Alternative Notation Systems that Inspired TwinNote
Several other alternative notation systems inspired the design of TwinNote. They are shown here in a progression from traditional music notation to TwinNote, with each system overcoming disadvantages of the prior system.
The chromatic scale shown in each of the notation systems discussed below:
Untitled Notation by Johann Ailler (1904)
Advantages: Simple and familiar staff with four lines to distinguish it from the traditional five-line staff. 6-6 pitch pattern present in line-notes and space-notes.
Disadvantages: Larger intervals become quite wide with too many lines between the notes to quickly identify them. Inefficient use of vertical space with only seven of twelve staff positions used for the notes of a given key. Can be easily confused with the traditional staff, making it difficult to switch between them “bilingually”.
Untitled Notation by Johannes Beyreuther (1959)
Advantages: Reduced visual density with only two solid lines and one ledger line per octave. Lines are spaced a major third apart which is optimal for making intervals clear — not too close together or too far apart. (This is similar to traditional notation where lines are either a major or minor third apart.) Larger intervals are easier to identify given fewer lines between the notes. 6-6 pitch pattern present in solid and hollow notes.
Disadvantages: Inefficient use of vertical space with only seven of twelve staff positions used for the notes of a given key. Some people do not like “floating notes” that “hover” between the lines without touching them. Using solid and hollow notes to distinguish between half and quarter notes, in order to use the same duration symbols as traditional notation, would remove any visible 6-6 pitch pattern.
Equiton by Rodney Fawcett (1958)
Advantages: More vertically compact staff by placing two notes, one hollow and one solid, on each line or space. Efficient use of vertical space with no lines or spaces that go unused by the notes of any given key. 6-6 pitch pattern present in solid and hollow notes. An equal number of line and space notes forming a symmetrical pattern. A series of whole steps, as found in most scales, alternates regularly between line notes and space notes.
Disadvantages: Since two different notes are located on each line and space the vertical pitch axis is not proportional. This makes the relationship between notes inconsistent and gives intervals an irregular appearance (see 5ths image above). Lines are a full octave apart making it difficult to see the distance between notes and quickly or easily identify intervals. Half of the notes are “floating notes” that “hover” between the lines without touching them, which makes their vertical position less clear. Hollow and solid notes must be used to indicate a note’s pitch, and cannot be used to indicate duration like in traditional notation.
Twinline by Thomas Reed (1986) and Black-Oval Twinline (2006)
Advantages: More vertically compact staff through use of different note shapes. Efficient use of vertical space with no lines or spaces that go unused by the notes of any given key. Different shapes make notes easier to distinguish while also maintaining a proportional vertical pitch axis. 6-6 pitch pattern in oval and triangle notes. Larger intervals are easier to identify given fewer lines between the notes. Lines are a major third apart, which is optimal for identifying intervals.
Disadvantages: Each octave has six oval notes, three triangle notes pointing up, and three triangle notes pointing down. So there are effectively three different note shapes in an asymmetrical 6-3-3 pattern (rather than a 6-6 pitch pattern). This means intervals have a less consistent appearance (see below). There are three space notes for every line note, another asymmetrical pattern. Triangle notes may be perceived as having a secondary status since oval notes have a more consistent appearance and are already used in traditional music notation.
In some versions of Twinline, such as Black-Oval Twinline, hollow and solid notes are used to emphasize the 6-6 pitch pattern (and reduce the perception of the 6-3-3 pattern). However, as with Beyreuther’s untitled system this means hollow and solid notes cannot be used to distinguish between half and quarter notes. This takes away the option of maintaining full consistency with the traditional duration symbols.
In traditional notation, the notes in intervals smaller than a minor third are written on opposite sides of the stem to avoid note collisions. In Twinline, minor thirds are also written this way, a small price to pay for the benefits of a vertically compressed staff.
TwinNote by Paul Morris (2009)
On this page TwinNote is shown with its original straight triangle note head font.
Advantages: TwinNote was most directly influenced and inspired by Twinline, and retains all the advantages of Twinline:
More vertically compact staff through use of two note shapes. Efficient use of vertical space so that no lines or spaces go unused by the notes of any given key. Different shapes make notes easier to distinguish while also maintaining a proportional vertical pitch axis. Larger intervals are easier to identify given fewer lines between the notes. Lines are a major third apart, which is optimal for identifying intervals.
