Chinese Music Simplified Notation
According to an encyclopedia published in Taiwan, jiănpŭ or simplified musical notation was invented by a French musician in the 18th century. Currently it's widely used in mainland China and Taiwan but unknown in the western countries. The beauty of this notation is in its ease of sight-reading; it's almost impossible to read the simplified notation and sing with a wrong pitch. Take as an example the song London Bridge is Falling Down
Compare that with the staff (from www.people.vcu.edu/~bhammel/)
If you know how to read staff, it only takes you a few minutes to understand the simplified notation. Basically, the positions of the ellipse-shaped notes become numbers. You always sing 1 as do, 2 re, 3 mi, and so on. How do you know the first note in the staff for this song should be 5 or so in the simplified notation? The rule is, if the staff does not have any sharp (#) or flat (b) sign for the whole line (i.e., no key signature), then the C note (the first ledger line below the staff) is sung as do. That's why you see 1=C at the beginning of the simplified notation.
What happens if you do have sharp and flat in key signature? Then you sing the line or space with # (or the rightmost # if multiple) as ti (Chinese may pronounce it like shee; but that doesn't matter), and that the line or space with b (or the rightmost b) is fa. See the staff transcription below (image originally from tinwhistler.com).
Here since some notes are below the normal octave, you put a dot below them. If the notes were above the normal octave, you would put dots above the numbers.
You may already know how to rewrite the rhythms. It's easy. Since the time signature is the same (two-four time in the first staff and four-four in the second), a number without an underline is a quarter note (one beat). A single-underlined number is an eighth note, double-underlined sixteenth, and so on. The dots that make the preceding notes last half length longer are used the same way between the western music staff and the simplified notation, so are slurs and ties (not shown here).
That's the transcription of the following staff (originally from guitar-primer.com).
Rest notes, however, are quite different. They're all written as 0's. A whole rest is 0 - - -, half rest 0 -, eighth rest 0, and so on. Since simplified notation is almost exclusively used for singing, you rarely see chord, where a few notes or numbers stack vertically.
Links Wikipedia has more detailed information.
Appendix Comment from Bass Chorng, a musician, in 2007
In case you are not aware, in Taiwan, musicians use the same concept with chord expression. For example, if the chord progression of a song goes like: C, Am, Dm, G. People would note it 1, 6, 2, 5. and simply mark it key C.
If this song is transposed to key G, the 1, 6, 2, 5 sequence never changes. The simplified notation essentially only records the relations so it can be transposed to any key without changing the literals. Otherwise, the same song, if expressed in key G, would have to be noted as: G, Em, Am, D.
This simplified expression is a must in pubs where musicians play the same song in different keys to match different singers.
Also we use simplified notation to express chord components, so that C chord = 1, 3, 5, or 1 = 1, 3, 5 which is true with ANY key, so as a musician, all you need to know is where the first note is and all the rest are relative. This same concept also makes advanced chords much easier to understand, so that C7 = 1,3,5,7, C6 = 1,3,5,6, Csus4 = 1,3,4,5, C9 = 1,3,5,7,2 (9).
In comparing with our Finnish guitar player who always has difficulty remembering all the chords of the hundreds of songs we play, the 3 Taiwanese rarely have problems. Because we memorize relations (variables) but they have to memorize hard coded chords. This is more prominent when we have to switch keys.
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