I am trying to find a good all-text (type able) musical notation system that already exists* and that has some usage and credibility.

Ideally, such a system would allow very simple musical notation:

D2 E2 C2 C1 G1

As well as allow for the encoding of more complex concepts like what kind of waveform should be used, duration (expressed in milliseconds or as number of beats), the tempo, pauses, etc. Some completely made up examples of what I mean here:

BPM-100 SIN-A1 PAUSE-1.5 SAW-C1-2 SINE-G#2-.5 SINE-Eb1-200ms

It would be even better if it had conventions for defining waveforms that could be used, specifying attack, volume changes, pans, frequency changes, etc.

(Also, I wasn't sure whether this question belonged here or on the Musical Practice and Performance SE site, let me know if I got it wrong)

*OK, I'd actually love to invent my own, but that is often a bad idea as my ugly example indicates..

  • 1
    Seems that you're talking about a kind of computer program that converts sheet music to something it can understand. Nice idea and 1 voteup :)
    – Saeed Neamati
    Jul 15, 2011 at 11:25
  • 1
    That's not a bad idea at all. I'm of the opinion that if you have an idea, you do it. You may succeed or it might take a few tries to get it right but if you never try you most definitely will never succeed. Food for thought.
    – SeanBlake
    Jul 15, 2011 at 17:36
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    I ended up using RTTL with some additional capabilities: github.com/joelarson4/Thunder
    – joe larson
    Nov 2, 2011 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


Are you looking to generate typeset notation, a synthesized waveform, or both? I ask because the reason not many of these systems exist is because they would have to be incredibly complex to do the work of any common sequencer or notation program.

LilyPond exists; its primary purpose is generating beautiful typesetting of music input in a TeX-like manner. It can also output MIDI, but its primary purpose is the typesetting, and already it's so ridiculously complex that I just always use Sibelius unless some really specific edge case shows itself.

ABC Notation is much less complex and much more limited as a result, but seems to have widespread adoption in folk music communities.

It sounds a little like you want some text-based manner of controlling a waveform generator. If that's the case, you may consider editing your question title to that effect.

If you're looking for really detailed sequencer tools like a text-based Reason or something, you may be out of luck. That would fall into the category of "already complicated enough with a GUI; head-explodingly complex to try to wedge into a text interface."

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    Thanks for the feedback. Lilypond looks interesting, though complicated. Abc notation is too simple butcould be a good starting point.
    – joe larson
    Jul 15, 2011 at 13:29
  • also - I think it might be the other way around in a way - Reason has to be complex because it's a GUI. While I can't imagine having the power with something Text-based, it might actually be really awesome for somewhat simpler needs. A (very loose) analogy might be Drag-and-Drop programming tools vs. programming in TextMate.
    – joe larson
    Jul 15, 2011 at 13:43
  • Ended up using RTTL with some extra stuff: github.com/joelarson4/Thunder
    – joe larson
    Nov 2, 2011 at 15:45
  • 1
    For quickly jotting down some music, Mascii is a simple yet powerful format mascii.org
    – Magnus
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:00

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