an unorthodox quintuple duration symbol - how to do it?

• Apr 18, 2016 - 05:07

Hey all you smart people

I want to implement this unorthodox syntax for "quintuple duration" symbols.

Whereas a dot extends a note by one half of itself, this syntax is like a "half dot", extending the note by one quarter of itself. e.g. a whole quarter is elongated by a quarter, and a half note is extended by an extra eighth. With this syntax it becomes easy to represent notes that are a duration of five beats or five subdivisions.

For more info:

Is this possible?


No, it's not possible right now and I doubt it will ever be. MuseScore focus on common western music notation and it's already complex enough :)

In reply to by Nicolas

Thank you for your prompt reply! I understand the importance of prioritizing features in software development. Now I understand that MuseScore doesn't have a way to build custom symbols that occupy configurable rhythmic subdivisions. I found a way to do what I desire with a simple hack, so all is well.
Maybe some day I'll put on my programmer hat and make a plugin for this ;)

In reply to by ian-ring

I've played (long ago) modern pieces for guitar with this kind of special notation explained above the score, they don't surprise me.
On the other hand, the Scriabin example doesn't "speak" to me, I find the classic version much more readable than the modified one due to the left hand.

Isn't this a solution in search of a problem?
Looking at the Scriabin example: In this new approach the time signature becomes 10/16 (from 2/4). Now generally the figure below signifies the beat. But nobody can count sixteenths if the tempo is crotchet = 80. Of course the beat stays the same if you just write down the same music in a new way. So you'd have to make sure people understand that the beat-unit is now 5/16, not 1/16 (e.g. indirectly by giving a metronome figure: 5/16 = 80).

On a more general level: If there are things that might be reformed in notation (as we use it now) there would be greater priorities:
1. Do away with transposing instrument notation. Everybody can learn to read concert pitch.
2. Simplify clefs, e.g. all clefs are C clefs on the middle line; there would be one for every octave or every second octave.

This would significantly speed up the learning curve for learning to read music. It would also render all existing sheet music unusable (as would the proposal here if fully implemented to any music with quintuplets or heptuplets in it).

In reply to by azumbrunn

I'm currently writing a piece where this is a real problem in search of a solution, not the other way around. The rhythm I'm capturing is not complicated, but to notate it requires either 1) a horrid number of tied notes, or 2) tuplets-within-tuplets. A simple notation for extending a note's duration by one quarter of itself would make the entire page more legible, simple, accurate, and unambiguous.

I have come to accept that MuseScore can't create a note that occupies 5 subdivisions, so I'm employing a hack which involves changing the notes' appearance, and adding an invisible rest with one quarter of the note's duration.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

While I agree that people can be slow to adopt new conventions, they can also be quick to understand new contraptions - especially if they are simple, elegant, practical.

I've changed my initial approach; instead of using the note with a backslash through it as suggested by that paper, I am using a modified dot which looks like a 5-pointed star. The result is that it looks similar to a dotted note, the syntax is familiar, but the grapheme is noticeably different. The star-shaped-dot indicates the duration is to be extended by 1/4 of itself, instead of being extended by 1/2. Explicit instructions in the performance notes explain it clearly for anyone who doesn't immediately grok what's going on with those.

This is one of those unusual cases where doing something unconventional made the score easier to read, and easier to understand. Musicians may shake their fists at the heavens and curse the audacity of contemporary composers creating weird new things... and I'm so OK with that.

Probably worth mentioning that this is classical music for solo piano, so it's not like an entire orchestra of expensive unionized players are going to get pissed off about having to sight-read it without mistakes on the first try. :)

It will be a few more days before this piece is published, and then you can see the final result.

In reply to by ian-ring

I do believe though that the tuplet is simple, elegant and even easy to read. I think it is easier to follow the instruction "fit five equal notes into this amount of time" than the instruction "play every sixteenth a quarter longer".

Note that Scriabin does not explicitly write tuplets except for the two triplets--which you still need to retain at any rate. He relies on the pianist's easy understanding that he needs to play quintuplets where necessary since they always go simultaneous to quadruple or duple rhythm. So no clutter in Scriabin's original, but lots of unusual symbols in the new version. BTW I am sure you know that Scriabin's rhythms are not for beginners.

Quintuplets are hard in part because they are relatively rare and people cheat most of the time by playing a triplet followed by a duplet (or the other way round) rather than an even division in 5. They don't call it cheating of course; they call it rubato. It requires practice if you want to get this perfect and you can be a musician for years without practicing it. There is also always an interpretation decision necessary: Do you play a weak accent in the group (such as the third note in a quadruple rhythm) and do you play it on the third or the fourth of the quintuplet notes?

In reply to by azumbrunn

Thanks for your prompt reply. What I'm writing is the inverse of a tuplet. It's not "fit five notes into this duration", it's "make one note that is 5 durations long". This is to avoid writing a minim tied to a quaver, over and over and over. It's a note of duration 5.

