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I know that the more typical notation for the little X in the time signature is used for double sharps, but in the intro of the volume the author of this work seems to say that he is using that symbol to denote a quarter tone:

enter image description here

However, nowhere does he specify what the angled lines mean. Anyone have any clues?

The music is from Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn in 1923.

  • Seeing as the external notes are in the Hebrew alphabet, I'm guessing that stuff where the key signature and/or the meter should go may very well also be some Hebrew lettering or symbol. Try searching thru some "Hebrew Music Dictionary" if there is such a thing. I'm also not convinced that the "x-ey" thing here is the same as his claim about quarter-tones, as it makes no sense to put it here unless he intends for ever "C" in the piece to be off by a quarter. Oct 21, 2015 at 19:16
  • @CarlWitthoft i've added the section from the intro that discusses the key signature for you to decide what the intent of the author is. Also, the work was originally written in German, it was never written in Hebrew, but happened to be intended for musically inclined Jews to read. The volume i have is a translation from the German into English.
    – Aaron
    Oct 21, 2015 at 19:33
  • 2
    I would say that clearly the "X" accidental marking is interpreted as: every C is read as a quarter-tone between C# and D. As for the second accidental, I would assume it is interpreted as: for every A, play the quarter-tone between A and A#. I've never seen this marking before but will ask around for you. There will be a new-music festival held at my school this weekend so I will likely find at least 1 person familiar with this notation. Oct 21, 2015 at 20:47
  • 2
    Made a mistake in my previous comment. The "X" i believe refers to the lower quarter-tone while the "//" refers to the upper quarter-tone. This wikipedia page has a possibly helpful section on microtonal notaion: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accidental_(music) Oct 21, 2015 at 21:31
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft, it seems unlikely that the // symbol refers to a meter since the example has irregular groupings. I think that's why the lines aren't true measure lines.
    – Alex
    Oct 21, 2015 at 23:09

2 Answers 2


The angled lines are variant accidentals, indicating "one quarter tone sharp."

The notation in question is a variant key signature, not a time signature. (Disregarding the sometimes conflicting information in your second photograph), the key signature is "C double-sharp, B one quarter tone sharp, G one quarter tone sharp."

The several possibilities for quarter tones are given in Gardner Read's "Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice", pg. 145 (shown below). Your author's choice is documented on row 5, column 2.

enter image description here


In the Western music tradition we would call this method 'detuning' or 'microtonal shift'

In the western music tradition there are scales which follow the pattern

Whole Whole  Half, Whole Whole Whole Half

This means that from one note to its octave higher we can play a "scale" that sounds like beautiful travel up the notes to the next tonic (like from D up to D, or C to C)

If you look at the staff with the word "common line" to the left and you start on the higher D, you can see the scale wrap around in the fashion

1 1 .5, 1 1 1 .5 (whole whole half...)

Now look at the staff below this one and start on D again and wrap around

1 .75 .75, 1 1 .75 .75

This means that the Ds will sound the same as in the western piano tuning, as well as G and A.

The remaining notes of this scale ([d] E F [g] [a] B C) ... E, F, B, and C are all slightly different than in the western tuning. How are they different?

The X means to detune the "western traditional note" by 25 cents or 1/4 tone.

Detuning C, E, and F by 25 cents should make everything work because the total number of steps in the octave will still be the same as a "western" scale.

  • 1
    I believe you to be sure. It is indeed what I get from the text. I am curious if this is answer is informed by an understanding of the book, Hebrew music, microtonal music, or merely the text of the question.
    – amalgamate
    Oct 22, 2015 at 18:21
  • @amalgamate my reply is rather late, but my understanding is purely based on this question and my personal experience in understanding non-conventional tunings
    – sova
    Feb 20, 2016 at 2:46

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