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Graphic notation

Graphic notation is the representation of music through the use of visual symbols outside the realm of traditional music notation. Graphic notation evolved in the 1950s, and it is often used in combination with traditional music notation.[1] Composers often rely on graphic notation in experimental music, where standard musical notation can be ineffective.


A common aspect of graphic notation is the use of symbols to convey information to the performer about the way the piece is to be performed. These symbols first began to appear in the works of avant-garde composers such as Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Mauricio Kagel, György Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis, as well as the works of experimental composers such as Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff during the 1950s and 60s.

After working as Stockhausen's assistant, Cornelius Cardew began work on a massive graphic score, which he titled Treatise. The piece consists of 193 pages of highly abstract scores. The score itself is almost its own separate work of art.

In 2008, Theresa Sauer edited a compendium featuring graphic scores by composers from over fifty countries,[2] demonstrating how widespread the practice has become.

Examples of graphic notation

  • Graphic scores, in which the music is represented using symbols and illustrations:
    Hans-Christoph Steiner's score for Solitude, created using Pure Data's data structures.

This notation may be, like music on traditional staves, a time-pitch graph system. In the above example, time is still represented by reading left-to-right.

  • Line staves showing relative pitch, with the actual pitches being decided upon performance.
  • Altered Notation can be seen in George Crumb's work[3] where he uses traditional notation but presents the music on the page in a graphic or nontraditional manner such as spirals or circles.[4]

Other composers who have used graphic notation

Practitioners of graphic notation include:

See also


  1. ^ Pryer, Anthony. "graphic notation." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. 12 Apr. 2011
  2. ^ Sauer, Theresa. Notations 21. Mark Batty Publisher. p. 010, 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ R. Murray Schafer at National Arts Centre ArtsAlive web site. Retrieved 2011-11-17.

Further reading

  • Cage, John, and Alison Knowles (1969). Notations. New York: Something Else Press.
  • Lieberman, David 2006. Game Enhanced Music Manuscript. In GRAPHITE '06: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Australasia and South East Asia, ACM Press, Melbourne, Australia, 245 - 250.
  • Sauer, Theresa (2009). Notations 21. New York: Mark Batty Publisher. ISBN 978-0-9795546-4-3
  • David Schidlowsky (ed.) (2011) Musikalische Grafik—Graphic Music: León Schidlowsky. Berlin: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag. ISBN 978-3-86573-620-8.

External links