Different Notes

The notes you’re used to reading aren’t the only ones that have been used to write music.

In February’s “Offbeat Notation,” we show how over time, musicians have used different styles of music notation to express their ideas. Tab, while common today, began hundreds of years ago, and has long served as an easier way for guitarists to read music. Lead sheets, used mostly in jazz, give players a shortcut to the heart of a song, allowing them to improvise on a new piece on the spot. And graphic notation, which emerged in the early 20th century, was led by artists seeking to redefine what it meant to write, read, and play music. Check out the examples below to see these styles of notation and other ways in which music can be notated.

Here is an example of guitar tablature for classical guitar, featuring tablature, rhythmic notation (see the note stems above the staff), and percussive notation:
Maurice Ravel – Bolero

Here is an excerpt from Cornelius Cardew’s graphic score for Treatise:

The development of MIDI and digital video editing technology has allowed artists to take “graphic notation” to a new level. Countless examples on YouTube show MIDI notation (essentially blocks of varying length that represent notes) used in creative ways to illustrate full pieces of music. Here’s an example: