Sound sources

Here we begin the process of actually producing a piece of notation - what we will call a “score.”

We’ve seen that notation provides a means of specifying certain things about a set of sounds, and Global Notation aims to let you specify just the things you want to (see Specifying the information you want). 

To notate some music in Global Notation, the first decision to make is whether you want to specify what is making the sounds. It might be a musical instrument, a human voice, a computer, a pre-recorded sample, an animal, the wind, or anything else that can produce sound. We’ll refer to anything that produces sound as a “sound source.”

Composers usually intend their music to be performed by particular instruments and voice types, and specify the sound sources in their scores. But this has not always been the case.

A lot of Renaissance music was advertised as “apt for voices or viols,” meaning that it could be either sung or played on bowed instruments. Similarly, if we are discussing a melody that exists in many different vocal and instrumental arrangements, or a musical figure or formula that occurs in various pieces for different instruments, then we might want to notate the melody or figure without specifying sound sources.

For a score of a particular piece or performance, however, we will probably want to specify the sound sources. We can do so at any desired level of specificity. 

A vocal part, for instance, can be specified as broadly as “voice,” more specifically as “female voice” or “mezzo soprano,” or most specifically of all by naming an individual singer or opera character. Musical instruments can be named specifically (e.g., “cello”) or described more generally in terms of either organological categories (e.g., “bowed lute”) or functional roles (e.g., “bass instrument”). (The freedom to choose not only whether to specify something or not, but how specifically to do so, is built into Global Notation for all other parameters as well.)

If we do wish to specify sound sources, Global Notation does this the same way as a conventional Western score: by writing the names of the sound sources at the beginning of the notation. By default, the “beginning” means the left-hand edge, since the notation will be read from left to right.

Reading from left to right has been chosen as the default option simply because it is expected to be the most intuitive way for the majority of potential users of Global Notation. However, users whose native language reads from right to left might prefer to write their notation that way too. This can be done simply by making everything a mirror image of what is described on this website, except for numbers and other textual elements which of course are written in whatever is the normal direction for their script.

If there is more than one sound source, it may be helpful to separate the sound sources into different “layers” of notation, like the “staffs” of a Western score. The name of each sound source is then written at the beginning of the layer in which the sounds from that source are to be notated.

Two sound sources: guitar, castanets

Often, a group of performers can be treated as a single sound source, for instance if they are singing or playing in unison.

Two sound sources: female chorus, violins

We’ll also find that we can often save space by notating the sounds from more than one source in a single layer.

Single layer - Voices and xylophone

On the other hand, an individual performer may produce two or more different kinds of sound which are better notated in separate layers. For example, a solo female singer accompanying herself with handclaps could be treated as two sound sources in separate layers.

Two sound sources: female voice, handclaps

Of course, if we don’t want to specify sound sources, we don’t have to write anything at the left-hand edge of the notation.

As for what comes after the specification of sound sources for each layer, that depends on another decision: whether to specify pitch or not. That decision will also help determine how many layers to use and which sound sources to put in each one.