What is a Convenient Shorthand for Music Notation Within Word Processing Software?

2011Symposium_1_2When writing lesson plans, I frequently have wished that I had a way of writing melodies quickly and easily on my computer within my word processing software. After attempting to use available symbols on the computer keyboard to contrive stick notation, and then line up solfege syllables I found all of this too time consuming and inconvenient. Some time later, I finally thought of a system that, with practice reading it, would serve my purpose well. I may not be the first to use this system for notating music within word processing software, but I don’t recall being informed of it from any other source.


For many years, I have used Finale music notation software. In the speedy C-Major-Scaleentry mode, entering notes without a midi instrument, numbers are used for note values, and pitches are indicated with the click of the mouse on the desired line or space of the musical staff. In my music notation for word processing, I adapted the numbers, combining them with solfege syllables. Dotted notes have a period following the number, and rests are a dash followed by a number. Time signatures are indicated with a fraction, and key signatures are indicated with linearly placed bs or #s. Tied notes have a number for the second note of the tie, and the tied notes are connected by an underscore.  I will demonstrate the system with the well-known horn solo from the movement “andante cantabile” from Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

Figure 1

Andante cantabile from symphony no. 5 by Tchaikovsky

bbb 12/8 mi4 re4 do4| mi5. re6. ti4 do4 re4| fa5. mi6. mi4 fa4 so4| la5. la5 la4 la5._5 la4| la5. so5.—5 –4 mi4 re4 do4| etc.

the three bs indicate three flats in the key signature. 12/8 is the time signature. The first note is mi4. Mi in fixed do solfege is E, and because of the key signature, it is E-flat. Solfege syllables continue in the same way. Measure lines are given with a vertical line

( | ). In the fourth measure, there are two A-flats that are tied; a dotted quarter note tied to a quarter note. These tied notes look like this: la5._5 with la5. being the dotted quarter note A-flat, the underscore being the tie, 5 being the tied quarter note. I am able to type all of those notes quickly, and with practice, can read the solfege for pitches and the number for rhythms, just as I read note heads for pitches and stems and connectors for pitches and rhythms respectively in standard music notation. Using this system also has the advantage of keeping me from seeing standard music notation, just as my students are unable to view it, as I sing to them in solfege, and then have them repeat what I sang. It reminds me of the position I place them in, and it also gives me extra practice using solfege in a purely aural/oral way. If you are working on your fixed do solfege, as I have been this year, writing out and then singing melodies using this system is good practice. For those times when I need to remind myself of a melody I will be teaching, this short-hand system works quite well.



One thought on “What is a Convenient Shorthand for Music Notation Within Word Processing Software?

  1. Just ran across this, but I thought I’d put in my 2 cents on what I use.

    There’s a bit of a learning curve, but for basic melodies, it’s not too difficult to learn to use lilypond.

    With open-source software like LibreOffice or OpenOffice.Org (both office suites with word processors), there is an extension called oooLilypond. What it does is allows you to click a button and then enter lilypond code (which I think you’ll find easier than what you have done), Then it places a graphic of the notation right into your file just like a picture, which you can anchor as text, or to the page or the paragraph or whatever.

    Lilypond is very powerful, but it’s pretty easy for simple stuff, too. Especially if you use relative mode, where it defaults to the closest octave of a pitch from the previous note, and changing octaves is as easy as adding an apostrophe or comma.

    For example, since Star Wars is big right now, I’ll show you how that main theme would work. You’d just type this (anything on a line after ” % ” is a comment and is ignored):

    \relative c {
    \time 12/8 % sets the time signature to 12/8. Typing nothing gives you 4/4
    \key d \major % sets the key. Typing nothing gives you c major anyway
    \partial 4. % sets a partial measure, in this case equal to a dotted quarter-note.
    % Then, just enter each note by letter name (es for flat and is for sharp).
    % Durations follow the notes. 4 for quarter, 8 for eighth, etc.
    % No duration keeps it the same as previous
    a8 a a | d2. a’ | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis g e2. a,8 a a |
    d2. a’ | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis g e2. a,4 a8 |

    I’ll admit, the comments make that look complicated at first glance. Here’s what you’d actually type:

    \relative c {
    \time 12/8 \key d \major \partial 4.
    a8 a a | d2. a’ | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis g e2. a,8 a a |
    d2. a’ | g8 fis 3 d’2. a4. | g8 fis e d’2. a4. | g8 fis g e2. a,4 a8 |

    Then it just throws the music right into your file. Easy as all get-out.

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