Chromatic notation

• Nov 10, 2009 - 04:52

I know there is a lot of things to do with higher priority than this one and I probably wouldn't dare to ask if I would not have come quite close to a sattisfying result with Musescore already....

Well, the thing is that I use an alternative chromatic notation that has many benefits (which I am not going analyze right now but some may be obvious) but also contains some odd things in comparsion to the traditional notation.
Here are the main differences:

1. Only 2 lines in a stuff - this is what Musescore already supports without any problem (very nice, thanks for this!)

2. There are no accidentals, no sharps, no flats, each of the 12 notes has its unique position in a staff.
It is no problem to use it that way in Musescore as long as I do not expect a correct playback. I can live without that but perhaps there could be a way how to remap the pitches.

3. The black and white noteheads no more indicate a note lenght, instead of that they represent different pitches (c, d, e, f#, g#, a# are white, c#, d#, f, g, a, b (h) are black). For now, this is a main stopper for using it in Musescore. Perhaps there could be a way of using custom noteheads that are lenght - independent?

4. Rhythm notation is slightly different. Since black and white noteheads do not distinguish minims from crotchets anymore, the minims are written without a stem and whole note (semibreve) uses a symbol for double whole note (breve). For breve, a different symbol is used. No idea how to handle this one in Musescore. Partially it can be done by making minim stems invisible and using a different notehead shape for whole notes. I guess, resolving point 3. would make such workarounds somehow possible.

That's about it. There are ofcourse other things but they seem minor at this point.
In the attachment, there is a chromatic scale written in Musescore using 2-line chromatic notation with its equivalent in traditional notation and the picture (hand written) shows the note-lenght comparsion in both systems.

This approach to notation is not something completely new. There are already a few similar notation systems being used since late 50's and I am sure there a lot of lateral thinking musicians who would apreciate if there would be a software (like Musescore) that could to the job... Also, I found a website with many interesting info about this topic, which by the way also mention Musescore. There is also some info about addapting Lilypond to display and print music in alternative notation systems:

Thanks for reading this and for any suggestions!

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notation test.mscz 2.61 KB
notation test.pdf 48.53 KB
Note lenghts.png 10.04 KB


Hmm... hopefuly I will not remain just by myself in this discussion :)

I managed to put together two scores in the alternative chromatic notation with Musescore so for anyone who is interested, they are attached. It is well known Bach's Prelude in C major and Pavan by Spanish renessaince composer Luis de Milán.
It is mainly for picturing an idea of this notation system, altough it's benefits would be much more noticable for example in pieces by Debussy or Bartók where the scores are often fludded with flat, sharp and natural signs. (Which is not the case with chromatic notation, where it all looks much more logical. )

I am using this notation mainly because it is isometric so all the intervals in all keys have a consistent distance. I play a modern chromatic lyre on which I made the strings set in a way that it is isometric too so this notation also perfectly mirrors the fingering.

P.S. The scores were created with 0.9.6 prerelease so they won't open correctly in older versions.
And be prepared to hear funny things when you won't resist to hit the PLAY button :-)
Unfortunately, so far there is not much support for alternative notations in MS so I had to do some formatting acrobacy to make it look properly (every measure was a riddle...) but there seems to be no way to make it play correctly.

Please, feel free to post any questions or suggestions!

Today there are different alternative notation used by many musicians worldwide so what I am looking for and thinking of is to find a way for Musescore to support more custom setup of staff properties so anyone would be able to make his own staff style including different note shapes, stems and even pitches distribution.

Recently, I came across Finale to see what possibilities in terms of alt. notation it has and I was quite impressed (altough it is not software I particulary like). It allows to use "Staff Styles" where almost anything can be customized.

1. It would be awesome if Musescore had something like custom staff deffinition (screenshot attached) where it is possible to define not only numbers of lines in a staff (which MS already can to some degree) but also lines distribution within a wide range (much more than a standart 5-line staff). In my examples in post above I had to put together 3 staves with 2 lines by setting up a propper distance but this should be just 1 stuff.

2. Finale also does not support customization of pitches attached to different note positions but there is an interesting workaround - to use a percussion GM table where it is possible to set different pitch (defined by GM standard) for any note position (screenshot in the second attachment). It also allows to use any symbols from chosen font for noteheads (all lenghts). With this feature it is possible with some effort to make scores in possibly any alternative notation look and also sound properly. Moreover, when a staff style is properly defined, it can also work as a converter from one style (or whole notation system) to another.