"play each sixteenth a quarter longer" is a fascinating idea actually. Say I have 4 of those, and I play them as written. The total duration of those 4 notes would be 5 beats. So if I'm in a 5-based meter, I could use that notation to write a 4-let. :)

The math works out that if you have four 16*'s, that will equal the same as one 4*. In a piece with a 5-based meter, you can slip into a "quad feel" for a bit by putting stars on all the notes. yeah baby!

To further indulge the thought experiment, of course I could turn the rhythm inside out and say that the entire measure is one duration and I'm fitting five things into it and call it a 5-tuplet. In that case, almost every note in the entire composition would be part of a tuplet, and my triplets within that meter would turn into little 15th-part-lets. (Let's not do that).

In reply to by azumbrunn

1. Do away with transposing instrument notation. Everybody can learn to read concert pitch.
2. Simplify clefs, e.g. all clefs are C clefs on the middle line; there would be one for every octave or every second octave.
This would significantly speed up the learning curve for learning to read music.

So doing quicker means better?
I can read directly transposed score without problem. I can read any clef without problem. My students can do the same. I compose directly transposed in full score by hand.
You perhaps are not aware of the significancy of the transposing notation.

However, there is problem of this society in "no having time". Fast food is not good for the public health.

Your proposal is academic, but not usable. Even beginners can understand quintuple.
You should definitely read Gardner Read's book "Source Book of Proposed Music Notation Reforms", if you haven't. I think, since 1900 there were about several hundreds, perhaps thousand proposals for "better" notation. I don't remember I saw any single that was accepted.

In reply to by edizioneo

Doing quicker does not mean better. But saving unnecessary work actually does mean better.

For example: I am German speaking and I am very much in favor of abandoning the capitalization of nouns. It is true that I have zero problems with it but why waste our children's time with the arcane rules of when to capitalize and when not? (For non-German speakers: The rule only seems simple until you get into cases like verbs used as nouns--as in "the playing of music"--etc.). German is just the same language without capitalized nouns.

And music could sound exactly the same with a reformed notation. Only--unlike the spelling rules--it would require extensive relearning for already established practitioners and that is too high a price.

I agree with you on the proposal by @ian-ring though.

In reply to by azumbrunn

I am not sure how removing the capitalization will save time. I am not professor of German grammar and literature so I can't comment.

But I can comment about the transposing instruments and clefs. Question to you: why do we have transposing instruments?

In reply to by edizioneo

It won't save time for the educated (technically it saves you pressing the shift key, but it's hardly a significant savings) any more than doing away with transposing instrument notation would save time for trained musicians.

What it would save is time during the education; I believe about 25% of the school time we spent on spelling went to the rules about capitalizing nouns (as I said the rule sounds simple, but it is highly complex when you start looking at details); significant time that might have been spent on history or maths or--who knows--music!

You don't have to be professor of anything to understand; it is enough to have undergone the long slog in our school years.

In reply to by edizioneo

Different clefs, so you can define what range of notes is on the staff, and you can clearly tell that the left hand of a piano score is not usually in exactly the same range as the right hand; transposing instruments, originally to do with different partials in horns, later used to ensure that all saxophones' sheet music is interchangeable, and if it looks like the same note it will use the same fingering.

In reply to by Isaac Weiss

You were not supposed to answer this question. It was supposed to expose my ignorance, now the chance is lost...
And: Wouldn't it be wonderful if the viola clef were a fifth off the violin clef, so that every violinist can sightread on the viola? Like the saxophonists...

In reply to by azumbrunn

The Internet is really a great place for all kind of amateurs to publicly be heard about topics they don’t really have knowledge, pretending to reveal or say something very important. That kind of amateurism is very dangerous. Nothing is more disgusting than to see beginners to pretend to be gurus, and forums are a great place for pollution of all kind of amateurish ideas. If you pretend to be a spiritual guru or a medical guru - the consequences can be very tragic. But for music: I can say just this "respect it", as much as you would respect a doctor.

This forum is full of great ideas by amateurs, who really don’t have idea what they are talking about, and usually being upset when they have been given advices or help.
Remember, I have a huge respect and give support for amateur musicians, but please be silent about things you don't know.

To much amateurism in MuseScore is threatening.

Hi folks,
Just to cap off this discussion, I have submitted the star notation as a proposal among a group of professional music engravers, and the response was predominantly positive. There are several alternative symbols that have been used in the past for exactly this purpose, including the slashed notehead, a plus sign as a modifier, and an interesting method of putting a dot both before and after the notehead. Amid these alternatives, the star notation has merit because of its distinctive legibility.

The polished version of the proposal is here:

In addition to MuseScore, I am currently enlisting helpers to create plugins for Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico which will allow a note or rest to have a 5/4 duration using a star modifier.

I've started a discussion on the plugins forum in case anyone wants to help out with building the plugin for MuseScore.

Ian Ring

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