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southcoastukes
12-06-2012, 03:46 PM
I have been meaning to post on this topic - I got an e-mail awhile back about the way I write notes for tunings. I'm thinking I started out different from most ukulele players, and to tell the truth, the way most notes are written by most ukulele players has never made sense to me.

When I first picked up the Ukulele, I had the great good fortune to start out with the Ukulele Handbook by Alex Richter. The way he wrote notes was a bit mysterious to me at first, but in short order, I figured out what he was doing. He uses what some folks call "standard pitch notation" and others call "Helmholz pitch notation". This Helmholz fellow was a real, real genius - along the lines of Da Vinci. He dabbled in all sorts of scientific endeavor including acoustics.

I've posted his system below. It's by far the most widely used way to write notes, and the only one that's ever made sense to me (without getting unnecesarily complicated). It covers a lot more range than you get with just small and capital letters, and does it in a simple straightforward manner.

The shorthand often used by Ukulele players seems awfully inconsistent and subject to misinterpretation. Lots of times, I see people write out a tuning and then have to explain it "in relation to" something else. Seems it would be simpler to skip all that.

What say you?


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TheCraftedCow
12-06-2012, 08:25 PM
Thank you to the both of you for your uplifting, informative posts.

drbekken
12-06-2012, 08:38 PM
This is standard notation, and the usual terminology you use to explain pitches to fellow musicians. I find that with jazz/blues people, who are the ones I mostly work with, any kind of 'standard' notation is difficult to come by. The New Orleans artists that I have been privileged enough to play for - such as Eddie Bo, Marva Wright and Big Al Carson - all spoke differently when explaining what they wanted from me as a piano player. The bottom line is; use your ears and listen for what sounds good.
However, for pre-arranged or classical music, standard notation is a MUST. It's a good thing to know for any musician.

Plainsong
12-07-2012, 12:45 AM
This is standard notation, and the usual terminology you use to explain pitches to fellow musicians. I find that with jazz/blues people, who are the ones I mostly work with, any kind of 'standard' notation is difficult to come by. The New Orleans artists that I have been privileged enough to play for - such as Eddie Bo, Marva Wright and Big Al Carson - all spoke differently when explaining what they wanted from me as a piano player. The bottom line is; use your ears and listen for what sounds good.
However, for pre-arranged or classical music, standard notation is a MUST. It's a good thing to know for any musician.

Yeah, this is just... standard notation, unless I'm missing something. I wish more uke method books used it. Ya know the funny thing about some of those jazz improvs, it's a nightmare to try to read them. As an old band director would say, the same guy who had us meticulously subdividing the beat in other pieces, "If you try to count it, you're already too late." Back in the day I used to do arrangements that had a lot of Latin and jazz fusion in them, and writing out what was being played, as you had to write it out because this was for a group of people playing, was nightmarish.

southcoastukes
12-07-2012, 04:02 AM
That looks fairly close to the format used in ABC notation, which is probably derived from the same source.

http://abcnotation.com/wiki/abc:standard:v2.1#pitch

This is a link to the current ABC notation standard. ABC notation is a system that allows you to set up the music in a computer language like format, save it as a text file, and then send it as email. I could cut and paste a tune in this post and you could save it as a text file and get the computer to play it back for you, so you can hear how it goes. The system is called an open standard, which means it is not owned by any one company and can be used by anyone without needing a licence....
If you already can read music, apart from being a useful music tool, ABC Notation can be a gateway to learning how to program a computer. Or if you can already do computer programming, it can be a gateway to learning how to read music...

This is very cool, Bill. There are several other pitch notation systems I've seen - mainly from U.S. sources, but it's always puzzled me why anyone felt it neccessary to have an alternative to the standard. This one is very close, as you said, so why change it at all?

I'll make a guess. The apostrophe from standard notation would throw off the computer applications? I noticed that dropping that symbol is the main change. In other words, a computer might misunderstand c', or c"?

I see they've been refining this for the last 30 years or so (just after I found the Helmholz system). With all the computer applications, maybe it could actually have the potential to replace standard notation one day.

southcoastukes
12-07-2012, 04:21 AM
Yeah, this is just... standard notation, unless I'm missing something. I wish more uke method books used it....

This, I guess, is more or less what I was getting to. Standard, or Helmholz notation is supposedly "standard". Yet not only have I never seen it used in an ukulele method book (the Handbook is mainly a comprehesive chord book), I don't think I've ever seen anyone use it on this forum. I got to wondering if something else had come into common use, as it seems most ukulele players use a language I have to struggle to understand.

You see things like gCEA, or dGBE and so on. In context, you can sorta, kinda figure out what is meant, but if you're not going to use standard notation, for me it gets really complicated and cloudy in a hurry. Is the first string supposed to be at a lower pitch than the 4th?

The original Machete tuning for an ukulele was an open G tuning: d" g' b' d". Pull up that first string and you're back in a normal Ukulele reentrant tuning: d" g' b' e", one that many ukulele players are familiar with from the Baritone Ukulele. Of course there, it's an octave lower: d' g b e' or d g b e'.

If you know standard notation, you know the first tunings were an octave above the second two, and of the last two, the first was reentrant and the second was linear. It seems a lot easier to write tunings like this, but "standard" notation seems like another language here. Puzzling, since I don't see anything complicated about writing in "the standard".

A common language is the essential tool in any society. This "language" is out there for the "Ukulele Tribe" to adopt. If we could speak to each other more clearly, it would be to the advantage of all of us.

Lori
12-07-2012, 06:16 AM
It is an interesting subject. Makes me wonder about the options available today, versus tradition. I am no expert, but I assume music was communicated originally by performance, and people memorizing it by ear, and passing it on to the next generation. Then, as things got more complex, and there were no audio recording devices, people came up with a way to write it down for future generations to enjoy. Now that we have many ways to store and play back audio files, I wonder what is keeping playing-by-ear out of the process. I know some of us will always do better with reading some kind of tab or notation, but I am sure there are others that do better with learning by ear. I think it is a different kind of connection with the instrument, one versus the other. I think your mind works differently when playing from notation/ tabs than when playing by ear.

–Lori

Plainsong
12-07-2012, 10:55 AM
I've noticed this too. I can't read tabs they give me a headache. Apparently the Lil Rev Hal Leonard uke method book does teach uke with standard notation. Usually when I'm about to buy this book, it's not in stock or the place that has it doesn't ship to the US. I just haven't found that eureka moment where I can actually buy it. I shouldn't really need the book. I mean, it's all about learning the scales and using fingerings that make the most sense. I should be able to sit down and figure that out, but I'd rather have a method book that walks you along that path. It's frustrating, because when my brain goes more quickly than my fingers. Like, I KNOW I can read this piece, let me get out my clarinet and just freaking play it already. But I don't WANT to play my clarinet, I want to do the same thing with my uke.

But I can't, because I'm lazy, and because it seems the uke world prefers tabs. I know it's psychological, but there's probably lots of tabs I could play, if they were in standard notation and I applied myself to learning the scales already.


This, I guess, is more or less what I was getting to. Standard, or Helmholz notation is supposedly "standard". Yet not only have I never seen it used in an ukulele method book (the Handbook is mainly a comprehesive chord book), I don't think I've ever seen anyone use it on this forum. I got to wondering if something else had come into common use, as it seems most ukulele players use a language I have to struggle to understand.

You see things like cGDA, or dGBE and so on. In context, you can sorta, kinda figure out what is meant, but if you're not going to use standard notation, for me it gets really complicated and cloudy in a hurry. Is the first string supposed to be at a lower pitch than the 4th?

The original Machete tuning for an ukulele was an open G tuning: d" g' b' d". Pull up that first string and you're back in a normal Ukulele reentrant tuning: d" g' b' e", one that many ukulele players are familiar with from the Baritone Ukulele. Of course there, it's an octave lower: d' g b e' or d g b e'.

