Writing music notation in the Third Millennium

Is the musical notation of the Western tradition dying? With so many active (read:professional) composers composing straight into MIDI Sequencers and sample engines, and with piano rolls being the dominant visual aspect of the music for many of this crowd,  how does the future of traditional western notation look? Live performers still use it. Notation software is still being written and sold by more than a couple companies. So what is it that causes a shiver of anxiety to travel down my spine whenever I contemplate the long term future of traditional Western music notation? Is it just a baseless dread of obsolescence?  A fear of having to change, and lose old friends and habits? Of having to adopt what I, perhaps out of sheer obstinacy, consider to be an inferior system of visually recording musical sounds?

And is it tied, perhaps, to that other Third Millennium conversation of live versus sampled music, since there is no talk whatsoever, that I’m aware of, of live performers taking up reading their parts from piano rolls. Yes, it seems the traditional notation is for live performers and, perhaps, but not completely exclusively, it is the piano roll which is to be the visual reckoning of the sampled age of music.

But there is still hope yet for this stubborn man: the continually improved integration of sampled playback with notation software holds the promise of a bright future for pertinacious contrarians like me who aren’t ready to give up the ghost of Western music notation just yet!

3 Responses to Writing music notation in the Third Millennium

  1. downbythebrook says:

    I am currently studying the history of Western music with Curtis online (via Coursera) and this is one of the discussion topics- the future of music notation. I cannot see a radical change to another notation system as the one we have has been developed over almost a thousdand years. It isn’t easy to master but it is a good system.

    • Steve says:

      I certainly hope you’re right. And, I imagine, as long as there are human performers, the notation will live on. Thanks for reading. Best of luck with your studies.

      • downbythebrook says:

        Thanks Steve! Classical music needs notation and as long as there people who want to listen to and perform it notation will be here.

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