Chinese Musical Notation – Music without a Staff!

I recently received a song from China called Little Swallow. The sheet music was very different from the notes on staffs that we use in the West. It consisted of numbers with dots and lines. Here’s what it looks like:

Sheet Music Of Chinese Song Little Swallow

I asked Wang Li, who sent me the song, about it. She said, “In China this kind of sheet music consist of numbers 1-7 and is quite popular:

1-do (C)
2-re (D)
3-mi (E)
4-fa (F)
5-sol (G)
6-la (A)
7-ti (B)

It’s called numbered musical notation (”jianpu” in Chinese – simple sheet music) and used to be the only musical score for the ordinary people.”

A dot above or below a number raises or lowers the note an octave.

A plain number is a quarter note. A line under the number cuts it in half – so if it has one line under it – it’s an eighth note.

A dash after the number adds a quarter note – so if it has one dash after it – it’s a half note.

Here you can hear the midi tune of Little Swallow

I can see an advantage to musicians using the Chinese numbered notation as a type of shorthand.

If you’re interested in more details, you can read about Chinese numbered musical notation on Wikipedia.

You can see the song page for Little Swallow with the lyrics, midi and staff sheet music by clicking on the link.

Many thanks to Wang Li for the Little Swallow score and to Monique Palomares for creating the midi music.

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2007 at 5:56 pm and is filed under Children's Songs, China, Chinese, Chinese Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, Jianpu, Languages, Mama Lisa, Music, Numbered Musical Notation, Sheet Music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

42 Responses to “Chinese Musical Notation – Music without a Staff!”

  1. troy Says:

    very interesting!
    thanks for posting this.

    reminds me of the little number song books that came with toy musical instruments!
    i remember a tiny electric piano i had as a kid that I loved. i mastered jingle bells through that numbered notation!

    333 333 35123……!

    was always fun to play it on the phone too! ;)

  2. Lisa Says:

    I remember those too – they were fun!

    In a way that’s similar to how those were fun to play with, I can see musically oriented kids enjoying simple exercises where they transfer simple songs from Chinese musical notation to a staff and vice versa. Though it would be on a more complex level of course.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Wang Li wrote me from China:

    Dear Mama Lisa,

    I’ve read your article about numbered music notation. It ‘s really interesting. In fact it was invented not by Chinese but by Frenchman – there are different conclusions about the inventor. It’s used most widely in China than any other parts of the world. I studied numbered music notation in primary school then studied staff in middle school.

    Best wishes.
    Truly yours,

    Wang Li

  4. monique Says:

    This notation was invented by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Genève 1712-Ermenonville near Paris 1778). His philosophical works are widely known while his musical invention is known only by specialists. The usual French dictionary “Le petit Larousse” doesn’t even mention it or his musical works.

  5. KIM LONG Says:

    please give me -software for Chinese Musical Notation – Music without a Staff! i,m living in Vietnam
    i like it and very need it thanks.please reply to me

  6. Lisa Says:

    Would anyone know where you can get software for Chinese musical notation – preferably down-loadable from an online source?

  7. Monique Says:

    Try this link
    http://www.a1soft.com/smusic/

  8. Dennis"Dino" Salvatera Says:

    I will be downloading the free software next week when my friend comes over I’m not that good with computers.This is exactly what I have been looking for ,I play Gu Zheng and have hand wriiten music small and hard to see ,now I’m older. Can you recomend similar programs either free or purchable.
    Thank you

  9. Dennis"Dino" Salvatera Says:

    Monique or Wang Li,
    can you help me in the downloaded proram ofMusic without a staff.
    dsalvatera@aol.com ….. san francisco… usa

  10. Lisa Says:

    I asked Monique about the software. Here’s what she wrote to me:

    It’s the free software of Chinese number notation system I found on line but I never downloaded it. It’s the only software of jianpu I found. Maybe there are others in Chinese but I don’t speak or read Chinese… I found that (there’s an English version) :

    http://www.normanschmidt.net/nmn/

    Some people mention Magith:

    http://www.2bhonest.com/

    Link to Magith Download

    If anyone else knows about Chinese Notation Software and can give any other information, please let us know. -Mama Lisa

  11. Dr W Hughes Says:

    Yes all very nice, and I know how jianpu works, and have the free software. What I need urgently is TRANSLATION software. Finale has Solfege but this is different. i HAVE TO TRANSLATE MANY PAGES. AND IT WILL TAKE ME YEARS.

