Guide to Notation Shorthand

Notehead shorthand, developed by pedagogue Jenine Lawson Brown, can be useful in tracking the relationships between rhythm and meter in a way that is helpful in writing rhythmic notation. Brown’s full description of the system can be found here, starting p. 85.

Rhythm

In notehead shorthand, every beat is represented by stems and beams as appropriate, showing how it divides. For example, each beat of a simple meter with 4 on the bottom (4/4, 3/4, 2/4, etc.) would be represented by a pair of beamed eighth note stems with no noteheads; each beat of a compound meter with 8 on the bottom (6/8, 9/8, 12/8, etc.) would be represented by a trio of beamed eighth note steps with no noteheads. Measures are shown with barlines, just as in traditional notation.

The first step of transcribing music using notation shorthand is to determine the meter, count the number of measures, and set up your barlines and placeholder stems/beams. Once this is set up, either listen again to the music or play it back in your head while tracking the beat division placeholders. Give the stems noteheads where a new note occurs.

Pitch

Scale degrees are typically represented either as Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) or as moveable-do solfège syllables. For speed, when writing solfège syllables, we often simply use the first letter of the syllable. We can represent raised and lowered pitches with sharps or flats, with up and down arrows, or, in moveable-do solfège, by adding the relevant second letter of the syllable (“i” for raised, “e” for lowered, except “re,” which becomes “ra” when lowered). These can simply be written above or below the rhythmic protonotation/shorthand.

Example: Notation shorthand in simple meter

Solfège:

Pitch and rhythm “notehead shorthand” for 0:08–0:16 of the melody of the song “We’ll Go From There.” Vertical barlines separate the measures. Each half-beat is represented by the stem of a quarter note. Each stem where a new note sounds is given a notehead. The first letters of the solfège syllables representing the notes are written above the stems with noteheads. The lowered scale-degree 3 at the word “I’ll” is represented by the solfège syllable “me” written out in full. The lyrics of the melody are written below the noteheads.

Scale Degrees:

Pitch and rhythm “notehead shorthand” for 0:08–0:16 of the melody of the song “We’ll Go From There.” The word “major” is written above to indicate a major key. Vertical barlines separate the measures. Each half-beat is represented by the stem of a quarter note. Each stem where a new note sounds is given a notehead. The scale-degree numbers representing the notes are written above the stems with noteheads. The lowered scale-degree 3 at the word “I’ll” is represented by a downward-facing arrow right before the number 3. The lyrics of the melody are written below the noteheads.

Example: Notehead shorthand in compound meter

*note that the melody starts at 0:19 seconds

Solfège:

Pitch and rhythm notehead shorthand for 0:18–0:31 of the melody of the song “The Rose.” The word “minor” is written at the beginning to indicate a minor key. Vertical barlines separate the measures. Each third of a beat is represented by the stem of an eighth note, beamed together in groups of three. Each stem where a new note sounds is given a notehead. The first letters of the solfège syllables that represent the notes are written above the stems with noteheads. The lyrics of the melody are written below the noteheads.

Scale Degrees:

Pitch and rhythm notehead shorthand for 0:18–0:31 of the melody of the song “The Rose.” The word “minor” is written at the beginning to indicate a minor key. Vertical barlines separate the measures. Each third of a beat is represented by the stem of an eighth note, beamed together in groups of three. Each stem where a new note sounds is given a notehead. The scale-degree numbers that represent the notes are written above the stems with noteheads. The lyrics of the melody are written below the noteheads.

 

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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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