The Music Notation Modernization Association
August 9, 2006 5:52 PM   Subscribe

The Music Notation Modernization Association... or possible ways to simplify reading chromatic music (as opposed to diatonic music). Of course, Arnold Schoenberg beat them to it.
posted by persona non grata (20 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

That is very cool - I like the chromatic staff a lot, and the argument for using it for tonal music (that it reveals half step vs whole tones) is compelling. However, this seems to me doomed in the same way as proposals for English spelling reform. I (and every other musician who can sight-read) have far too much brain-space invested in the old system.

Also I would guess that by far the majority of read or written is tonal, so the group of performers who would benefit most aren't numerous enough to persuade the rest of us.

If I were composing a lot of chromatic music I might well be tempted to write in this system though.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:15 PM on August 9, 2006

Some are quite bizarre some make a lot of sense (the Ailler being the most sensible as far as I can tell) but more than anything they seem rather quaint and quite charming notions. I know that at one time this was a big deal but now it seems to be like the view of the future that people in the 50's had 9even though people are still coming up with systems.) I guess that there are also notation systems that deal with 1/4 and 1/8 tones (did Harry Partch have a microtonal notation system??) Anyway, this is a great post, I'd never heard of the MNMA before!
posted by ob at 6:17 PM on August 9, 2006

I vote No No No No and No. As written English and other languages are weird for hysterical raisins so is musical notation, and that's half the fun. Plus, it can't be too illogical, or you couldn't write a program that takes standard notation as input and plays it back correctly as midi. And you CAN CAN CAN!

George Bernard Shaw and other notorious crackpots had a fetish about modernizing English and the other Germanic languages and look where it got them.

posted by jfuller at 6:27 PM on August 9, 2006

I really wish I could sight-read. Since I can't, though, I guess I'm not much use commenting here—I've got a great ear for music, or so I'm told, and I can play the guitar quite well and occasionally sing, but I just have never been able to pick up music notation. I guess lessons would probably do it.
posted by blacklite at 6:59 PM on August 9, 2006

"look where it got them."

Ah, the crazy German kid again, eh? Well, like he says, "I DON'T NEED HELP! I DON'T NEED HELP! AAAAAAAAAAGGGHHHH!!!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:02 PM on August 9, 2006

As a guitarist / violinist, where we don't have "black keys", this sort of notation makes a lot more sense to me. I can understand why pianists like the traditional notation, because it indicates "don't play the white key, play the black key sharp of the white key instead". But for instruments where we just have a linear arrangement of notes, the way Ailler's notation makes intervals clearer is really useful. I wonder if any of the notation software out there lets you compose in these alternative methods?
posted by Jimbob at 7:07 PM on August 9, 2006

Jimbob, just use the piano roll editor in just about any sequencing program - Cubase, Cakewalk, Live, FL Studio, etc. - which represents the pitches chromatically, with (usually) a graphical keyboard over on the left as reference.

Or roll your own insane sequencer in something like Reaktor or Max, where you can completely decouple pitch and duration from an XY axis.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:17 PM on August 9, 2006

I'm all for a chromatic system. Just about any of them would do for me. As someone who has a musical background, but only a very weak one, I find it extremely annoying that I have to remember (or look back at the signature) what key things are in.

Unfortunately, I understand how difficult it is to enact serious change in any standard. The only way I see an alternate system gaining any momentum is if, in the near future, most music is distributed via computer, where conversion to your personal favorite notational scheme is easy.

In the meantime, I find notational schemes of all types fascinating to look at, regardless of their practical potential. Of course, the criteria for a practical improvement (which must be similar enough to the current scheme that it doesn't scare people off) are very different than the criteria for a scheme that is interesting in a purely amusing way. Anyone have any links to nonstandard musical notations that aren't based on the same symbols-on-a-bunch-of-lines motif?

