After learning about the existence of Klavarskribo, I've been wondering why it's not more widely used. I know practically every piano piece is written in standard notation, but that cannot be the reason, since the same thing could be said about guitar pieces, and yet guitar tabs are extremely popular.

Why isn't the Klavar notation as widely used as guitar tabs?

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    One major difference between guitar and piano is there can be up to six different places to play the exact same note on a guitar, and guitar tab shows you exactly which place to play a note. When reading sheet music for guitar, sometimes the position is indicated, but tab very quickly and easily resolves any ambiguity. But with piano, there's one key per musical note, so a regular grand staff is pretty close to piano "tab". I personally don't see how Klavarskribo makes anything easier for the piano, while it seems to be a bit confusing in some ways. – Todd Wilcox Oct 9 '18 at 20:33
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    Wow, that notation resembles Synthesia. (On a video game music transcription website I frequent, NinSheetMusic, I've seen several requests for MIDIs so those askers can learn the pieces on Synthesia, implying they understand that program's notation.) – Dekkadeci Oct 10 '18 at 0:04

The Klavarskribo seems to involve a quite direct representation of the piano keyboard, but Standard Notation is only a slight abstraction of the piano keyboard; you have to mentally get your head around the change in orientation, and the use of accidentals rather than a separate line for (usually) the black notes, and you're there. So standard notation isn't really that much harder to understand for piano, and as guidot's answer points out, it's very efficient.

As per Dekkadeci's comment, Klavarskribo does seem somewhat similar to the vertical piano-roll like visualisations used in various computer games and online tutorials:


...it seems like the technological ability to automatically scroll vertically gets around some of the space inefficiency issues and makes the idea more practical.

Why isn't the Klavar notation as widely used as guitar tabs?

Standard Notation isn't laid out anything like the guitar, so there's a clearer use case for a guitar notation that's more 'obvious' than Standard Notation.

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  • Interesting -- I'm now wondering about making a variation of standard notation that would read from bottom to top, like Klavarskribo and the piano-roll visualization. I think I'll just start by turning some sheet music sideways and seeing how it goes. – Kyle Strand Oct 10 '18 at 17:33
  • @KyleStrand: You'd need to mirror the sheet music if you want if to read bottom up and have the bass to the left. – hmakholm left over Monica Oct 10 '18 at 18:05

My opinion (and I'm not sure you will get a result based on a more sound basis): I fail to see, how this can be applied to any non-trivial piano piece due to the width required. Turning pages seems also a non-trivial problem besides the pure convention.

Standard notation packs an astonishing amount of information on a page and the addition of accents, phrasing and whatsoever seems a challenge for Klavarskribo. This looks like a beginner only notation and the incentive to learn it appears therefore similarly limited.

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"why isn't it used more often?"

The wiki article says Klavarskribo was introduced in 1931.

This wiki page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablature says tablature's first known occurance was 1300.

It shouldn't be surprising that such a new system is not as widely known/used as another that has been around for centuries.

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You mention a similarity to tablature. Consider this video by music education Youtuber Adam Neely: Why You Shouldn't Use Tab. His main point is that once you learn to sight read and develop muscle memory for reading standard notation, standard notation conveys information much more efficiently and faster than tablature does. Tab tells you how to play the notes, whereas standard notation only tells you what notes to play. With tab, you have to 're-learn how to play the notes every single time; with standard notation, you learn it once, commit it to (muscle) memory, and then recall it.

I think there's a similar relationship between piano sheet music and Klavarskribo.

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    Also he mentioned that sheet music has a better capability to show the analysable aspects of music. BASS +1 – user45266 Oct 10 '18 at 5:13
  • Tab tells you how to play the notes, whereas standard notation only tells you what notes to play. Isn't it the other way round? – Arsak Oct 10 '18 at 7:09
  • @Marzipanherz the point is that on a guitar you can play the same note in a number of positions - tab tells you which position on which string to use. – topo Reinstate Monica Oct 10 '18 at 7:38
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    @topomorto Now I get it. I thought, how to play would refer to accents, intensity or similar. It might worth to add your classification from the comment to the answer. – Arsak Oct 10 '18 at 7:47
  • Tab makes explicit how to fret a particular note when there can be alternative positions, but piano doesn't have such alternates. Some comparison's could be made between the two methods, but it doesn't seem very helpful. The fact that tab is useful doesn't mean some tab for piano will also be helpful. – Michael Curtis Oct 10 '18 at 15:00

Why isn't the Klavar notation as widely used as guitar tabs?

