Rhythm Notation

TwinNote uses the same rhythm notation symbols as traditional notation, except:

  • Hollow and solid notes are used to help indicate pitch instead of duration.
  • Half notes have a double stem to distinguish them from quarter notes.

Here is a comparison showing notes of different durations:

Note durations in TwinNote music notation


Dotted notes, tied notes, slurs, rests, and other articulations are the same in TwinNote as they are in traditional notation.  Here is another comparison showing rests of different durations.

Rests of different durations in TwinNote music notation

Distinguishing Half Notes and Quarter Notes

Using double stems for half notes distinguishes them from quarter notes, and symbolizes how their duration is twice as long.  It also has the benefit of consolidating duration symbols into variations on the stem.  The rest of the duration and rhythm symbols are the same as in traditional notation, making it easier to read both TwinNote and traditional notation “bilingually.”  Since quarter notes generally occur more frequently than half notes it makes sense for them to look the same as in traditional notation, with a single stem and no flag.

Why Use Hollow and Solid Notes to Indicate Pitch?

In traditional notation hollow and solid notes are used simply to differentiate between half notes and quarter notes. (Other note durations can be distinguished through other symbols like flags or lack of stem as shown above.) But consider that the one thing that is most visually apparent about a note is whether it is hollow or solid. At a glance it is much easier to see that a note is hollow or solid than to determine its position on the staff.

Is it a poor use of this prominent visual feature to use it simply to differentiate between half notes and quarter notes? Wouldn’t it be better to use hollow and solid notes to make it easier to identify a note’s pitch? And also to emphasize the 6-6 pitch pattern, maximizing its benefits? This is TwinNote’s approach.

Chromatic scale in TwinNote music notation

In TwinNote the triangle notes that point up are always solid, and those that point down are always hollow, regardless of their duration. This makes it easier to quickly identify notes and tell them apart. It also increases the visibility of the 6-6 pitch pattern, making interval relationships clearer and easier to distinguish from one another. This is illustrated on the Scales and Intervals pages.

For those who do not like the idea of using hollow and solid notes for pitch, see TwinNote TD, the “traditional duration” version of TwinNote that is fully consistent with traditional duration symbols.

Why Not Try to Improve Upon Traditional Rhythm Notation?

It would probably be possible to come up with a novel rhythm notation system that was more consistent or systematic. This has not been done with TwinNote, mainly because it would increase the learning curve for those who already know traditional notation or who want to learn it alongside TwinNote. Using the traditional rhythm notation (with one small change that brings big benefits) provides greater continuity with traditional notation and makes it easier for musicians to learn to read both systems interchangeably.

That said, anyone who wants to further innovate and use TwinNote with an alternative rhythm notation system is welcome to do so (provided they communicate that it is not TwinNote’s standard rhythm notation).

For further discussion see the Music Notation Project’s tutorial on Using Notehead Color for Pitch. Traditional rhythm notation is documented on these Wikipedia pages: Note Value, Dotted Note, and Tie.

Next: Key Signatures