If you know standard notation, you know the first tunings were an octave above the second two, and of the last two, the first was reentrant and the second was linear. It seems a lot easier to write tunings like this, but "standard" notation seems like another language here. Puzzling, since I don't see anything complicated about writing in "the standard".

A common language is the essential tool in any society. This "language" is out there for the "Ukulele Tribe" to adopt. If we could speak to each other more clearly, it would be to the advantage of all of us.

drbekken
12-07-2012, 12:37 PM
I don't think I ever tried to play from tabs ever in my whole life - neither as a (poor) guitarist nor as a ukulele player. I don't use standard notation either on those instruments. Since I have classical training as a pianist, I can read and write music, but those stringed instruments are purely by ear in my world. When I was younger I also used to play tuba in marching bands or trad jazz settings, and consequently, I can read notation for most brass instruments. It's funny how the guitar and the ukulele (probably also the banjo and the mandolin etc etc) somehow exists in a parallel musical world. I am probably stone crazy.

Plainsong
12-07-2012, 10:44 PM
But other than the lack of education in standard notation on uke, why couldn't I write an arrangement using that instead of this ABC thing, as I used to and still do? It's more universal, more musicians know it... I wish I didn't have to learn a new system just to sight read on the instrument I prefer to play. And yeah I know most of that is down to my own lack of sitting down withe scales and figuring it out. :(

Garydavkra
12-10-2012, 12:24 PM
However, despite what I have typed, you will never need to learn any form of notation to enjoy and play music. Many great musicians never learned to read music. If you are performing or practicing all the time, you wont have a lot of use for written music unless you are in an orchestra or large band which requires team work,or you are studying a new piece that is not available in audio format. You never need to learn ABC notation either, it is just a tool that helps interface music to a computer.

I see what you are saying however, since I write my own music, I like to write it in standard notation. The reason for this is that I don't want to record it. If I want to send it to someone over the internet, I could just send a PDF file. It may be bigger than a text file but, today's and tomorrows technology should be able to handle it just fine, in my opinion. I don't write in TAB either but, if someone should want it in TAB it's easy to convert with software.

Caddy65
12-10-2012, 01:12 PM
I grew up up reading standard notation on stringed instruments (since 1957), keyboards, and then brass instruments in band at school, As well as for vocals in high school and college. Reading and writing standard musical notation is no different for me than reading text. It seems that somehow tab has become more popular lately, particularly for guitar.

To me tab is like a foreign language, and I'm too old to begin learning that even if I wanted to. Tab also seems to be lacking when it comes to timing. How are things like a dotted 1/8 note or triplets notated? From what little I have tried tab, it seems I would have to know, at least, the timing of the song prior to trying to play it from tab. With standard notation that is not the case. I just don't see any advantage to tab at all.

Barbablanca
12-10-2012, 01:27 PM
I have tried countless times over the years to get to grips with standard notation and failed miserably. There just seems too much information to process at once. I can either read which note I am supposed to play, or how long it is supposed to last, but not both at once.

I can also never guarantee that what I am playing when I use a piece of standard notation is actually what I am supposed to be playing. Often I get the notes in the right sequence, but don't get the rhythm or duration right.

A couple of years back, when I had a year of violin lessons, I would take in tunes I had written in standard after creating them on the fiddle and ask my violin teacher if what I was playing was what I had written. It seldom was :(

I guess it is like languages. Some people can learn them easily, while others are baffled by them. Or like mathematics... Some can do it and I can't ;)

Plainsong
12-10-2012, 02:43 PM
I'm goodish at math but suck with languages. My husband speaks English as his third language, of 4, and he corrects me. :(

Thanks to Bill, I know why ABC is useful, but you don't even need dead trees to write music anymore. Use an app like Noteshelf, which comes with staff paper, and you can write music on an ipad and save it as a PDF. Or, and this would help Barbablanca, plug in a midi keyboard to the computer and let a program write out what you're playing. :)

What programs those are, couldn't tell ya, since I suck at keyboard. It's just easier for me to write it out. Kudos to y'all that can read tabs though.