So, this is just a few ideas for features in Musescore that I would apreciate infinitely...
And I hope someone around here is going to see the great benefits of new notation systems ;-)

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custom staff.png 50.81 KB
Percussion Layout Designer.png 72.17 KB

Hi Jan, Good to hear about your use of MuseScore with your notation system that uses a chromatic staff. It is encouraging that MuseScore gives you the ability to customize the staff (choosing which lines of the staff are shown, I assume?). Your pieces created in MuseScore look very nice!

I would like to add my voice as someone who is also very interested in seeing such advanced customization features for alternative notation systems -- either in MuseScore or another open source application (like Lilypond or Canorus). I realize that it's probably not a central concern for the developers, but would be curious if they would be open to including such customizations at some point, if they themselves or other programmers were interested in working on it. (This is the great thing about open-source, right?)

Here are a couple of features that would be great to see in MuseScore in the future:

1. Being able to remap the vertical staff positions to different pitches (chromatically) would be a great feature. As you say, this is possible in Finale with percussion maps. This would also allow MuseScore to support various kinds of percussion notation.

2. Being able to customize notehead shapes and fill-states (hollow or solid) would also be a great feature to have for various uses: percussion notation, shape-note notation, older kinds of notation that used different shapes, as well as use with various alternative notations. This is also possible with Finale and other notation programs.

The kinds of alternative notation systems that I'm interested in can be seen here:

All the best,

In reply to by ElRay

Hi Ray, I haven't actually tried this, but I believe that Jan was just adjusting some MuseScore settings to only show certain lines of the staff, customizing the staff, and then entering notes so that they would have the correct position on the staff (ignoring their pitch values in favor of getting the right visual output). I don't believe he had an automated way to do it. (You can do it automated with Finale...) Maybe Jan will reply and give more details?


In reply to by ElRay

Hi Ray! I was waiting for Musescore 1.0 to see if things gets any easier for chromatic notation. Unfortunately, not yet.
Paul is quite right, it was indeed a lot of workarounds I used to make scores in my Chromatic Lyre Notation ( using Musescore. It is still far from anything automated or convenient. However, if you want to give it a go, here come a few tips (you might want to adjust them according the notation system you want to use):

1. Staves.
To get the right number of lines in a staff, choose "Stave Properties" (right click anywhere on a staff) and in "Lines" box, choose 2 (or anything that works for you). To get another double-line, you need to create an additional staff and do the same thing. Then adjust the spacing between he staves in "Style" menu - "Edit General Style" - Page - Stave Distance = 2sp. Like that, you can add more staves to get wider range.

2. Noteheads.
To get the noteheads that differ from standard notation (e.g. quaver with hollow notehead), use the Note Heads palette and drag and drop any symbol from there to the notehead in your score you want to change. That replaces the original notehead. You can also add symbols to that palette from Symbols menu (Create - Symbols). Unfortunately, handling different font-symbols is a little bit inconsistent and it does not allow using symbols from different fonts, which is a major problem for me. I really need custom symbols to use my notation properly.

Learn how to use "Set Invisible" function (right click on anything). It is very useful. You can hide noteheads and replace them with anything else, you can hide stems and many other things. You can also use your own bitmaps and place them anywhere in the score (On Mac you can just drag & drop an image in the score).

3. Ledger Lines.
This is troublesome. For custom ledger lines you will probably need to use Lines palette and draw the lines yourself. But the worse thing is that MS does not seem to allow hiding ledger lines. Even when you go to "Edit General Style" - "Notes" and set the ledger lines width to 0, they are still being displayed and printed as well. This is probably a bug in Musescore that does not seem to bother anyone but me...

4. Playback.
I did not care about playback, I just needed the print. However, at this stage of MS, it is possible to get basic setup for chromatic notations together with correct playback using a Drumset. It is similar way of setup as in Finale when you can link midi notes to different possitions in the staff. Unfortunately, at the moment Musescore has far less options of customizing it than Finale. But it is still worth to try. Here is how:
Go to Stave Properties (right click on the staff) and select "Use Drumset" then click OK.
Right click on the staff again and select "Edit Drumset". A menu appears where you can assign midi notes to lines in the staff as you like and also chose one of four pre-defined sets of different notehead for any note.

5. Clefs.
Set the orginal clef invisible and replace it with one you need. I recommend using clefs or symbols from Symbols menu (Create - Symbols) rather than Clefs palette since it is easier to place it exactly where you want it. You can also use your own symbols as bitmaps.

