NoteWorthy Composer Forum

Forums => General Discussion => Topic started by: John on 1999-02-13 05:00 am

Title: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-02-13 05:00 am
Is there an option in Noteworthy to change the round note text to the traditional shapped notes, do, re, me, amd so forth? If not does anyone know where I can find a program that will write in shapped notes? Thank you for your time. John.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Gordon Isbell on 1999-02-14 05:00 am
I have never seen an option in NWC to use shaped notes. I also have never heard of a sequencer or notation program that would accomplish this. I shall watch this message thread though, and see if someone names one that would do this. I think it would be sorta cool!
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Sue Morton on 1999-02-14 05:00 am
I have a need to have configurable note heads, as well. Sometime back (way back) I put in the NWC Wish List to give an option to make the notehead an "x", for spoken places in the staff that need some rhythym (and so you'd still use quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.) Especially good with the kids' songs.

Why don't you add shaped notes to the wish list as another idea for "configurable notes"? My wish hasn't been granted yet, but you never know... : >
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Andrew Purdam on 1999-02-16 05:00 am
I also think that user-definable note-heads would be handy.
Please forward the request to the wish-list.
There are other programs which implement this (no names come to mind at the moment, but I would expect all the multi-hundred dollar ones to do it).

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Tony Huddleston on 1999-03-09 05:00 am
If necessary, I would pay for an upgrade to allow the creation of shaped notes. I hope this option will be considered. Thank you.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Peter Bowers on 1999-03-09 05:00 am
While user configurable note heads are definitely on my list of things I would like to see. Lets remember that shaped notes are a bit more complicated. It is not just a matter of changing the note heads to different shapes, the notes would have to change depending on the key signature that you were using in order for "do" to correspond to the key note. Transposition becomes quite a bit more challenging.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-03-10 05:00 am
>> Note shape depends on key.

This is true, and is truly complicated.

>> Transposition becomes more difficult.

I don't think so. The beauty of shape notes is that
transposition doesn't change the shapes--just shifts them
on the staff. You'd probably need an "audit shape notes"
tool, which wouldn't be any more complicated than handling
shape on note entry.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-03-11 05:00 am
Shaped Notes are most often used by singers and vocalist. It is true that the (DO) is placed on whatever line or space of the initial key signature, and a change of one key would either be a (TE) or a (RE), depending on whether you go up or down. Also the standard seven notes take on a different name when you sharp or flat them. I was taught that all songs begin and end with a tonic chord, (DO, ME, SO, DO). All this is really irevelent, because it should be a simple feat for a programer to add a function that after you write a song in round notes, the computer could just transpose the score for you. Now having said all that let me say this, A song wrote in shaped notes is NOT played any different than a song wrote in round notes. Any trained quartet singer can read his notes and automatically switch from a (DO) to a (SO), or any other example you can think of. This is most difficult with round notes, because if you sing you could'nt really care less what line or space the note is on, only what shape is it? Piano (or whatever your instrument) players could'nt care less what shape a note is, only what line or space is it on? Players would'nt care if all notes were shaped like chicken heads. This is why it is important to have notes that the singers can read.
Thank you for your time, and for bearing with me.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Tony Huddleston on 1999-03-11 05:00 am
I just have one more comment. I wouldn't expect anything elaborate. Shaped notes are primarily for singing melodies that are relatively simple, such as hymns. A way to do it, even if it wasn't very sophisticated, would be nice.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-03-12 05:00 am
The normal arrangement of shaped notes is just like round notes: placed on a staff, with tails, flags, open and
filled-in shapes, dots, etc.: and a trained musician would have no trouble.

The shapes are for 1) untrained 2) singers 3) trying to harmonize 4) unfamiliar 5) a-cappella music.

1) Trained musicians don't need them, and can ignore them.
2) As normally used, shapes are keyed to the key--this is not a useful concept for a musical instrument that plays absolute notes: and for instruments like guitars, chord notation is more useful.
3) A simple melody doesn't gain much from note shapes. But for an untrained (or informally trained) singer trying to read unfamiliar words quickly, pick out a specific part from multipart harmony on two staves, blend with other voices, the shapes give a quick indication of what chord is intended as well as what part a particular voice plays in it.
4) It doesn't take much practice with any particular song to get past the point where shape notes are useful. Once you've heard the harmonies sung correctly and you know where your part fits in, the shapes can be ignored.
5) If you have instrumental accompaniment, you can use it to fill in the harmonies. Only if that is not available are you compelled to get whatever harmonies will be gotten, from the untrained voices.