For all its disadvantages, one advantage of tab is that it shows, for every note, which string to play it on. That is information which doesn't apply to the piano. True, pianists might find it useful to know which finger to play a certain note with, but standard notation shows that with fingering symbols, and Klavar doesn't make this any easier.

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Music notation is about problem solving: how to tell the musician what is going on? Specificall, what's going on musically (semantic) and what is going on technically (syntactic).

The 'real' reason for Klavar seems to be that it now includes a one-to-one correspondence from the piano layout to the music notation, like tabs do. Sounds good, right? But does music have a one-to-one correspondence to the piano layout? Except for C-major, the answer is no.

Klavar may offer a syntactic advantage, but it loses all semantic advantages of classical notation. In classical notation, a harmonic minor scale will look pretty much the same in F# as in Db. The key signature will take care of exactly what notes to play, but the practised musician will immediately recognise the semantics of what is going on. In Klavar, these scales will look wildly different, despite serving the same function in a piece of music. On the other hand, an accidental (a temporary change from the key signature) will be easily overlooked in Klavar, while it is clearly indicated in classical notation.

Classical notation has evolved to tell what is going on in the music, somewhat agnostic from the actual instruments involved. While it certainly has many drawbacks, it does convey the meaning of the actual music very well (even if it does mean that a beginner needs to count sharps and flats to figure it out).

Some other considerations

Pianos have only one key for each note. The most obvious problem, which hand plays what, is solved by having two staves. Klavar, in my opinion, makes this less easy by putting everything on one stave and showing which hand plays what with horizontal lines.

Guitar tabs solve a problem specific to guitars: how to show which string to play. This is important for various reasons. Not only is it easier for the guitarist to quickly see how to play, but more importantly, the same note on different strings will sound different. Most obvious is an open string versus a fretted string, but a high note on a low string will also sound different than the same note on a high string. This is a semantic advantage (what is the intended sound?), and thus has gained wider adaptation.

A final point is that the guitar has gained popularity as an easy and accessible instrument, enabling people to emulate their pop- and rock stars with minimal investment. Tabs are an excellent way for novices to play some of the songs without being bothered by a minimal understanding of the music theory involved. If pop- and rock music was dominated by raw electric violins and thumping cellos, I'm sure tabs would have widespread adaptation for bowed instruments rather guitars.

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  • Around 1990, I wrote a music program in Apple's HyperCard which was a cross between PowerPoint and the not-yet-invented World Wide Web, which allowed music to be entered using Hypercard's editor. It used horizontal piano-roll notation, but each key was the same width, with blacks indicated by dotted lines just inside the top and bottom edges. That format made the differences between closed-form major and minor triads much more visible than standard notation. I think the big problem with piano-roll notation from a printing perspective is that it takes up much more space than conventional. – supercat Oct 10 '18 at 15:12

Regardless of the merits of a new system, it is very hard to replace one with a long tradition. The investment in the current system is very large. Consider some other cases where a change in standards would be desirable but doesn't happen.

English spelling: pretty much everyone admits that it is crazy but it doesn't reformed.

Side of the road to drive on: it would be nice if we agreed on which side to drive on.

Measurements: it would be nice if the whole world agreed on measurements of length, mass, etc but we don't.

Your system may have some value for beginners but that would still not necessarily justify its use. Back in the 1960s, an improved English spelling system called ITA Initial Teaching Alphabet (Wikipedia) was devised. It helped children get started more quickly but the advantage was lost during the transition to standard notation.

Don't confuse ITA with IPA International Phonetic Alphabet (Wikipedia) which is still in use by linguists.

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