    I cannot believe that someone of the must be many millions of Mandarin music professionals and amateurs, let alone school Children does not have 5 line staff translation software.

    PLEASE

  12. J. Hsu Says:

    I am a Chinese Musician. There is a Shareware program called “Music Writer – v3.0″ written in EXCEL format. It is by far the best and easiest Chinese music notation program I have seen. I believe it also has the capability of translating Chinese to Western notations and vice versa. You can email the author at “xiaoshu@rocketmail.com” about getting a trail copy.

  13. Jean Says:

    I tried the program “Music Writer – v3.0″ and it works very well. This is a very good program for those who want to write music in the Chinese Notation or for those who want to translating Chinese to Western notation or vice versa. It is super, to try without delay.

  14. J. Hsu Says:

    Music Writer v3.2 is out with improved features for converting Chinese to Western notations. It is available for download at: http://simple.myfabrik.com/musicwriter/public/xiaoshu
    I believe there is a 30-day free trail period.

  15. el hombre Says:

    any jianpu software for mac?

  16. robin lim Says:

    i am very interested inthe music write v3.2 but don’t know how to download.pls help. Robin.

  17. J. Hsu Says:

    Robin,

    If you haven’t downloaded Music Writer yet, Version 3.4 is out, along with important User Guide. Just click on link above, then click on the RSS button, four files will appear(as of today). Select one of the files, click on Download, and select Save to Disk. This program does an amazing job of translating jianpu to western notations, and vice versa.

    el hombre,

    I have communicated with the author of Music Writer, sorry, there is no MAC version available for this program.

  18. Игорек Says:

    Хм, к размышлению… :)

  19. T Mak Says:

    Mama Lisa: How do you convert the number system into midi file?

  20. songphon sukhumvat Says:

    I want to buy this program (music writer v.3.4). How should Ido ?

  21. J. Hsu Says:

    Music Writer v3.6 is now available at the following link: http://beta.joggle.com/app/public/musicwriter
    It now has a user guide in English and Chinese, plus Chinese fonts.
    I believe the software is free. If there are questions you want to pose to the author, his e-mail address is: xiaoshu@rocketmail.com
    Enjoy.

  22. songphon sukhumvat Says:

    Thanks Mr. J. Hsu, I have already been trial and I can ‘t use it further.So I want to use it on my works permanently.

  23. tuni Says:

    any software to make this kind of music notations?

    Thanks
    M’sia

  24. oswald chan Says:

    Hi Everybody,

    I come from Hong Kong. I am late with your discussion with the numbered notations which I have been using since I was a boy.
    Actually it is very similiar to the Solfe system.

    I also urgently need a software to help me in some ‘quick’ writing.
    So thanks all the links provided here.

    Thanks.

    oswald

  25. Xiaoshu Xu Says:

    The new download site is
    http://www.cnmidi.org/xiazaizhongxin/ruanjianxiazai/2009-10-31/93.html

    Xiaoshu Xu

  26. Fred Says:

    Thanks Xiaoshu for the update.

    Which part of the webpage must I click to download the software? I don’t seem to be able to find it. Thanks again.

  27. ricky Says:

    dear friend i’m new in this instruments but i like chinese music specially the yao dance if you have this by number

    can you send it to me? Please sincerily yours ricky

  28. Dr. Alise Brown Says:

    Number notation was invented by the French philosoher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 1700s, as he was unable to comprehend standard music notation. His method, while initially rejected, became popular and was used in France for many years. In the early 20th century Justine Ward used this method to develop a music education method for the Catholic school system. It was taught in Catholic schools around the world, spreading number notation, and was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. It is the only dissertation on the topic written by a non-Catholic. The The Ward Method, although struggling to survive, is still taught in the United States at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., and at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado where I teach it as a summer workshop, and in my music methods for classroom teachers. It is the fastest, easiest way to learn to read and write music, while transferring that knowledge to the standard staff. The numbers are read as solfege pitches (do, re, mi…). Many Western European childrens’ songs are included in the method books written in number notation, but the method also teaches correct vocal production, musical composition and improvisation.