Unlike Twinline, TwinNote has a strong and unambiguous 6-6 pitch pattern with its two note shapes. This makes the appearance of intervals more consistent and clear (especially when compared with traditional music notation). It has an equal number of line and space notes that form a symmetrical pattern. A series of whole steps, as found in most scales, alternates regularly between line notes and space notes, for example.
Since the 6-6 pitch pattern is present in the note shapes, hollow and solid notes can either be used to help indicate pitch and reinforce the 6-6 pitch pattern, or they can be used to distinguish half notes and quarter notes to preserve full consistency with the traditional duration symbols (as in TwinNote TD).
Possible Disadvantages: Some have suggested that triangle notes may be harder to read or write when compared to oval notes. As in Twinline, the notes in minor thirds (and smaller intervals) appear on opposite sides of the stem to avoid note collisions, but this is well worth the benefits of a vertically compact staff.
Comparing Intervals in Twinline and TwinNote
The following illustration shows major thirds and perfect fourths in Black-Oval Twinline. They are grouped according to their visual appearance. Notice how the three different note shapes (in a 6-3-3 pattern) results in three different appearances for the major thirds, and four for the fourths. This inconsistency in the appearance of any given interval would make it harder to learn to recognize intervals and to quickly differentiate between them.
Black-Oval Twinline: Major 3rds and Perfect 4ths
Each interval in Twinline has either three or four different appearances.
In TwinNote intervals have a more consistent appearance making them easier to learn and recognize. Any given interval has two different appearances that are inverse images of each other. The following illustration shows major thirds and perfect fourths.
Principles Behind TwinNote’s Design
When comparing TwinNote with the notation systems that influenced it, one can see the following principles at work in its design. In no particular order…
- Optimal line spacing, not too wide or too narrow, for clearer intervals.
- Readily apparent 6-6 pitch pattern for isomorphism and clearer intervals.
- Efficient use of vertical space, to avoid having lines or spaces that go unused.
- Proportional vertical pitch axis for consistent interval spacing.
- Minimize “floating” notes, to make note positions clear.
- Equal balance between line notes and space notes (whole steps alternate between line and space notes).
- All notes have similar visual or symbolic “weight” (the same shape in two different orientations, as compared with Twinline with ovals and triangles).
- Visually distinct from traditional notation, so not easily confused with it.
- Ability to use solid and hollow notes to indicate duration, as in traditional notation, if desired.
See the Overview of Features page to learn more about the design of TwinNote.
For more illustrations of intervals in TwinNote, see the Intervals page.
Related Pages on the Music Notation Project’s Site
Untitled Notation by Johann Ailler
Untitled Notation by Johannes Beyreuther
Equiton by Rodney Fawcett (Encyclopaedia of Tuning site)
Twinline by Thomas Reed
Black-Oval Twinline by Paul Morris
TwinNote by Paul Morris
- This sequential presentation does not necessarily mean that each notation designer was aware of the previous system(s). It is unlikely that Beyreuther knew about Ailler’s system, although he may have known of similar chromatic staff systems. It is likely that Tom Reed (and Leo de Vries) knew about Beyreuther’s system. Return
- There are several different versions of Twinline. Thomas Reed’s Twinline was based on Leo de Vries’ Twinline which uses half-ovals instead of triangles, and has an alternating 6-6 hollow and solid note pattern. Both were introduced in 1986. In 2006 Doug Keislar proposed Black-Triangle Twinline which combined an alternating hollow and solid note pattern with the triangle note shapes. Inspired by Keislar’s version, Paul Morris introduced the similar Black-Oval Twinline also in 2006, before going on to design TwinNote in 2009. Return
- Doug Keislar of the Music Notation Project maintains that triangles are “harder to read than ovals, partly because they occupy a smaller area for the same vertical extent.” He also thinks that ovals are easier to write since they can be written as dots or slashes, a common shorthand for traditional notation. One possible shorthand for TwinNote would be to leave all notes hollow, and omit the base of the triangles so that each notehead requires only two quick strokes of the pen. Return
Note: most of the images on this page were created by using or modifying images from the Music Notation Project’s website.