Music Notation Explained


Music notation is set of signs or symbols and the rules for applying them that are used in a musical notation system. As an act, process, or method, music notation is the noting, marking, or setting down of symbols that represent music. When music notes are written on paper, they are said to be notated. Musical notation is an act of writing down the pitch of a sound and it simply mean the system of reproducing musical sounds in writing.


Music is heard, while notation is seen. Music as an art consists of sound and silence, performed by musicians. Music signs which show pitch are called notes and written music will indicate the type and length of note to be played or or length of time to be rested.

In musical notation therefore, symbols for both sound and silence are employed, set to a reading basis representing the flow of time. Notation is basically an instruction for performance, and less so an actual representation of the sound produced. Although an experienced musician is able to almost read music notation as one reads a book, the actual sound effect of a musical score can only be fully appreciated by hearing.



Important of Musical Notation
Music notation systems are one of the most important elements in music; they are as important to music as writing systems are to speech or to the written word; they serve a similar function. Without music notation systems, music could be composed or played only in the most primitive manner, if at all. It is likely that the communication of music and the musical arts would have remained the same as they were in the far-distant human past, more-or-less unrepeatable, crude experiences restricted to the precincts of a single tribe, cave, or family.

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Musical notation serves as a means of preserving music (although incompletely and imperfectly) over long periods of time, facilitates performance by others, and as a communication it presents music in a form suitable for later performance, study and analysis.


As a memory aid, musical notation helps shape a composition to a level of sophistication that would not be possible with only an oral tradition. Notation system also makes it possible for composers to write music in such a way that it can be universally communicated and recorded throughout the world. It makes it possible for performers trained in reading notation to play the music.

System of Musical Notation
There are all sorts of music notation systems. Most have existed for as long as music has been recorded.

Many different musical notation systems have been devised by many different cultures at different times and places. Many cultures have inherited the musical notation systems of other cultures.



Any given Musical notation system is a specialized system for reading or writing music that consists of graphic symbols and words or phrases that describe music, one that is specific to a particular culture or musical tradition. It is a written, printed, or other visual representation of music within its own tradition.

Symbols in a musical notation system might include musical notes, staves, bars, clefs, tempo markings, or sharp or flat symbols. Words or phrases that describe music might include directions to musicians or comments about the music. With such a system, it is possible for a person to annotate, record, write, or read music.

At the moment, we have two notable systems of musical notation and these are: Staff Notation and Tonic - Solfa Notation

Staff Notation
This is western sytle musical notation. Staff notation is based on a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces, where each line (and each space in between) represents a different note letter and musical pitch.  Music symbols, refer to as Note, are placed either on the spaces between the lines or on the lines. The lines and spaces are numbered from bottom to top; the bottom line is the first line and the top line is the fifth line.


The position of notes on the lines or in the spaces determines the pitch of the note (Pitch is how high or low a note is). Lower pitches are lower on the staff and higher pitches are higher on the staff. The exact lenght of each note is not directly proportional to its horizontal position on the staff; but depicted by the musical symbol chosen for each note in addition to the tempo.

Just like most other languages, music has its own distinct alphabet.  Luckily, this musical alphabet is part of our English alphabet.  Our basic musical alphabet contains only seven letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.  In written music, notes are placed on a staff and depending on the clef, we label each note with one of these letters.

With the blank staff we can't yet tell what notes to play. The absolute pitch of each line is indicated by the placement of a clef symbol at the appropriate vertical position on the left-hand side of the staff. We use Clefs to tell us which notes correspond to which lines or spaces. The most common clefs are the Treble Clef (also known as the G Clef) and the Bass Clef (or F Clef).


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The Treble Clef spirals around the second line from the bottom. This spiral tells us that notes on this line are G. The Bass Clef has two dots, above and below the second line from the top. The dots tell us that this line is F. The notes are arranged according to their placement in the alphabet.  For example, if we call a note on the first line of the staff G, then the next space above is A, and the line above that is B

A time signature to the right of the clef indicates the relationship between timing counts and note symbols, while bar lines group notes on the staff into measures.

Tonic-Solfa Notation
Toic-solfa Notation is based on movable-doh system of solmization. Notes of major scale are named (in ascending order) doh, ray, me, fah, soh, lah, te, where doh is the tonic, other notes being thus related to tonic of the moment, not fixed in pitch. Minor is treated as mode of the major, first note being lah, 2nd te, 3rd doh, etc.


This notation systems of teaching singing and sight reading were devised, the most prominent being tonic sol-fa, invented by Sarah Ann Glover (1785–1867) of Norwich, England and popularised by John Curwen who adapted it from a number of earlier musical systems.

Tonic sol-fa is a way to aural recognition of the relationship between the various notes of a scale. This supports inner hearing, singing from solfa notation and, ultimately, sight-singing from music notation. It facilitates memorisation, playing by ear and transposition, and also makes it easier to learn scales and to grasp many aspects of theory. 
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