In a culture where entertainment music is provided by electronic technologies, there is very limited demand for "high folk" music from "low-trained" folk: thus, the only place you'll be likely to see shape notes is in churches where a-cappella congregational singing is considered an essential part of worship.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Peter Vasey on 1999-03-12 05:00 am
(Please note new e-mail address for those interested).
I've been singing as long as I can remember and since I started reading music have *always* used standard notation. I take my hat off to those who can read tonic sol-fa - it seems to me to be extraordinarily cluttered at times, and surely slower to convert into pitch than standard notation - a series of runs in a Bach motet would be horrendous! Having said that, I dare say a trained sol-fa singer would prove me wrong, but I tend to agree with Tony's comment in reply 8 - <Shaped notes are primarily for singing melodies that are relatively simple, such as hymns>.
But most certainly crossed head notes would be extremely useful, for spoken passages and percussion. One for the wish list!

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-03-24 05:00 am
Well I hope this is the last time I am compelled to pen a reply on this matter. However, after reading reply # 10, offered by Stephen Hutcheson, I must say I am offended and insulted.
He attemptes to make the point that shaped notes are for the untrained. <1) Trained musicians don't need them, and can ignore them.> This is hardly a point, musicians don't need them because they were never intended for musicians in the first place. (THEY ARE FOR SINGERS.)
I am not totally in disagreement with his statement #2.
However his statement #3 is simply wrong. <3) A simple melody doesn't gain much from note shapes. But for an untrained (or informally trained) singer trying to read unfamiliar words quickly, pick out a specific part from multipart harmony on two staves, blend with other voices, the shapes give a quick indication of what chord is intended as well as what part a particular voice plays in it.> I can not begin to tell you how many things are wrong with this quote. First off, a melody is not supposed to gain from shaped notes, the melody is the same wether the melody is shaped or round notes. Secondly, untrained (or informally trained)people do not read shaped notes. Third, the shapes give NO indication of the chord being intended, this is determined by there position.
Now lets move on to statement #4 <4) It doesn't take much practice with any particular song to get past the point where shape notes are useful. Once you've heard the harmonies sung correctly and you know where your part fits in, the shapes can be ignored.> RIDICULOUS, Absolute Fantasy, I suppose this fellow only sings things that he can first hear someone else sing, that way he can memorize his part and not bother with reading any notes, (Which is a good thing considering his knowledge of them.) What do you suppose would happen if this guy had to sing a song he had never heard, (be a real good thing if you could read notes at this point,) it might not go over too well.
Forgive me for saying this but it is rather infuriating for someone who knows so little about what there saying to be here speaking as an expert, it almost makes me wish I would never have started this thread. Only one word of advice, in the future, when you don't know what your talking about, keep your mouth shut.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-03-24 05:00 am

Here's an exert from response #10, <5) If you have instrumental accompaniment, you can use it to fill in the harmonies. Only if that is not available are you compelled to get whatever harmonies will be gotten, from the untrained voices.> THIS IS JUST INSULTING. So insulting I am having trouble composing a response that lets me keep my statis as a gentleman.
Moving on, His final statements,<there is very limited demand for "high folk" music from "low-trained" folk:>
These sir are fighting words. I will not sit by and be blindly run down by someone of your limited foresight. Most of what you say has a funny smell about it. Keep that in mind please.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-03-24 05:00 am
I'm not sure exactly what offended John. Set the pistol down, carefully, ... we're all on the same side ... I think. At any rate, I have also asked for shape notes, and if I had them, I would use them exclusively.

1) Singers are not musicians? Not my meaning: I'll call anyone who makes music a "musician." I differentiate between vocal and instrumental music, and agree that shape notes are useful only for the former.

2) I was thinking of "training" primarily as in "reading music" and not "voice control." I suppose there are groups who concentrate on "voice training" and skip the musical theory; I haven't had contact with any, though.

