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Hi!


I have played my way through G Coover's Christmas Carol book on my Jackie 30 key English

I am far from proficient but I can kinda read music now and seem to be asking the weird questions:

 

  • Why does a staff have five lines when there are 12 semitones?
  • If a piece of music is in G-Major but it has zero F#s why is it not in C-Major?
  • How do I transpose a piece of music (because I don't have a  D4)?
  • How do I get better?

 

So, on that last one....

 

I know nobody who owns a concertina Anglo or English - how do I go about finding someone to teach me?

 

Just ring a local music shop?  Ask a local school music teacher?  Ask concertina.net?

 

I live near Bideford in North Devon - can anyone recommend a teacher?

 

Phil

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The answer to your staff questions is: "because tradition". It all started with only four lines and neumes (pitch only notes without duration) to notate religious chants and then everything invented later was crudely bolted onto this foundation. Also, great many elements stem from the scarcity of paper to write music on. This is why western notation is so illogical, complicated and require extensive memorisation.

There are alternative notation systems, and you can read more about them here: https://musicnotation.org but they all have one common flaw - you have to create your own sheet music in them, you won't find anything ready made. Moreover, there is only one piece of software, and only on a Mac, that allows for easy conversion between traditional notation and alternatives and at the same time offers playback. Personally I use the one called 6-6 Parncutt tetragram, as it has a very strong relation to how Hayden duet keyboard is arranged. Most alternative notations have repeatability (each pitch will always land on the same line/space/ledger line) and many of them are similar to compressed piano roll type of notation popular on YT videos.

In many of those alternative systems, transposing a piece only requires a parallel shift of the staff up or down, without any alteration to note marks. In traditional notation however, your best way to transpose will be input the music into something like Musescore and use transpose up/down option.

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Join the West Country Concertina Players (WCCP) for £10pa, it is worth every penny. They are very helpful and will have members who can answer all and more of your questions and they also provide teaching and learning opportunities for all types of Concertina. I expect they will have some members close to you as well.

 

They have a website and facebook pages so won't be far away.

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Why does a staff have five lines when there are 12 semitones?

 

 

A lot of music doesn't use all 12 semitones (and I'm just gonna ignore microtonal and atonal stuff), and the relationship between the semitones used in a particular piece of music are part of what gives it its character. It's more common to use only 7 notes in your scale, which is why we label notes A-G and then use sharps and flats to adjust the semitone relationships. The reason for using a mix of lines and spaces, instead of giving each note a line, is that the line-space arrangement helps highlight significant note relationships, such as thirds and fifths. There's also a consideration of compactness in the notation. There are certainly compromises in standard music notation, but it's a good system for the purposes it's designed for.

 

 

If a piece of music is in G-Major but it has zero F#s why is it not in C-Major?

 

Again, it's about the (perceived) relationships between the notes of the scale. Which note feels like resolution/ending? That's going to be your root note, even if you didn't use all the notes from a scale that has it as the root.

 

 

How do I transpose a piece of music (because I don't have a  D4)?

 

Adjust each note by the same number of semitones. Look at the distance between the root note of the key the music is in and the root note of the key you want to change it to.

 

 

How do I get better?

 

Practice. Teachers are also a good idea, but that won't help if you don't practice.

 

If you can't find any local teachers, there are a number of folks that offer zoom lessons. Some of them frequent concertina.net. If you absolutely can't find anybody to teach concertina, you might consider looking for someone who teaches a different instrument, such as violin. You won't learn as much instrument-specific technique that way, but it can help improve your general musicality.

 

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7 minutes ago, Łukasz Martynowicz said:

The answer to your staff questions is: "because tradition". It all started with only four lines and neumes (pitch only notes without duration) to notate religious chants and then everything invented later was crudely bolted onto this foundation. Also, great many elements stem from the scarcity of paper to write music on. This is why western notation is so illogical, complicated and require extensive memorisation.

