Print Easier-to-Play Sheet Music with common software.
When I started playing the piano, I realized that traditional sheet music notation is not a good match to the actual arrangement of the piano keyboard. Furthermore, when I started learning music, I realized it wasn’t a good match to the actual form and structure of the music either! So I decided to make my own easier-to-play sheet music in an alternative format that does match the keyboard and musical form. And I’m trying to do it without expensive professional notation software–just using standard spreadsheet and word processing software! Not that I’m opposed to using score editing software–but I’ve found that even expensive professional versions are limited or difficult to use for the kinds of changes I’d like to make in my sheet music–changes like shape notes, or breaking lines in the middle of a measure, to say nothing of creating 12-position staves or alternative rhythm indications. Of course, I’m not the only person concerned about these issues. Many folks have been working on it, and are developing professional quality software to produce these alternative notations–see for example the Music Notation Project. But I also wanted to see what I could do with ordinary software–word processors and spreadsheets. In this blog, I’ll discuss some things I’ve tried, and I invite your comments. I stumbled upon a notation called KlavarSkribo, [see links page for more references] which uses a staff with 12 positions per octave–5 lines for black notes and 7 spaces for white notes, in the same order as the piano keyboard: _|_|__|_|_|_ , with the lines running vertically down the page. Black notes (Bb, etc.) are always represented by black noteheads which always appear above the stem, while white notes (C, etc.) are represented by hollow (white) noteheads appearing below the stem; there are never collisions. Although an extensive library of music is already printed in this notation and available from its publishers, I wanted to be able to create my own. It seemed it would be easy to do with a word processor, if only I had a font with noteheads, and a half-character-width space to align alternate lines of noteheads one half space apart. It would be even easier to use a traditional piano roll notation, which I could do with a spreadsheet. I ended up making several modifications to KlavarSkribo to make it amenable to my tools. I’ll be discussing these in more detail in subsequent posts, but for now I’ll just show the result of my first attempt: a “circle of fifths” exercise coded entirely with MS Excel: Klavar Excel version Circle-of-Fifths Exercise This musical example modulates through the Major and Dominant Seventh chords in 15 different keys, C# to Cb, all around the Circle of Fifths–imagine reading that in conventional notation! The notation shows a five-octave staff with lines for the black notes and spaces for the white notes. Each horizontal row represents one chord. You can play it vertically, as is, or turn the page sideways so it looks more like the conventional staff. Either way, the symmetry of the exercise jumps out at you. And when playing, you don’t have to remember what notes need to be sharp or flat, or what color Fb is. I created this with the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program; you can get a similar effect with Mac Numbers. Staff lines, bar lines, and noteheads were all created using the cell border feature. (I didn’t use stems for this exercise, but they could also be added with a suitable style border line, leaving appropriate space between notes.) Noteheads are formed by outlining a block of 4 spreadsheet cells; this allows a single notehead to be aligned to either a line or a space of the staff. And the full text character set is available for other markings as needed, although I’d need to make keyboard substitutions for some specialized symbols. It’s a bit tedious to create a score, but feasible if you create the staff first, then add the notes with generous use of copy and paste. I should point out that KlavarSkribo does not use note color or flags to represent duration, which greatly simplifies the requirements for this notation. Duration corresponds to distance on the staff, which is marked in equal-time increments. A tone is sustained until the next note is occurs, unless over-ridden by a continuation or stop symbol (neither of which is illustrated in this example). When playing, at first I found it difficult to distinguish between 2-line and 3-line groups, so I tried various shading patterns. In this example, I shaded the area behind the Gb Ab Bb lines–this divides the keyboard into symmetric groups of three white keys C D E surrounding two black Db Eb, and three black keys Gb Ab Bb, surrounding two white G A, with “split color” keys F and B separating the two groups. For a further refinement, I could add finger numbers inside the boxes, and stems to distinguish left and right hand parts–but that will have to wait for a later post. Let me know what you think of it. Dr. Tech Daddy