3) Part of standard musical training is to sight-read the standard round notation, from the lines. [My training, though, was cut very short and mostly forgotten, and I still find the shapes helpful. Without shape notes, I do not believe I could sing, say, tenor, on a song I had never before heard or studied.]

4) I can see that I expressed myself poorly. It is, of course, the singer, not the song, that gains from shape notes. What I should have said is that, in my experience 1) Nobody seems to publish unharmonized melodies in shape notes, 2) People who sing the melody don't seem to be aware of them, and 3) I find them much more helpful reading other parts than I do reading the melody. 4) The first observation seems to indicate that the last two can be generalized.

4) may seem like fantasy, but I assure you that I have worked with untrained singers, and many people learn songs in just this way. In congregational singing (where you can't expect members to have any musical training), there are many people who learn songs only this way, and if you want to introduce new songs (which I do), you have to take them into account. And there are many more (like me) who can only sight-read "a little:" these are the ones for whom shape notes are particularly important. I have introduced many songs I had never heard before into such an environment,
and exerted considerable effort trying to get as "high-folk" music as possible without excluding "low-folk" voices.

It is a lot of effort, and most religious groups faced with this problem avoid it: either replacing congregational singing (with choirs or performing bands) or recommending that the congregation sing only the melody (while filling in the harmony with a choir or organ.) Neither of these is an option for us.

I didn't mean to confuse, much less insult, anyone who will support my plea for shape notes. Those of us who want to introduce acappella music to untrained singers find them indispensable.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Blair Dowden on 1999-03-25 05:00 am
All right, so there is a need for shaped notes, even if we don't all agree on how they should be used. Lets have a proposal. Let the user define a note shape with a character in a font, and a point size adjustment for staff scaling. What about half and whole notes - do we need a separate character for these? Now, how do we place the note on the staff? I guess it is a note property (which does not exist yet, but should, if only to give it an invisible setting).

All I need is the note with the x as a head, but this is more general.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Andrew Purdam on 1999-03-25 05:00 am

I'm not sure that this is more general. I tend to think that shape notes are more specific. I have not come across them, but then I've been a musician for much longer than I've been a vocalist! ;-)

I don't expect that I would need them, but if there are many users who ask, and it does get implemented, I'm sure that definable/configurable noteheads would be a spin-off that would benefit others of us, too.

From what I have just read, shape notes provide a set of cues based on the shape of the note head (I'd love to see and example - anyone got any?). I imagine they might prove useful to jazz improvisation as well, but I doubt they get used in that genre. Anyhow, NWC would need to include an "Audit Shape Notes" tool that went through and adjusted each note head to be different. Hence EVERY note would need to be editable to have its notehead defined, and hence the spin-off for us "drumheads" who just want Xs and diamonds.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Blair Dowden on 1999-03-25 05:00 am
From the heated discussion above, I would not want to make any assumptions about what shapes these notes should be! Like you, I just want the little x's.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-03-26 05:00 am
1) Yes, there are different "shape note" schemes. There are two or three that are used by "preservationist" organizations: see samples and historical detail from the sites listed by the Open Directory Project: "" Some of these groups suppor t new compositions in the historical style of music, and set with the historically appropriate shape notes (and so would be in the market for composing software)

For these shapes, the stem attachment would be an issue: they go to the middle top or (middle bottom) of a note rather than the side. (Chords are not done on one stem, or generally even on one staff.)

The most common shapes in "common" use are the 7-shape "Aiken" scheme, which at least use the standard sideband stem, although the stem might need to be continued to the top or bottom of a note, and some shapes are flipped depending on which way the stem goes.

In all these schemes, half and whole notes are the same shape as the respective quarter notes, just outline instead of solid.

I won't mention neumes if you won't.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Andrew Purdam on 1999-03-26 05:00 am
>>I won't mention neumes if you won't.<<

No, we're very polite here and don't call people rude neumes.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Tony Huddleston on 1999-03-27 05:00 am
The type of shaped notes with which I am familiar are defined as follows: do-equilateral triangle, re-upside down semicircle (like a cup with a line across the top), mi-diamond, fa-right triangle with one side of the right angle on the staff (like a flag), sol-round (same as ordinary note), la-rectangle (longest side on the bottom), and ti-similar to a triangle with point down and curved on top. (like an ice-cream cone).