 

I've got to agree with the basic claim here - the notation we have was produced organically over time, and there's a lot of weird history that led to the specific representation we've got. I'll stand by my statement that it's still a decent system, though (that's not the same as the best!). I think it would have been abandoned long ago if it wasn't. There are things it's not good at, but it's still a useful tool for communicating, at least about certain types of music. In my mind, the value of communicating with other people is the main reason not to abandon it for a freshly designed system that addresses some of its shortcomings.

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14 minutes ago, Steve Schulteis said:

 

I've got to agree with the basic claim here - the notation we have was produced organically over time, and there's a lot of weird history that led to the specific representation we've got. I'll stand by my statement that it's still a decent system, though (that's not the same as the best!). I think it would have been abandoned long ago if it wasn't. There are things it's not good at, but it's still a useful tool for communicating, at least about certain types of music. In my mind, the value of communicating with other people is the main reason not to abandon it for a freshly designed system that addresses some of its shortcomings.

 

Well, from all discussions here and elsewhere, the main reason why traditional notation is used is because... it is traditional :D If you want to play any classical piece of music, you can read it straight from the original source. I bet, that if someone transcribed a huge repository of public domain sheets into any chromatic notation system, many people would use it instead. And sort of exactly this is achieved by ABC notation for trad music and piano roll notation for computer assisted play (when you play on MIDI keyboard connected to a computer displaying piano roll or use a tablet instead of paper sheets).

To be clear - the rhytm part of the notation is very easy to learn and read, only the pitch part is awful. Many of those alternative notations use the same or very similar note duration representation.

Edited by Łukasz Martynowicz
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2 minutes ago, Łukasz Martynowicz said:

I bet, that if someone transcribed a huge repository of public domain sheets into any chromatic notation system, many people would use it instead. And sort of exactly this is achieved by ABC notation for trad music and piano roll notation for computer assisted play (when you play on MIDI keyboard connected to a computer displaying piano roll or use a tablet instead of paper sheets).

 

I'm less optimistic it would get much uptake. I guess I'm kind of saying that I agree with you that the inertia of tradition is hard to overcome. The current system is "good enough", and that's going to make it hard for a better system to replace it.

 

I think ABC and piano roll have gained adoption because they serve somewhat different purposes than standard notation. There's overlap, but they each have something they do much, much better than traditional notation. They also do some things much, much worse. Horses for courses and all that.

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13 minutes ago, Steve Schulteis said:

 

I'm less optimistic it would get much uptake. I guess I'm kind of saying that I agree with you that the inertia of tradition is hard to overcome. The current system is "good enough", and that's going to make it hard for a better system to replace it.

 

I think ABC and piano roll have gained adoption because they serve somewhat different purposes than standard notation. There's overlap, but they each have something they do much, much better than traditional notation. They also do some things much, much worse. Horses for courses and all that.

 

Oh, but I agree, just elaborating. I still use traditional notation, as everything I start working on starts as a traditional sheet. But for the love of me, I simply can't learn to sight read a system in which the same note from different octave lands in a different looking part of the staff. Different per octave and different for treble and bass clef. Vertical scale not having anything to do with the flow of the pitch is another problem for me. I can decipher it, but I can't read it fluently. And then I've been able to sight read Parncutt after a day of fiddling with it. IMHO what both ABC and piano roll do better is accessibility for newcomers. Western notation (and by extension, those alternative notations, that were invented by composers) of course beats ABC and piano roll when it comes to complex music, but has absurdly high entry point.

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Why does a staff has 5 lines when there are 12 semitones?

 

That is an interestingly insightful question.

 

The simple answer is because for most music, we think in scales rather than semitones.

 

The standard major scale has 8 notes.  These cover a range of 12 semitones, but those semitones appear s predictable patterns of 1 semitone, or 2 (i.e. a tone.)

 

In a sense, it's a bit like saying, why do we call  car a "4 wheel drive" rather than counting the wheel nuts.  In another very real sense, that is an extremely bad analogy.

