Absolute Timing Notation — Note On Only

Another attempt to improve music timing notation– To make the actual beginning of each note stand out, I tried putting a note of minimal duration only at the starting time, and replacing the remainder of the duration with rests in the same denomination. My previous post illustrated notating timing by placing a note head at each “least common denominator” point of the count, and denoting longer durations with ties. Although this makes it graphically evident at which (sub)count of the beat the note begins, the actual break between notes is sometimes hard to see, especially for successive notes on the same pitch. The following example shows the two approaches in comparison, first with “ties”, then with “note on only”.

System 1: TIES:  All note symbols are the same duration; actual tone duration is indicated by ties System 2: NOTE ON ONLY: Like “ties”, all notes are the same (minimal) duration, but an actual note appears only on the starting count; sustain to next note is implicit.

(In system 2, inconsistent beaming is an artifact of the score editor, and is not significant to the example.  Ideally, the “rests” would be included in the beams.) (In this example, I also use shape-notes) [Selection is from 100 years, John Ordrasik, (C) 2004 EMI Blackwood Music Inc. & Five for Fighting Muisc, arr. Piano Guy] Using rests of course is just a workaround, doing what is possible within the confines of traditional notation and traditional score editors.  One immediate problems is there is no way to distinguish between a sustained note and an actual rest. In my modified music notation StaffTonnetz, discussed in previous posts, I addressed the problem by using a new symbol and a convention:
  • A notehead appears at the (sub)count on which the tone is to begin.
  • The tone continues to sound until another notehead or rest or continuation symbol appears in the same part.
  • When the tone is to be sustained while another note begins, a new notehead “continuation” symbol, e.g. (=) , is shown at the same time as the new note.
A similar notation has been proposed by Enrique Prieto.   In his system, a “reference head” (similar to a notehead) appears at the instant the tone is to start, then the head is followed by a line for the duration the note is to sound.  He posts details of this system from time to time on the Music Notation Project forum on Google Groups. Which of these approaches is better? For purposes of performance, it is necessary to know when to begin and end a note. I think a notation in which there is one notehead per note performed is better than one with repeated heads tied.  Beginners may confuse a tied note with a new note, and be overwhelmed by the “clutter” of new noteheads at every count and measure.  On the other hand, a visible “tick” at each sub-count, and grouping the ticks into counts (e.g. with beams) helps the performer recognize the rhythm and come in on the right “beat”. Prieto’s system of a head followed by a duration line, combined with some kind of “Timing ruler,” may be a workable solution.

About DrTechDaddy

Dr Tech Daddy is a retired computer science professor with additional interests in music, robotics, STEM education, model railroading, mathematical physics, congenital heart disease and heart transplant, and Christian theology.
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