There are few other things that you will realize on the go...
It is probably too early for complete How-To since Musescore at the current state is too limiting for customizing that we would need for proper using of chromatic notation systems. One of the main obstacles I see is that MS comes with built-in font that is being used for noteheads, stems, rests etc. and it does not allow to any other font to be used, nor customizng the built in one. True - there is an option of compiling it from source, so actually it is possible to add / change anything you like. This is the beauty of the open source. But you would need some programming skills to do that... Obviously, the developers of MS are busy implementing and polishing all the stuff for standard notation and they have done amazing job. But hopefuly there is also someone who is interested in all these inovations in notation systems and have a good knowledge of C++ and a lot of time :-)


In reply to by ElRay

Forgot to mention - Musescore now has a very useful option of changing the notehead group and type as well as the stem settings and some other things right in the Note Properties menu (right-click on the note). This makes some things in alternative notations a little bit easier but it still requires to edit each note separately (at least for CLN).

In reply to by jan_


I just grabbed 1.0. I'll have to give things another shot. One thing I don't remember, is how well MuseScore supports the concept of "templates". If they're not too bad, then I can do most of the grunt work once and save it off.

Fortunately, for my preferred notation, all I have to worry about is staff lines and the right number of ledger lines between staves. Playback would be nice, but something that beats using MS Visio for notation is great.

When I get some time, I'm going to try to incorporate Kevin Dalley b & Mark Hanlon's mods for LilyPond into the current release.


Thanks Jan for posting your tips!

ElRay, this is good to hear: "When I get some time, I'm going to try to incorporate Kevin Dalley b & Mark Hanlon's mods for LilyPond into the current release." I would really like to see that happen at some point.

You may already be aware that Drew Wagner has put their code up on Github for easier collaboration, and eventually easier to merge back into Lilypond:

More info:

Paul M

In reply to by PaulMorris

I knew about the github, and I had sent email via the "Contact Us" link (twice in the past year or so), but I've never received a response. I didn't know about the Google Group until today. It looks like all the focus is on the Google Group and none is on the website. There's a request on 15FEB for a copy & paste correction to one of the notation systems by the author, and the web site has not been updated yet.

The last time I looked at modifying LilyPond, all that existed were Kevin's original mods, and the LilyPond crew was essentially oblivious to their existence. It's nice that Kevin's mods have been updated again, and that they're at least at the level of beta code, but I'm curious why this is still an out-side branch and not part of the formal LilyPond development process. From what I've been able to dig-out of the Google Group is that the current patches do not work against the current LilyPond source code, so they're trying to manually do a 3-way diff.

Another thing to consider is if the current flock of LilyPond maintainers are oblivious/apathetic/antagonistic to Alternative Notations being part of the official product? Is the path that the current AN crew taking going to result in incorporation into the official LilyPond code? There was a while there that the programmer culture of LilyPond was that you worked-on what the core group wanted you to work-on, or you donated enough money to convince them that your issue was important enough.


In reply to by ElRay

"I knew about the github, and I had sent email via the "Contact Us" link (twice in the past year or so), but I've never received a response."

That's odd... do you mean the "contact us" link on Github, or on the MNP site (

"The last time I looked at modifying LilyPond, all that existed were Kevin's original mods, and the LilyPond crew was essentially oblivious to their existence. ..."

Kevin, Mark Hanlon, and now Drew Wagner's approach has been to get the new code working really well before trying to introduce it into the official Lilypond. (I always thought it made sense to merge sooner...) Kevin had started the process of proposing patches to the official branch when he got too busy to work on it any more. Later Mark picked it up, but by then the code was no longer working with the most recent version of Lilypond, so he worked to get it running with the newer versions, with some success. Most recently, Drew has picked it up, putting it up on Github, setting the stage for someone with the programming chops to update it to work with the most recent versions of Lilypond.

"Another thing to consider is if the current flock of LilyPond maintainers are oblivious/apathetic/antagonistic to Alternative Notations being part of the official product? ..."

Good questions. Kevin, Mark, and I have had exchanges with the Lilypond folks at various points. I believe the basic sense I got at one point was that they were happy to include it, but were wary about taking on the burden of keeping it working if future code changes broke it, so that would be up to us, or someone committed to keeping it working.

In reply to by PaulMorris

"That's odd... do you mean the "contact us" link on Github, or on the MNP site ("

The link off the MNP site. FWIW, I sent one email late 2009/early 2010 and then another sometime this year using the "info@" email address listed on:

No worries. I've "found" you guys. So if I can be of help, I'll do what I can.


In reply to by PaulMorris

I did a little digging and turns out there is already support for chromatic notations in LilyPond!
I created a page on the Music Notation Project wiki to document it:

Some of these features are from Kevin Dalley's work, others are not, and not all of Kevin's most recent code has been incorporated (yet). But LilyPond already has the features to automatically produce sheet music in a wide range of chromatic notation systems.

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