 

So a major scale in C is C D E F G A B c and the pattern after the first C is:

Tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone semitone.

 

The notes are important: 7 different letter names, and 8 notes because the pattern repeats every octave.

 

The staff or stave developed as a simple visual aid to where each note is positioned.

 

5 lines and 4 spaces gives 9 positions for the note, plus 1 "sitting on top" and 1 "hanging below".  The stave provides a total of 11 positions for 11 notes before you need a ledger line.

 

If the stave represented semitones, then to cover exactly those 11 notes of the scale from D above middle C, up to high G, from you would need 18 positions.  The nearest approximation would be 8 lines, with 7 spaces, + 1 sitting on top and 1 hanging below = 17 positions, or 9 lines (8 spaces, + 1 on top and 1 below) = 19 positions.

 

A stave with 8 or 9 lines would be harder to read at a glance, and would not give useful additional information, because with the existing stave, you already know which note it is, and you know whether to modify it by a semitone by either the key signature or an accidental # or b sign.

 

So the simple answer is: it's easier to read, and still gives you all the information you need.  You can go a long way in music without ever having to think directly about semi tones.

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1 hour ago, Mikefule said:

Why does a staff has 5 lines when there are 12 semitones?

 

That is an interestingly insightful question.

 

The simple answer is because for most music, we think in scales rather than semitones.

 

The standard major scale has 8 notes.  These cover a range of 12 semitones, but those semitones appear s predictable patterns of 1 semitone, or 2 (i.e. a tone.)

 

In a sense, it's a bit like saying, why do we call  car a "4 wheel drive" rather than counting the wheel nuts.  In another very real sense, that is an extremely bad analogy.

 

So a major scale in C is C D E F G A B c and the pattern after the first C is:

Tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone semitone.

 

The notes are important: 7 different letter names, and 8 notes because the pattern repeats every octave.

 

The staff or stave developed as a simple visual aid to where each note is positioned.

 

5 lines and 4 spaces gives 9 positions for the note, plus 1 "sitting on top" and 1 "hanging below".  The stave provides a total of 11 positions for 11 notes before you need a ledger line.

 

If the stave represented semitones, then to cover exactly those 11 notes of the scale from D above middle C, up to high G, from you would need 18 positions.  The nearest approximation would be 8 lines, with 7 spaces, + 1 sitting on top and 1 hanging below = 17 positions, or 9 lines (8 spaces, + 1 on top and 1 below) = 19 positions.

 

A stave with 8 or 9 lines would be harder to read at a glance, and would not give useful additional information, because with the existing stave, you already know which note it is, and you know whether to modify it by a semitone by either the key signature or an accidental # or b sign.

 

So the simple answer is: it's easier to read, and still gives you all the information you need.  You can go a long way in music without ever having to think directly about semi tones.

 

The part of "harder to read" is very, deeply wrong. Look at this link https://musicnotation.org/systems/. Parncutt 6-6 chromatic notation I use (a variant of A-B chromatic notation listed under the link) has 4 lines and two ledger lines and then the pattern repeats - next 4 lines, next two ledger lines and so on. It is really intuitive and fast to read, each note will always land on the same line/space/ledger line, the vertical distance is exact distance in semitones, so the flow of note marks exactly follows the flow of melody, and each type of chord always look the same. It also has a "built in" black & white key piano pattern. Apart from different staff and vertical location of notes, Parncutt 6-6 uses everything else straight from traditional notation, except for things, that are obsolete (but you still can put sharp and flat marks if you wish, I use colour coding for even easier sight reading).

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And don't forget there was the "Great stave" at one stage ... Whereby you had ever more lines of stave to cope with. ( More than five)!..Thankfully ledger lines suffice, later on, to  indicate those extra lower notes, to reduce that need generaly; in more modern terms.

Edited by SIMON GABRIELOW
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11 hours ago, Łukasz Martynowicz said:

 

The part of "harder to read" is very, deeply wrong. 

Nope, my personal opinion of what is harder to read is not deeply wrong.  Neither is your personal opinion. 

