Complete Summary of WYSIWYP Simplified Notation

If you took the Test Drive then you already know some essential music theory as well as the basics of the WYSIWYP notation. If you are a complete beginner to music, then it is recommended that you start with the Test Drive and read about the basics of music theory. Here those concepts are summarized and augmented with all you need to know about WYSIWYP.

Consistent Octaves

Perhaps the most compelling reason to use WYSIWYP is that every 7 note octave is consistent, wherein there is a red line on the note C and a blue line on F. For all musical instruments, the 7 notes represents the natural notes A through G. Each of the 7 notes has a unique relationship to the two lines:

A touches neither the red or the blue line,

B, C, and D are touching (below, on, over) the red line,

and E F and G are touching the blue line.

Adjacent notes on the octave overlap by 50%. Thus this approach minimizes the number of lines and vertical space needed while still providing a unique visual relationship of each note to the lines. The important concept is that once you learn the mapping for one octave, you know them all. A full octave, starting with C:

Logical mapping to the keyboard

For keyboard instruments, the red and blue lines provide a visual mapping to the groups of keys separated by gaps in the series of black keys. So armed with the knowledge of the octave mapping and how to find a numbered octave on the keyboard left to right, a new student can quickly learn to find and play any natural on the keyboard.

For all instruments, the seven note positions on the octave map to the seven natural notes of the (diatonic) scale A through G.

Flexible staves

A staff represents any range of notes by stacking up octaves and partial octaves as needed to cover the unique range of a given piece of music. Two octaves are stacked up in the figure below. A staff displays the sequential octave number on the keyboard (left to right) at the beginning of the C lines. Red line number 4 is known as middle C since it's right in the middle of the keyboard.

Explicit noteheads

In addition to the 7 natural notes there are an additional 5 notes interspersed. When played sequentially each of the 12 notes sound as equally spaced tones. On the keyboard the white keys are naturals while the black keys are sharps and flats. Each black key can be identified as either a sharp or a flat with respect to a white key natural. A sharp is the next higher tone than its associated natural. For example, an F sharp is the black key to the right of the F natural white key. A flat is a lower tone. Thus a G flat references the same black key as the F sharp.

With WYSIWYP notation, naturals, sharps, and flats are explicitly defined by the notehead symbols. Naturals are circles.  Sharps and flats that represent the same note (key on the keyboard) are black rectangles.

Visually intuitive note durations

The staff shows what notes to play based on their vertical positions. Horizontally, the staff is a timeline showing when the notes are played in a time sequence according to the placement of the noteheads. The duration of a note is represented by a stripe, or as it will be called here, a note tail. For example, on a piano, a note starts in time corresponding to the horizontal position of the notehead, when the key is depressed, and continues until the end of the note tail, when the key is released.

The timeline is expressed in terms of beats. When you clap your hands or tap your foot to a tune, you are following the beat of the tune. Thus, there may be multiple notes within a beat or a note may span one or more beats. Short vertical tic marks are equally spaced along the horizontal timeline to mark out the beats. The note tails show visually how long notes last relative to the beats. In the following example, it's easy to see note durations of 1 beat, 2 beats, and 4 beats.

This visual presentation of the note durations allows the musician to see the relationships of the notes to the beat as well as to other notes. This is really helpful when you start playing with both hands and reading two separate timelines (staves) at the same. More on this in the next section.

The actual time a note is played is set according to the tempo which is specified in beats per minute. So for example, at a tempo of 60 beats per minute, a note of one beat is played for 1 second, and the total time of the passage above is 16 seconds.

A given piece of music may specify the tempo at the beginning. Whether it does or not, the musician always has the option of selecting the tempo to his/her preference (at least when playing solo!). In some cases, the sheet music may explicitly change the tempo one or more times.

Virtual Sheet Music


Some instruments may require only a single staff whereas keyboard instruments generally require two, the treble and bass staves. The treble staff covers the higher tone notes and the bass staff the lower. On the piano, the treble is generally played with the right hand and the bass with the left.

In addition to the beat tic marks, the horizontal timeline of the octaves are further delineated by vertical lines, or "bars", in between measures. The number of beats in a measure is usually fixed for some number of measures and often remains unchanged throughout the entire piece. How measures are interpreted by the musician is an advanced topic that students learn well into their studies. For now, just know that there are measure sequence numbers displayed above the topmost line of the staff. They are a convenient way to reference a specific location in a work.

In addition to the notation that tells the musician what to play, there is also notation that tells the musician how to play it. These include slurs, articulations, fingerings, dynamics, and piano pedal controls. The format of these is the same as that for traditional notation. Additional information on retained traditional notation can be found here.

Grandstaff rows and single staff rows

A grandstaff consists of a treble staff and a bass staff pair. Sheet music for piano generally uses these to define notes to be played with right and left hands. The staves are denoted by the letters T and B at the left of the staves. Some works require only a single staff either treble or bass. This is the case for non-keyboard instruments and vocals where only one note is sounded at a time (although there is often a 2nd staff for another instrument or voice for synchronization). In any case, the staves of the work are segmented into rows such that each row fits the width of the sheet music page.

Lyrics are displayed in a way that aligns words or syllables with their corresponding notes. For works needing grandstaff rows, the lyrics are displayed in between the staves. For works that require only a single staff, (either treble or bass) the lyrics are displayed below it.

Virtual sheet music pages

Just like printed traditional sheet music, WYSIWYP consists of virtual pages of grandstaff rows or of a single staff row according to what is needed in the work. The first page displays the work's title, composer, and other credit information as well as the starting tempo in beats per measure. Other traditional notation elements not related to the features just described are retained in their original format. Thus, WYSIWYP is a functionally complete notation by design.

The sheet music is displayed on a screen device via the Simplified Notation app for Sheet Music (SNapp). The musician can place the screen device on a music stand and play directly from it. In addition, the virtual sheet music can be saved to a PDF file and subsequently printed for the music stand.


The above summary covers all the elements of WYSIWYP needed to get started learning to read music and play it. All of the notation needed to define what notes to be played are all implemented in the Beta version of the Simplified Notation app, SNapp. However, not all of the notation needed to define how to play the notes is yet implemented but will be added as SNapp evolves. See The Future of WYSIWYP for more details.

What's next?

If you haven't taken the Test Drive, that's a good place to quickly see what it's like without using SNapp. But if you're ready to take the plunge and go farther, click here to get started.