Absolute Timing Notation — Tie for Duration
Herewith are my latest efforts on rhythm notation reform. Earlier I had suggested that TN timing/rhythm notation is in as much need of reform as the pitch notation,although the time dimension has received relatively little attention. I had suggested that we change timing from a relative to an absolute notation.Specifically, instead of denoting the duration of notes, which requires the reader to calculate the starting (and ending) time/beat/count of each note by summing the durations of notes in a beat or measure, I suggested denoting instead the starting beat/count of each note. To facilitate this, I suggested that additional sub-bar lines could be added to the staff, e.g. at each count or major sub-count, and notes positioned with strict proportional spacing within a sub-bar. Adding extra bar line styles to the notation would require a modification to notation software.As an alternative, I have been experimenting with variations of conventional notation that can be scored with TN software such as Finale. It turns out that a combination of beams and ties can go a long way to visually positioning the notes to the beats. In the example above, I’ve scored highly syncopated melody [Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, 1974] which I notated in 4/2 timewith the primary minimal note value as an eighth note (my original score uses 1/16, which I doubled for clarity of presentation.) I’ve scored the melody with only two note values: each count is either a half-note symbol or a beamed set of four eighth note symbols, which visually divide the count into equal time intervals. The duration of each tone is then indicated by ties. Thus, two tied eight notes replace a quarter note, three tied eights replace a dotted quarter, etc. For more complex music, it would be possible to vary the divisions from count to count, as long as each count is divided into equal sub-parts. In summary, the counts are indicated by beams, and the durations by ties. The advantage of this representation is that one can visually determine, without calculation, at which count or subcount an individual tone begins. Also, there is no notation difference for a given duration whether the note starts on a beat, off a beat, or is held across a count or a measure. In a sense, this approach is just a notational substitute for the ” 1 e & a 2 e & a ” that students write above the score when learning a complex passage, combined with a crude approximation to Enrique Prieto’s “note trace” notation for indicating duration. The key element, in my view, is that the timing of the music is indicated by specifying the temporal “position” of the note starts (and stops) with respect to the fixed beat and rhythm pattern (e.g., the drum track) of the music, rather than specifying only the “duration” of notes and requiring the reader to calcualte position as they play along. Now I’d be the first to admit that this is not a satisfactory “permanent” solution to rhythm-notation difficulties,but only a stop-gap to enable one with conventional score-writing resources to experiment with a “positional” rhythm notation. But from my personal experience, it seems that it’s “easier” to play syncopated tunes by “seeing” whether the note occurs on a “strong” beat or a “weak” or “between” beat. I’m finding that with practice I can play/sing the off-beat notes at the proper time while “tapping” a steady beat. Finally, in the example I’ve included a couple other of my notational preferences. I’ve split lines at the ends of phrases rather than strictly at bar lines. And I’ve used the shape-note feature of Finale to notate the scale-degrees of pitches. I’m finding that “singing” (aloud or silently) the solfedge names of the scale degrees as I play is helping me recognize harmonic interval patterns and melodic sequences, and also helps with ear training.