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Discussion on "Numbered Musical Notation"

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  • Discussion on "Numbered Musical Notation"

    A few months ago myorgan mentioned in a thread the "numbered musical notation", and suggested me to open a new thread to talk about this concept.

    The numbered musical notation is a musical notation system widely used in music publications in China.
    It use the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 to represent the seven scale degrees in a diatonic major scale, in C major for example, the number 1 to 7 would mean: CDEFGAB.
    But when the notes are read aloud or sung, you will have to use Solfège system, so instead of saying CDE...AB, you will have to say Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti.

    To learn more detailed information about it you can read from wikipedia:

    But here I want to mention something that the information on internet don't cover:

    1, This numbered musical notation came from a 19 century French notation system. And the purpose of the system is to train students "Sight Singing". And apparently It Is easier to sight sing using numbered musical notation than regular notation. Because it basically just automatically transpose everything into C major.
    But personally I don't have any experience sight singing with this system, so I can't tell you from my personal perspective.
    But I have heard that a lot of vocalist know this system, and in China they even use this system more, so I guess it must work for them.

    2, But this would make playing much more difficult. Unless you are super good at transposing. Because this system automatically transpose everything in to C major, when playing, you need to transpose everything back to it's original key.
    On top of the music it would give you an indication of the key signature, like if 1=C, then 1, 2, 3 means CDE, But if it says 1= G, it means G major, and where it says 1, you need to play G, and 2=A, 3=B, etc. And also, it seems to be more complicated when it's in Minor, because instead of using 1, it use 6, like 6=A, would be a minor.

    3, It really cracks my mind when I found out a lot of church accompanists (organists, pianists, keyboardist) in China actually use Numbered Musical Notation Hymnal instead of the regular ones we have here.
    Well, apparently that's the only Hymnal available for them.

    For one reason is that since the 50s the government in China promote the numbered notation in common music education, like in primary school and high school, because they believe that the numbered nation is easier than the staff notation system, for people with no music background to pick up quickly.

    As a result, although people still use Staff Notation System when they learn western music instruments, or learn western music as a major, common people who don't know much about Western music can't read Staff, but they can understand basic numbered notation system easily.

    On the other hand it's simply Chinese churches likes to "localize" everything. They translate everything into Chinese, English hymns, Latin motets or Gregorian chant, German songs, any language, they all translate the lyrics into Chinese, and people sing everything in Chinese. Of course localise lyrics is not enough, notations are localized as well. It's intentional.

    4, To be honest I think a lot of people use it for music education or for any purpose, just because it's easier to hand write them and easier to print.
    Think about it, when you only have a chalk board, or just a white piece of paper, and your computer was not smart enough to have automatic staff system, how can you write music as quickly as possible? Draw five lines carefully and make sure they are perfectly parallel to each other? Or just write down some numbers?

    And, an example of Handel's Messiah "His yoke is easy" in Numbered Musical Notation System:
    And you can compare it with the original version (staff system).

    To my taste I really like the Staff better, because I think it's easier to read... To count the beat, to see the pitch, I think it's more clear and better organized. Although the numbered notation would be just as clear if the music is easier, or shorter.
    I am a more visual person so reading staff is easier for me as well. What do you think?

  • #2
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ID:	722690these are not my pictures. This is a friend of mine from China she took the picture.
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    • #3
      Anyway, I think it's "Seemingly a simple notation but actually Not" , for a lot of good reasons.
      I really admire those who can read it fluently and play with them during the service.
      I would rather quit the job than sight reading and playing with this haha


      • #4
        Just my 2cts,
        I guess it is easier for singing. For reason there is no reference to physical locations on the instrument.
        for all instruments indeed one has to be supergood in transposing on the fly.... tricky.
        also the numbers provide no “hunch” of high versus low.
        Made my own organs in 1975 and 1981.
        Fender Rhodes since 1982.
        Hammond xm1 midi-module with Solton Bass/Treble Leslie for many years
        Hammond L122 with 1speaker Leslie cabinet since January 2020


        • #5
          Originally posted by Stefank View Post
          I guess it is easier for singing. For reason there is no reference to physical locations on the instrument.
          for all instruments indeed one has to be supergood in transposing on the fly.... tricky.
          also the numbers provide no “hunch” of high versus low.

          Thank you for sharing this wonderful resource to something many of us would never recognize as music unless we took a closer look. Stefank brings up a good point about transposition–all one needs to know is the key they're playing in.

          A couple of questions, though. Stefank also brings up a good point about knowing which notes exceed the original octave. Is that indicated by the lines under the numbers, or in another way? Also, could you provide an example of how accidentals are marked?

          WONDERFUL resource! I had only seen it once before. Thanks so much.

          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos


          • Sarah Weizhen
            Sarah Weizhen commented
            Editing a comment
            I think accidentals are just placed next to the number, like how we put accidental marks next to the notes.

          • myorgan
            myorgan commented
            Editing a comment
            Thank you for the information, and introducing us to a system of notation many people (Americans, at least) have never seen or experienced. Once I posted, I realized the lines were for rhythmic notation, however, since I didn't see any double dots, I wondered if it didn't indicate staccato.

            Thanks again, Sarah.


          • Sarah Weizhen
            Sarah Weizhen commented
            Editing a comment
            But I wonder why I didn't see any dots below the number in Bass. They even put dots above numbers here. That's confusing. Maybe it says Bass means you are automatically consider it in bass clef?