When viewing a piece of music that is notated like this, how does one determine the key? A student sung it to me, and I was able to figure out that the numbers correspond to the scale degrees in a major scale. The numbers without dots above them are in the lower octave. In other pieces of music (all were notated like this) some notes have 2 dots above them which seem to indicate belonging to the octave above.

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The student is from China, and speaks almost no English so I had to guess and couldn't ask. I assume this is some kind of Chinese folk music.

Are my guesses correct, and how do I determine what key I should be in? I started in C for simplicity's sake.

  • Could be some sort of NNS - CNS.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 16:15
  • What are NNS and CNS?
    – nuggethead
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 16:16
  • Nashville Number System, thus Chinese Number System!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 16:17
  • Last I knew the NNS was for chords, but this seems to be melody notes.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 16:18
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    As Tim suggested, if it's notated using scale degrees, then it could be pitched in any key. I tried putting the image into Google Translate but I think I'm only getting lyrics—"orange sunset, engulfed... night slowly push away... show a little bit of starlight..." Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


The notation system, jiǎnpǔ ("simplified notation"), is commonly used in China. As stated, the numbers correspond to degrees of the major scale. Wikipedia has a full explanation of the system.

Since the system only states scale degrees, it can be performed in any key that fits the range of the instrument used.

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