Also, does anyone have any links to interesting examples of notations for things other than music that share the same sort of abstract beauty (such as for dance or phonetics)? I've seen many notational systems, but most seem sadly stuck to the string of symbols with a few small modifications (accent marks, superscripts, underlines, etc.).
posted by ErWenn at 7:17 PM on August 9, 2006

To me, just as important as improving the way we notate pitch would be improving the way we notate what's usually called "articulation." In the 20th century stuff I've done lately, its not uncommon to have four different articulation markings on a single note. Unfortunately, I don't know what the alternative would be, other than even more textual description scattered throughout the music, but it might help to have more ways to explicitly notate note ending styles, instead of just overloading attack markings.
posted by gsteff at 7:21 PM on August 9, 2006

"does anyone have any links to interesting examples of notations for things other than music that share the same sort of abstract beauty (such as for dance or phonetics)"

There's some dance notation here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:24 PM on August 9, 2006

One of the key reasons I gave up Piano at "Grade 3" (when I was like 13 or something) was because I was a logical/mathmatical thinker and I just couldn't get my head around a lot of the music theory.

Sure I could read notes and plunk them out on the keys, but it annoyed the buggery out of me that I basically had to count up/down the staves to work out where the next 'C' note should fall when writing/reading music. A middle C looked nothing like the next C up or down.
posted by pivotal at 7:29 PM on August 9, 2006

Jimbob, just use the piano roll editor in just about any sequencing program - Cubase, Cakewalk, Live, FL Studio, etc.

Oh I do, but sometimes it's easier to deal with actual notation. Crotchets and quavers and slurs and so forth.
posted by Jimbob at 7:30 PM on August 9, 2006

"The more that you give the more it will take
To that really thin line beyond which you really can't fake"

-- Hunter/Hart (on music notation)
posted by persona non grata at 8:17 PM on August 9, 2006

In the 20th century stuff I've done lately, its not uncommon to have four different articulation markings on a single note.

This is I think one of the hallmarks of notation in the late romantic period (and thus 20C music) and one of the things that many of composers are guilty of (Debussy was one of the first culprits.) Most composers do this (and I include myself in this) because clarity is a very important commodity in contemporary western classical music (I hate that term), but I think that even more important than that is not to fetishize articulation so that the look of the music on the paper becomes more important than the sound of the music. There are plenty of examples of this in post-war music unfortunately.
posted by ob at 8:21 PM on August 9, 2006

I'm totally locked into standard notation, so I don't think I could ever countenance using another notation system, unfortunately. Some of them do look cool though!
posted by ob at 8:24 PM on August 9, 2006

just use the piano roll editor in just about any sequencing program

yes, that is the new standard and it's chromatic ... not only that, but many programs have bars showing the intensity of the note below

it's clunky and i don't know if i'd care to sight read from it, but for composing, one does get used to it

it could be worse ... we could have settled on tracker notation ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:30 PM on August 9, 2006

Tracker notation is great! I guess it's just what you're used to.
posted by Jimbob at 9:59 PM on August 9, 2006

I expect the works of John Stump would not be easily converted.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:56 PM on August 9, 2006

And seriously, jfuller — just because MIDI sucks the raw, polyester-scratched ass of the height of 70's design; that's no reason to limit yourself musically. OSC is fully flexible to suit your wildest musical desires.
posted by blasdelf at 1:03 AM on August 10, 2006

I'm not a particularly fluid or fluent reader of conventional notation, but I wonder if you might actually lose a bit of information by going to a chromatic staff. Accidentals on a conventional staff can be a quick hint about what key or mode you're in, if the piece fits that convention. Also, notes that appear to be the same in convnetional notation (say, E and Fb) may not actually be the same if you're not using an equal temparament instrument. I guess most players probably compensate for this by ear and training anyway, but again the key signature could be a hint, possibly more especially to computers, if we were to try and get them to play pieces with something like just intonation.
posted by weston at 5:32 PM on August 10, 2006

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