Music notation

Fundamental and specific musical signs 



MusicNotation 380


100 pages

230 x 300 mm






The PDF file is available below:















This book is about music notation, i.e. the study of the various signs used for the notation of music. Music notation must be distinguished from music theory, which describes and analyzes musical structures in their various melodic, rhythmic, etc. dimensions, although it uses music notation signs for this purpose.


For reasons of practicality, legibility and ease of performance, musical notation has a more prescriptive than descriptive function: it indicates what is to be played, how it is to be played, the order and temporal position of what is to be played. Although it gives a lot of information about musical structures, notation is far from giving a complete account of them and sometimes even hide them (see the chapter on note beaming). The notation presents itself rather as a simple skeleton, the broad outlines of a musical form to which the execution will give body.


By making an analogy with writing, the study of notation presented here will be limited to the level of "musical spelling" without addressing the level of its typography. The purpose is modest: to ensure the recognition/understanding of the main musical signs, and to allow the eventual manual notation/writing of scores. It is the required level but sufficient for a standard practice of music.


The level of "musical typography", much finer, aims at increasing the legibility of the musical text, and thus the ease of its execution, while respecting the standards of notation of the various musical periods and contexts. The musical signs are then precisely adjusted according to precise and sometimes rather complex rules: size of the staves, horizontal spacing between the various signs, direction of the slope and declivity of the rhythmic beams, horizontal position of the accidentals in a chord, curvature and vertical/horizontal position of the ends of slurs, etc.


Here we will simply divide the musical signs into two groups, those expressing more or less directly the dimension of pitches (melodically), and those representing the dimension of durations (rhythmically), i.e. the two main dimensions of musical events.


A third part will deal with specific notations, linked to the current practice in Rock/Jazz, of the interpretation of harmonic themes and improvisation on these same themes, and linked to the instruments that will be covered in the methods proposed here: Guitar, Bass and Drums. The notation of these instruments requires a certain number of custom-made signs, or standard and diverted from their usual meaning to fit the context of the instrument.


As far as possible, the musical signs will be presented in a logical, progressive order, from the essential and unavoidable signs to the rarer and more complex signs, but based on the first ones. Some chapters are more difficult and concern only complex and rare musical contexts (see the notation of irrational rhythms), whose notation deserved to be clarified.The two sections: melody notation and rhythm notation, present examples of notation that necessarily combine the dimensions of pitch and duration. Move from one section to the other as necessary to elucidate misunderstood signs.


J.-M. Tostivint


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