A melody can be written in a type of relative notation, where we don't think in notes but rather in relative intervals.

X - means choose any note
0 - means hit note again where you are
positive - means to raise current note by this many semitones
negative - means to lower current note by this many semitones

So the first few measures of the melody of happy birthday could be written as:
X 0 2 -2 5 -1 -4 0 2 -2 7 -2

Is there an official name for this type of notation?

  • A tiny bit similar to NNS, as it's not key dependent.
    – Tim
    Apr 23, 2017 at 17:31
  • This is like Parsons Code, except that Parsons Code just indicates Repeat, Up or Down so it doesn't care about the size of the interval, just its direction. Jan 14, 2021 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


In the theory and analysis of twentieth-century music, we have the notion of ordered pitch intervals. These intervals are measured in semitones (as in the system you gave) and, because they are "ordered," they specify ascending or descending.

As such, your "Happy Birthday" notation becomes:

0 +2 -2 +5 -1 -4 0 +2 -2 +7 -2

Similar concepts are used when programming music, or determine trends across a corpus; for instance, IMSLP's Search by Melody feature uses something like it. (In their case, they give middle C the value of 60.)

  • it's interesting. A harmony could be notated in a similar way underneath it. Like a one note harmony. The harmony would just be relative to the current melody note played.
    – user34288
    Apr 23, 2017 at 17:38
  • No worries! Also: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1480/…
    – Richard
    Apr 23, 2017 at 17:45

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