Clairnote DN

An alternative music notation system that makes music easier to read and understand.

Excerpt from The Blue Danube Waltz in Clairnote DN music notation

Consistent and Intuitive

Clairnote DN represents notes and intervals clearly and consistently, which makes the musical relationships between notes more visible and explicit. The connection between what you see and what you play (and hear) is more direct, tangible, and intuitive.

C major scale in Clairnote DN and traditional music notation
C Major Scale in Clairnote DN and Traditional Notation

For example, you can see the patterns of whole steps and half steps that make up typical scales. (The notes of whole steps are always solid-solid or hollow-hollow, while the notes of half steps are always solid-hollow or hollow-solid.)

Thirds in the key of C Major in Clairnote DN and traditional music notation
Thirds in the Key of C Major in Clairnote DN and Traditional Notation

Similarly, you can see the difference between major and minor thirds, the building blocks of chords. (Major thirds are always solid-solid or hollow-hollow. Minor thirds are always solid-hollow or hollow-solid.)

Seeing the differences between intervals lets you perceive the musical patterns of scales, chords, melodies, and harmonies. The relationship between the intervals you see and the intervals you play (and hear) is simple, direct, and consistent.

Direct and Explicit

As with intervals, so with notes. There is a simple, direct, and consistent relationship between the notes you see and the notes you play (and hear). Notes appear in one of four basic positions on the staff.

The four basic staff positions in Clairnote DN
Notes appear (1) on a line, (2) "sitting" above a line, (3) "hovering" right between two lines, and (4) "hanging" below a line.

Whether a note is solid or hollow is its most prominent visual feature, so Clairnote DN uses this solid/hollow distinction to help convey pitch rather than duration. The vertical positions on the staff alternate regularly between solid and hollow noteheads. This makes individual notes easier to identify and interval relationships easier to see.

Half notes have a double stem to distinguish them from quarter notes, otherwise Clairnote DN uses traditional rhythm symbols.

Half notes and quarter notes in Clairnote DN

Each note of the chromatic scale has a different vertical position on the staff. For example, notes like F and F-sharp that have different pitches do not share the same position. There is a simple one-to-one relationship between each key on a piano (white or black) and its corresponding staff position. That means you can simply play the notes as you see them (without having to remember the current key signature and accidental signs).

Chromatic scale in Clairnote DN and traditional music notation
Chromatic Scale in Clairnote DN and Traditional Notation

Adjacent staff positions are always a half step apart (1 semitone), whereas on the traditional staff they may be a half step or a whole step apart (1 or 2 semitones).


In traditional music notation notes an octave apart do not resemble each other. The line pattern of Clairnote DN's staff cyclically repeats with each octave, so notes an octave apart look similar. That makes it easy to identify a given note regardless of its octave. As soon as you learn to read one octave you can read any octave on the staff. This also simplifies playing music in a different octave than the one in which it is written.

Octaves in Clairnote DN and traditional music notation
Octaves in Clairnote DN and Traditional Notation


In traditional music notation the notes represented by the lines and spaces of the staff change depending on the current clef (treble, bass, alto, tenor, etc.). Piano music entails reading in two different clefs at once. In Clairnote DN the lines and spaces of the staff look the same in every octave and always mean the same thing in every octave. There is no need to learn to read different clefs. Clairnote DN's clef symbols simply indicate the octave register of the staff.

Clefs and octaves in Clairnote DN and traditional notation

Key Signatures and Accidental Signs

In traditional music notation the notes on the staff may be altered by accidental signs (sharps, flats, naturals, double sharps, double flats) or by one of a dozen or so key signatures that you have to learn and keep in mind in order to play the correct notes. With Clairnote DN you can simply play the notes as they appear on the staff and learn common musical patterns as you go.

Key signature and accidental signs in Clairnote DN

Clairnote DN's key signatures and accidental signs play a very minimal role in the process of reading and playing notes. They provide additional helpful information — all the same information conveyed in traditional notation, like the current key, when a note is an accidental (i.e. not in the current key), and the different names of enharmonically equivalent notes (like G-sharp and A-flat).

Different Keys and Key Signatures in Clairnote DN and Traditional Notation

Intervals and Chords

In traditional music notation different intervals and chords may look the same (e.g. major and minor thirds and triads). In Clairnote DN the differences between intervals are always clearly visible making it easy to see the relationships between notes and understand the common patterns of music found in chords, scales, keys, etc. This facilitates reading music relatively by reading the intervals between notes (as a complement to reading the individual notes). Improvising and playing by ear involve playing music relatively, by interval (by relative pitch), so clearly seeing each interval as you play supports learning these skills. See Intervals, Chords, and Scales for more illustrations and discussion.

Thirds and triads in Clairnote DN and traditional notation

Sheet Music Videos

Videos created with LilyPond and ly2video, with many thanks to those who work on these projects!

Sheet Music and Software

There are currently over 600 works in the Clairnote DN Sheet Music collection, all available to download for free as PDFs. They were created with LilyPond – free (open-source) music notation software that anyone can use to create new sheet music from scratch or to automatically convert traditional music files into Clairnote DN. See Software: LilyPond. The available sheet music includes a collection of fiddle tunes, a piano lesson book, and a sight-singing lesson book.

Here are a few well known pieces from the Clairnote DN Sheet Music collection (PDF files):

What next? Explore Clairnote DN with the "AudioVisualizer" on the About page or play a game to start to learn to read Clairnote DN on the Learn page.