  29. Janet Says:

    Hi Dr. Alise Brown

    I would love to read your research on JianPu and the Ward system.! Thanks, Janet

    # Dr. Alise Brown Says:
    July 9th, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Number notation was invented by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 1700s, as he was unable to comprehend standard music notation. His method, while initially rejected, became popular and was used in France for many years. In the early 20th century Justine Ward used this method to develop a music education method for the Catholic school system. It was taught in Catholic schools around the world, spreading number notation, and was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. It is the only dissertation on the topic written by a non-Catholic. The Ward Method, although struggling to survive, is still taught in the United States at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., and at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado where I teach it as a summer workshop, and in my music methods for classroom teachers. It is the fastest, easiest way to learn to read and write music, while transferring that knowledge to the standard staff. The numbers are read as solfege pitches (do, re, mi…). Many Western European childrens’ songs are included in the method books written in number notation, but the method also teaches correct vocal production, musical composition and improvisation.

  30. Wilfred Says:

    Number system is widely used in Burma (South of China) where I grew up. We used that in recording studios, (well, at least until I left the country about 30 years ago). We used that in concerts. Musicians didn’t have much time to practice so they just read this music on stage. It’s just that we didn’t know it was called Jianpo.

    I’m trying to teach my Praise Band this number system here in the US. It’s so handy if you know how to use it. It’s not just a kid-stuff. It’s a professional tool. I use it to learn new music/songs or when I compose songs, or when I play musical instrument. I’m so glad to find this information here. I’ve been looking for this kind of information online for a number of years.

  31. lawai Says:

    Hi,
    I live in China right now and my dizi teacher only gives me this note system.
    I went to a couple of music stores and the books they have only have this number system, so I guess it is the regular way of reading music here in China..

    I learned it very quickly though and find it very easy.

    I know that for other types of traditional instruments (guqin for example), use a very old system, more like a text, describing which finger should pluck which string and with which intensity. If you can’t read chinese, you don’t stand a chance :))

  32. joshuadude5 Says:

    its used for ocarina

  33. Lisa Says:

    Walter wrote:

    Hello Mamalisa

    I was looking for Jian-pu software and found your website, then I knew MusicWriter.

    Now I have got this software, but inside without the User’s guide.
    I want copy a standard notation onto the MusicWriter page, and later convert it to Jian-pu.

    But I cannot find the tool to draw the staff (5 lines) on the page.
    Could you please give me a guidance ?

  34. Walter Says:

    I did ask the question how to draw the staff 5 lines. Now I have found :

    1. Drag a block bar across the page to where you want the staff position to be,
    2. Click the Western on the top tags,
    3. Click the Create Staff and select your key mark,
    4. Click Ok, the staff of 5 lines is automatically created into the block bar.

  35. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for sharing that Walter!

  36. Ann Leong Says:

    Dear Ms. Mama:

    I need to write some songs in number notation . Where can I get a software to write number music instead of 5 line staff? I am willing to buy one if the price is affordable for me . Thank you !

    Ann Leong

  37. Ann Leong Says:

    Where to buy a number music notation software?

    Thank you !

    Ann Leong

  38. Lan Dapu Says:

    Could anyone tell me where I can purchase the jianpu font software for me to type the music for my Chinese choir ? I desparately need it. Thanks

  39. kim long Says:

    HI
    thank u
    how …. “bar line simple ” no symbol please help me!
    ex: 3333 “bar line” 2222 “bar line”????? how to take keyboard?

  40. Victor Tan Says:

    Anyone who have the chinese jianpu notation for All of me song (John Legend) plse email me at
    victorsltan@klscc.com

    I truly appreciate it thank you.

  41. Paulina PS Says:

    Hello! I stumbled upon your page and it really helped me. Just wanted to say Thank You :)

  42. Angka lagu Says:

    Great info and i have blog number notation. You can check in https://angka-lagu.blogspot.com/

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