 

I followed your link and all I personally saw was complexity.  Maybe it's just what you get used to.

 

I doubt that the established system is at risk of being replaced.  That may be intertia or it may be due to some objective advantage/disadvantage of one system or the other.

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I agree with Mike, and I would also like to add the 0,02 that "ease of reading" does not necessarily correlate with "faster road to musicianship." Teaser: Given two hypothetical individuals, one of which learns reading music the traditional way and the other one an "easier to render" notation system. Will the second achieve the same musical level faster just because of an "easier road to music"?

 

Simply pondering that question (which of course is not answerable in the first place) makes it obvious that the approach is wrong. As an analogy, let us look at open guitar tunings: Tune a guitar, say, DGDGBD. Any beginner who starts out with that tuning (let us call him Joe) will have a much less steep learning curve to ascend compared to someone who begins with the "standard" tuning EADGBE (let us call her Sally), because in order to accompany your standard three-chord songs, all you need to finger is open/bar 5/bar 7. So while Sally still has to fumble her way through changing fingers between a G and a D chord shape, Joe already accompanies himself singing "Island in the Sun" with little trouble.

 

Needless to say, "real music" is equally complex and hard to accomplish with either tuning, so both Joe and Sally will need to go through many many hours of disciplined drill, labor, repetitions and (possibly) frustration until either can play "The girl of Ipanema" satisfactorily. Then again, neither may get there - an estimated 70% of guitar players never make it beyond three chords accompaniments. And there is nothing wrong with that. Making music is all about having fun at whatever level one is satisfied. Yet: A faster lane to fast food dishes does not make the way to gourmet food any faster.

 

I look at the notation discussion in a similar way. I do not think that any notation is inherently better or worse than any other, and by all means, everyone should ideally have equal unbiased access to all notation systems to find the one that best suits him or her (though there is always the danger of getting lost in picking one instead of simply using one if the choices are too many). Yet, in the puzzle that makes a person a good musician (by whatever standards that is measured), the notation is only one piece - and, imho, a possibly overrated one as music happens in the ear, so any attempt to render it through the eye must by definition be a crutch and a detour. Some of the best musicians I know do not read music at all, no tabs, no abc, no staff system.

 

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Yes, it is a compromise, to some degree, how music is written down on the page, as to how the idea is heard in the mind's eye. I usually manage to get down the tune as I feel it needs to be, quite closely to the conceived vision.  Then there's the dots, stems, and blobs that symbolically represent that sound, and that has to be made ( if done on the page standard ways)..legible enough that a person can read it, and play the tune in a recognisable manner, at least to how the creator envisaged it ( or close enough).

My way is handwriting the music which I prefer, and which really made me have to understand the structure of notes, and how to form everything the usual way in order to convert the conceived sound vision into repeatable melody on the page.

And I do not have all the theoretical knowledge of music that many in academia have, but enough to put the ideas down as I see and hear them.

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3 hours ago, RAc said:

I look at the notation discussion in a similar way. I do not think that any notation is inherently better or worse than any other,

 

As someone working in user experience, I think we can probably test different systems and find that they perform better or worse at certain tasks on average. Individuals may have different experiences, of course. There's also the question of what "better" means. Changing standard notation to improve readability (of what? Notes? Chords? Diatonic music? Chromatic music? etc.) may sacrifice other desirable qualities.

 

3 hours ago, RAc said:

Yet, in the puzzle that makes a person a good musician (by whatever standards that is measured), the notation is only one piece

 

Agreed.

 

3 hours ago, RAc said:

any attempt to render it through the eye must by definition be a crutch and a detour.

 

I agree that notation isn't necessary for musicianship, but I don't think it's fair to describe it as only a crutch or detour. As I said above, it has immense value for communication. There's a lot of music that would have been lost entirely if it hadn't been written down in a system that other people could interpret much later. It would also be hard to create a symphony if the composer had to communicate the different parts to each performer aurally.

Edited by Steve Schulteis
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15 minutes ago, Steve Schulteis said:

 

I agree that notation isn't necessary for musicianship, but I don't think it's fair to describe it as only a crutch or detour. As I said above, it has immense value for communication. There's a lot of music that would have been lost entirely if it hadn't been written down in a system that other people could interpret much later. It would also be hard to create a symphony if the composer had to communicate the different parts to each performer aurally.

 

I agree with you! 😁

 

The "crutch" term solely referred to the relationship between the primary (hearing) and secondary (eyesight) sense - ranking with respect to music - within a single human music maker. In that sense notation is by definition a detour. As a musical communication language between humans (any) notation doubtlessly has its second level value and justification, as you rightly point out.

 

I was focussing on the subdiscussion that focussed on how "hard" or "easy" a given notation system would be to read/render for the player of an instrument (a question that solely addresses the crutch/detour aspect of a notation, not its communication/preservation function).   

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6 hours ago, Mikefule said:

Nope, my personal opinion of what is harder to read is not deeply wrong.  Neither is your personal opinion. 

 

I followed your link and all I personally saw was complexity.  Maybe it's just what you get used to.

 

I doubt that the established system is at risk of being replaced.  That may be intertia or it may be due to some objective advantage/disadvantage of one system or the other.


I was only referring to the „nine lines are necessary, which makes such staff harder to read” part, which, as demonstrated, is false. You don’t need nine lines and/or visual clutter. Personal preference has nothing to do with it. I specifically mentioned piano roll earlier, because many of alternative systems are based on it, just rotated and optimised to take less vertical space. Piano roll is the most directly approachable way to learn piano, and since computer assisted play became a thing, the most widely spread alternative to traditional notation.
 

As I wrote in my opening post, I get where both the inertia and usability of traditional system comes from, and what are the downsides of switching to alternative. Personally, I prefer being „bilingual” if I can read in one of the „languages” easier, and leave the other language for universal communication only.

 

@thread: I can’t agree with the statement, that difficulty of musical notation is not impacting the road to becoming a good musician. For those of us who can’t play by ear, it is a huge gatekeeping problem. As I wrote above, I could not approach learning anything more complex than simple trad tunes or pop songs accompaniment before switching to Parncutt, because I need to be able to read the score fluently enough for efficient practice. ABC/note labeld just weren’t good enough solutions. I would compare it to trying to read poetry in a language you barely know, compared to reading it in a language that you are fluent in. Yes, you could do it by translating it verse by verse, to a language you are fluent in, but it is tedious task that takes away your practice time „allowance”, directly impacting the speed of increasing one’s repertoire. I don’t have good enough musical memory or ear to learn 3min long piece, consisting of multiple sections with full chordal accompaniment or four voice poliphony. I need an efficient way to read such score on the fly and easier to sight read system allowed me to jump head in into such complex pieces way sooner than sticking to harder, but universal language, that goes against how my brain works.

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Now, because pictures show more than a thousand words, and because indeed, https://musicnotation.org is overly extensive, a simple comparison between traditional notation and Parncutt. It is not my intention to "convert" anyone into switching to any of alternative notations, so please do not feel that way. Especially since there is only one convenient program for fast conversion and it is not available on Windows. I post it only so you can understand better what makes this alternative so much easier for me. I'm a Hayden player, and the sole consistency of visual pattern for each type of chord makes it worthwhile to spend a small bit of time to convert traditional .xml into this system, as it directly corresponds to how chords on isomorphic keyboards work. 

Colour coding is entirely optional. All note marks are the same and any other element from the traditional system is/can be used. I personally don't use clefs, key signatures, sharps or flats because colour coding makes them obsolete, and I also use colour coding to differentiate LH and RH on a common staff.

 

traditional.thumb.png.ed3258f4ddcb9879b9c59a5bb43f37e8.png

 

parncutt.thumb.png.02b47256a033d0825f4348bf9455ceef.png

 

Edited by Łukasz Martynowicz
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