Monday, February 02, 2009

Textual Melodic Notation

I wanted to develop a way to record the melodies of my songs with a simple text editor that uses a normal Roman font. This document describes that method. It is best viewed in a fixed pitch font. It is also duplicated in the Writings From 2009 section of my website That page will be updated as necessary.


Most songs do not change pitch much between notes and it is rare to change more than one octave in a song. As such, in this notation note pitch should be seen as relative to the previous note.

For the most part it is sufficient to list the notes and assume that the next note is the closest one. However to further clarify this, upper or lower case lettering is used to indicate the relative placement of the notes. Lower case, smaller letters, means the note is higher than the previous one and upper case, larger letters, indicates the note is lower. The first note should be upper case.

Whole octave shifts are much more rare than the same note appearing twice, so the same letter twice in a row indicates the same pitch even if the case is different. In such situations the case should remain the same unless it is neater or more easily understood to change case (in a phrase that is repeated for example).

Cde eDC

Indicates the notes C, D and E ascending then descending.


Is an identical alternative. The case of the two E notes is not relevant because they are next to each other.


Would be three notes repeated twice as in "Three Blind Mice".


Indicates that the D is lower than the C, so almost an octave lower. The e is two semitones higher than the D.

Octave Shifts

In rare cases of a shift of more than one octave, the number of octaves shifted is placed below the note.


Indicates a jump up of two semitones and one octave between C and D.

cc or Cc
1 1

Would mean a jump up of one octave, as in the lyric "Some-where" from Over The Rainbow.

CC or cC
1 1

Would mean a jump down of one octave.

Sharps and Flats

+ should indicate a sharp (eg. C+ is C sharp).
- should indicate a flat (B- is B flat).


Chords should be written using the following notation which mimics standard pop chord notation.

M or no symbol for major triad (eg. C or CM for a C major triad)
m for minor triad (eg. Cm)
+ for augmented triad (eg. C+)
o for diminished triad (eg. Co)
4 for suspended fourth (eg. C4)
2 for suspended second (eg. C2)

"nc" can be used to indicate no chord. Chords are presumed to be sustained otherwise.

There is no standard notation for sevenths or larger due to the large quantity of possiblities which are rarely entirely needed in one composition. More complex chord notation should use numbers (followed if necessary by other ASCII characters) with written notes at the top of the composition to indicate the type of chords, eg. "1 is used for Augmented-Major 7th (eg. C1)". Such notation should limit the chord notation to one character if possible.


Timing is indicated by using other characters as markers. A full-stop (period) "." is used to indicate a silent beat. If a note is to be sustained, a greater than ">" sign should be used. A slash "/" should indicate the end of a bar. The beats can be any width that will accommodate any desired lyrics. Spaces should flank the beat marks to permit sharp/flat notes and chord notation. Notes should appear at the beginning of the beat marks. The number of beats per bar should be used to accommodate the shortest notes in the melody.

Two empty bars with four beats per bar can look like any of the following:

. . . . / . . . . /

... ... ... ... / ... ... ... ... /

..... ..... ..... ..... / ..... ..... ..... ..... /

With notes:

C d e C / C . . . /

C.. d.. e.. C.. / C.. ... ... ... /

C.... d.... e.... C.... / C.... ..... ..... ..... /

Overall Structure

Each row should appear in one to four lines with equal spacing to allow easy reading in a fixed pitch font.

Chords (optional)
Octave shift (optional)
Lyrics (optional)


Frère Jacques, traditional.
8 beats per bar.

C . d . e . C . / C . d . e . C . / e . f . g . . . / E . f . g . . . /

g a G F E . C . / g a G F E . C . / C . G . c . . . / c . G . c . . . /

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