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I'm sure that most of you know that writing out music is very time consuming, whether you're spending 20 minutes on drawing your staff neatly for your notes to sit on, or constantly erasing notes on Finale because your mouse slipped by a centimeter and placed a Snare Drum buzz roll instead of a rim shot.

 

Over the years of composing marching percussion music, I've developed another method of composing music that may prove useful to composers with limited time. Because this is so different in comparison to the notation that has always been used throughout the history of music, this probably won't gain any popularity at all among percussion composers. But I guess this is worth a shot, since it works for me, and might work for you. So let me begin presenting to you what I call the "Alphabet Notation" for rhythm or percussion.

This is what one measure of rest looks like:

 

/ [ . . . . ] [ . . . . ] [ . . . . ] [ . . . . ] /

 

/ = measure bar

[] = one count

. = 16th subdivision of a measure

 

A note's value is determined by the number of "." subdivisions that follow it (A 1/16th note having no following subdivisions, an 1/8th note having one following subdivision, and a 1/4 note having 3).

Keep in mind that one count can fit four 16th notes in it.

 

The classic "Eights" warm-up would look like this:

 

TD (4/4) / [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] / [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] / And so on...

BD (4/4) / [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] [ 1 . 1 . ] / [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] [ 2 . 2 . ] / And so on...

SD (4/4) / [ R . R . ] [ R . R . ] [ R . R . ] [ R . R . ] / [ L . L . ] [ L . L . ] [ L . L . ] [ L . L . ] / And so on...

 

For tenor and bassline, notes are represented by numbers corresponding to drum size.

s = Spock Drum 1

S = Spock Drum 2

5 = Bass 5

X = rimshot

x = stick click

r = on the rim

 

For snareline:

R/L = right or left hand for each note

Rr/Ll = flam notes

Rz/Lz = buzzed notes

X = rimshot

x = stick click

r = on the rim

 

Tremolo is tricky, but hear me out. As most of you know, a tremolo line divides the notes value by two and fills the original value with notes of the new value. (A 1/4 note with a tremolo sounds like two eight notes; an 1/8th note with a tremolo sounds like two 16th notes.) In alphabet notation, consider this and maintain the count's value of four 16th subdivisions. When adding tremolo lines in this notation, you need to cancel out the subdivisions that the sound of the tremolo note goes over in that count. For example:

 

(4/4) / [ R . L . ] [ R . L . ] [ R, L, ] [ R, L, ] //

 

The first two counts are normal. But on counts three and four, you can see that I didn't include the second and fourth subdivisions on that count. That's because with the "," tremolo line, the eight note's value doubles into the next subdivision. Applying this concept may become increasingly difficult with drags on 16th notes, thus creating 32nd notes.

 

To put it somewhat simple, you eliminate the "." subdivision that is played over with the preceding tremolo note. 

 

Two tremolo lines indicate a double stroke roll, which is basically 32nd notes filling the value of the original note. When placing two tremolo lines on a "[ R . . . ]" quarter note, you would write [ R,, ] since the entire count is played through, leaving no room for "." subdivisions. When placing two tremolo lines on "[ R . R .]" one of two 1/8th notes, you would write [R,, R . ] since the roll fills the 1/8th note value, leaving no room for the subdivision after the "R."

 

Moving on, triplet figures indicated by underlining. For example,

 

(4/4) / [ R L R L R L ] [ R . R L L ] [[ R Rl Rl ]] / [ R L R ] [ L R L ] [ R . . . ] [ R L L ] / [ R . . . ] [ . . . . ] [ . . . . ] [ . . . . ] //

**Envision the bracket topped with a "3" that indicates a triplet figure in traditional notation.** 

 

The first count in the first measure presents a sextuplet figure, while the second count presents an regular 1/8th note followed by a triplet figure of 1/8th notes. For figures that last more than one count, you can combine the count brackets like I did in the first measure. It presents a triplet figure of quarter notes in the third and fourth counts. And in the second measure, the first, second and fourth counts present 1/8th note triplet figures, with a regular quarter note on the third count.

 

Time signature in boldface preceding the first measure. Dynamics can be placed before the count in which it should be expressed in italics or cursive. Crescendos/Decrescendos between counts.

For example:

 

TD (4/4) / [ 1 . 2 2 ] [ 3 . 4 . ] [ 3, 2, ] [ 1, S . ] / [ 1 1 1, ] > [ 2 2 2, ] > [ 3 3 3, ] > [ 4 4 4, ] > / p [ 4 . 4 4 ] [ . 4 4 . ] [ 4 . . . ] [ . . . . ] // 

 

>/< = crescendo or decrescendo

And Accents indicated by bold faced notes.

 

I'm sure most of you understand that one count consists of 4 16th subdivisions. That's basically what this notation is based on. There are no rests, you're pretty much looking at the subdivisions for each count and plugging in the notes from there. I believe this can make music translatable through keyboard without needing a special program. And when writing music by hand, this can safe the time-consuming preparations, like drawing the 5-line staff.

 

And this is new, so of course, there's tons of room for evolution if Alphabet Notation turns out useful to anyone else.

Edited by PlumBobDude
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That is very insightful to read and I think I will take note of this because with percussion I usually just create sort of wing it and create a hip-hop vibe that has an orchestral edge to it but I want to dive deeper than that so this is really helpful.

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I'll credit you with an interesting idea that may be useful as a composer's shorthand, it is impractical for any sort of performance materials. The information is packed far too densely in a single alphanumeric stream to be comprehended by a performer.

Consider that traditional notation has a hierarchy of information centered on the staff:

              Rehearsal Marks
              Tempo / Style
              Technical Instructions
STAFF:  Notes (incl. Clef and Key Signature) and Rhythms (incl. Meter and Barlines)
              Articulations (accents, slurring, etc.) (may also be above depending on stem direction)
              Dynamics
              Expression
              Pedaling (for piano)

This is important for two reasons:

1. It allows the staff to be (roughly) a pitch and rhythm grid, making it possible to see the overall shape of the music.

2. It allows the performer to focus primarily on the staff for the most frequent information, while making less frequent information stand out by appearing in the white space above and below the staff.

So, despite being an archaic-looking system, music notation has significant usability advantages that would need to be replicated by a new system.

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