New universal music notation system could make it easier to share musical ideas across cultural boundaries

  • Existing notation systems are designed for particular kinds of music
  • Easy to use system designed to represent any kind of music from around the world and be easy to use
  • Universal system could make it easier for people to understand and discuss musical sound

A new universal music notation system designed to notate any type of music from around the world has been developed by a researcher at the University of Sheffield.

The Global Notation system, produced by Dr Andrew Killick from the University’s Department of Music, is a new way of visually representing the sounds of any type of music.

Around the world, music is written down in many different ways with each system designed to suit its region’s musical tradition. However, musicians and music researchers increasingly work across traditions and regions and need to communicate about musical sound in a common written language.

Western music notation, also known as sheet music notation, is notoriously difficult to learn and often struggles to represent non-Western music accurately.

The new Global Notation system developed at Sheffield is designed to represent any kind of music equally well while being easy to learn and use.

Dr Andrew Killick, who started to develop the new system in 2016 as part of his teaching on world music for University of Sheffield students, said: “Preserving pieces of music and teaching them to new performers can be much easier when the music is written down. It’s exciting to discover and learn music from different parts of the world, but with the notation systems currently available, this is more difficult than it could be.

“The basic principle of Global Notation is simple: the notation should be able to give just the information that we actually want about the sounds and not force us to give irrelevant information, which Western notation often does when it’s used for non-Western music.

“In the new system, the notator is always allowed to choose whether to specify a given feature of the sounds or not, whether it be pitch, duration, metre, or anything else. Any desired feature can then be specified in terms of the music’s own principles rather than Western ones.”

The new Global Notation System was recently presented at an international conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music in Thessaloniki, Greece.

The system is now available for anyone to learn and use through the following website: