WYSIWYP vs Traditional Notation

"After centuries of being forced to eat in the servants' quarters and to use the back entrance to the castle, this may just be an invention by musicians to make nonmusicians feel inadequate... There is no reason for the system to be so complicated, but it is what we are stuck with."

------------ Daniel J. Levitan, This is Your Brain on Music (Dutton, copyright 2006) 

The following is a description of the main problems with traditional notation and how WYSIWYP attempts to get us "unstuck" from them.   To appreciate all of the problems described herein will require some knowledge of traditional notation and music theory.

Staves and Key Signatures 

Problem Description - Staves and Key Signatures      

Traditional notation is neither logical nor intuitive in design for either the staves or the notes themselves.  The inconsistency of note placement on lines and spaces of the staves exemplifies this.

As a result, the musician must memorize each note on both staves (plus register lines) in the same way one memorizes how to type on a computer keyboard.  And like the computer keyboard, there is nothing visually logical about the layout other than as the notes go up vertically, so do the note pitches.  There is no simple mapping of staff line to the piano keyboard (or any other instrument).  Therefore, learning the mapping to specific notes requires much study and practice.                                                                                                

Staves are visually based on a seven note diatonic octave, but they still must be able to reference all twelve notes of the chromatic scale.  In order to designate the missing five notes, sharps and flats indicate single interval adjustments to the seven natural notes.  This would not be so complicated if every written note were explicitly identified with that adjustment.  Instead, however, key signatures define implicit adjustment "rules" at the beginning of a piece of music that must be remembered and applied throughout the work's performance.  These rules can be overridden with explicit notation (called accidentals), but then there are complicated additional rules for the overrides as well.  Thus, identical notes can be played in different ways depending on their relative position on a staff.  They can also can be played differently depending on how they relate to preceding notes in the same measure with accidentals.                

As a result, the musician must not only remember the key signature but must also process all of the complicated rules and react on a real-time basis to adjust or not-adjust each note.  There is nothing intuitive about this process and it requires much memorization, practice, and concentration.   

WYSIWYP Design Solutions - Staves and Key Signatures

The following design solutions are all explained in the Complete Summary of WYSIWYP.

Note Durations and Beat                        

Problem Description - Note Durations and Beat

Notation for duration in the traditional system is complex and non-intuitive.  For example, all of the following symbols must be taken into consideration in order to calculate note duration:

There is also another parallel range of symbols just for rest durations (that is, how long not to play any note).  Furthermore, musicians must coordinate notes between Treble and Bass staves wherein:           

With traditional notation, duration is not intuitive nor is how notes relate to each other in time.  And finally, there is no clear indication of how notes relate to the beat of the work.  

WYSIWYP Design Solutions - Note Durations and Beat

With WYSIWYP, the staves horizontal dimension is a true timeline expressed in beats.  Noteheads are placed on the timeline to show when the notes start.   Note tails (stripes) are displayed behind the noteheads to show how long they last relative to the beat.  In traditional notation, noteheads, stems, flags, dots, and ties all must be considered to arrive at a total note duration.   With WYSIWYP, all elements that affect note duration are combined and represented by a single note tail.  Because the beats are explicitly shown with tic marks, it is visually easy to see how long to sustain the note in terms of beats or fractions thereof.  Furthermore, there is no need for rest symbols at all since the absence of noteheads and tails indicates silence.

As a result of this approach, note durations and relationships among notes on all staves are visually intuitive.  The concept of "whole notes" in traditional notation is replaced with that of just playing what you see in the space of a beat.   And in addition, because beats are explicitly shown, there is no need for time signatures.

The design of these solutions is explained in the Complete Summary of WYSIWYP.

Traditional Notation unchanged and retained by WYSIWYP

These WYSIWYP design solutions allow beginning student of music to get started learning to read music.  As students advance in their learning, there is a need for additional notation that is unchanged by the WYSIWYP design.  This includes slurs, articulation, fingerings, dynamics, and piano pedal controls.  These are to be displayed generally in the same way in WYSIWYP.   Click here for a brief overview of how these elements work.

There are also a variety of other less frequently used notation that will also be retained but are not yet implemented in the first version of the Simplified Notation app for Sheet Music (SNapp).  Read about the future of WYSIWYP here.