Tag Archives: Johnston’s notation

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Whenever I speak with someone about Ben Johnston’s music, his notation inevitably comprises part of the conversation.

When I began performing Ben’s music, the scores seemed unnecessarily complicated. So many accidentals (or chromas)…. each raising or lowering the pitch by different amounts – 22 cents for a syntonic comma, 49 cents for the septimal chroma, 53 cents for the 11th partial and so on. Sometimes there are as many as 4 chromas in front of a given note. Some might raise the pitch while others would lower it. Just figuring out WHAT to play, required a lot of math.

Over time this orthography has grown on me. It lets you know on sight the function of the note – and therefore, what it should sound like, even without figuring the exact deviation in cents. Nothing like a little understanding….

Orthography: I really like that word – but I can’t help thinking of birds whenever I hear it. Well, sometimes the notes do fly off the page.