for representing rhythm, though I guess it's assumed that you'll be also referring to a recording of the piece in question.

Advantages: you don't need to know how to read music, and can be represented in plain ASCII for easy transmission/portability.

Disadvantages: No rhythm notation. Pretty useless for instruments other than guitar.

LilyPond. PMS notation (see

You could also try the GP4 or GP3 format of the (not free) software guitar pro. It can export to MIDI, and it has many many more features. Many thousands of songs are available in this format.

in 1987, I was hired to develop a system which converted notes played on a keyboard to musical notation. Not the usual keyboard or musical notation, but 6-6 -- six white and six black keys per octave, drawn as oval (white) and triangular (black). This has the advantage that transposing from one key to another is trivial.

I'm not convinced the notation has an advantage, except perhaps for atonal music. The usual notation has evolved and survived for several centuries, so it must be good. Also, there is lock-in, like QWERTY keyboards.

I was offered the choice between a higher salary and a share in the IPR (a patent). I chose the higher salary, and sold my rights to the patent for HK$10 (about US$1.25). As I have not been able to find anything on the web related to this notation, I assume it is now extinct. Back then, there was a bilingual journal, published in English and Esperanto (something else which hasn't exactly caught on in a big way).

  -- DonaldFisk

There's also a notation for turntablists:

MusicMacroLanguage. An input format to write music in computer, to tell the computer how to play it. Different MML systems have different capabilities, but some are extremely powerful, allowing many kinds of special effects. Usually, the MML compiler then converts the MML input file into another format such as NSF, VGM, or MIDI.

Also ABC which has a number of wiki implementations

See DataMusicVoxelApplet, VoiceXml, DanceNotationSystems, ProgrammingMusicSequencers


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