There are only SIX shapes here that are new. That's all that I would need. However, I don't know the name of this system and was not aware there were others. By the way, accidentals do not change the shape of a note, even though the pitch would be altered.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-03-27 05:00 am
Directed to all, but espicially Stephen Hutcheson.
Please forgive me for my earlier outburst, it was uncalled for. I only ask that you realize that I have so much respect and admiration for people that sight read unfimiliar notes that I have a hard time with anyone calling them "Simple Folk". It is unquestionable that I am very passionate about the matter, and I ask everyone to overlook my venting.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Blair Dowden on 1999-03-28 05:00 am
Its getting complicated (if more polite). So we need not only a font, character and point size, but also stem placement information (side or middle; to top or bottom of note), possibly a second character depending on stem direction. Then someone needs to produce the fonts.

Forget having them built into the product - its clear that there is an unending variety of these things.

Still, all I want is the little "x"!
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Fred Nachbaur on 1999-03-28 05:00 am
Forgive if I seem dense, but never having seen notes like this I don't quite get it... does this mean that all notes are on a single staff line? Is the purpose compactness? How are octaves handled?

For my purposes also, I would like to have little x-shaped noteheads, maybe diamonds also.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-03-29 05:00 am
Tony: What you described is the "Aiken" system. It is the only one I have ever used, or even seen in a modern book.

Fred: The shaped notes are placed on the staff just like round notes: and take the same space. In the modern "Aiken" system, four voices are printed on two staves, as usual. The shape is, strictly speaking, "redundant:" Anyone could look at a round note on a staff and figure out which shape it ought to be, given the key signature. It's "just" an extra visual clue to facilitate sight reading.

On the "historical" schemes (including Aiken when it was first introduced), each voice was on a different staff (but still positioned just like a round note. I think this was to facilitate creating music fonts (in lead type) -- it would be hard to have all the possible two-note chord characters created.

Any of these schemes will seem wierd if you haven't used them. They were "Yankee experiments" of the early nineteenth century: just some of many attempts to make musical notation less mysterious to the uninitiated (and musical books more usable on the frontier.)
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 1999-04-01 05:00 am
Blair.....Concerning stem placement.
If you only change the note shape itself, this would not affect the stem placement. The only difference would be the very end of the note. Instead of all notes being round, most would vary in shape, a triangle, rectangle, dimond and some that are not easily explained. However, Tony in reply 19 does a good job explaining them. There is even a round note. The staff, staff position, and flags would remain unchainged. Also, all notes would still be roughly the same size, looking at them from several feet away, you probably could'nt even tell that they were'nt all round.

Fred.......Stephen is correct in reply 23....
Four voices are printed on two staves. Corresponding to the four natural divisions of the human voice. These are, naming them in regular order from the lowest to the highest, Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano. Between the bass and tenor there is another voice called Baritone. Between the alto and soprano there is another voice called Mezzo-Soprano. An extra low and heavy alto voice is often called Contralto. However traditional shaped notes are written for the first four voices that I named. The names of these voices change depending on if it is a man or woman singing the part.
An example would be, a man sings First-Tenor, (This is a different Tenor from the one I listed earlier, in this situation that would become Second-Tenor.) a woman singing the same part would be singing Alto. A man sings Lead, a woman singing the same part would be singing Soprano.

An answer to an earlier question.......
Someone ask if the shaped notes would affect rests. The answer is no, a rest would look like it always has, and would be used in the same manner.

Also the use of sharps and flats or dotted notes, or any thing else you can think of will not be affected. you would have the same use of them you have always had.

The shaped note system goes back to Italian syllables (Sol-fa). I do not know how old this system is, but we can all agree that it is very old. Also, could you give me an example of a situation you project in your last reply? <"it would be hard to have all the possible two-note chord characters created.">..I'm not certain I understand what could not be created....
Hoped I helped clear some of this up.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 1999-04-01 05:00 am
Shape notes and fonts: a clarification.

In the early eighteenth century, music publishers began to experiment with fonts for musical notation. Each "letter" would have the five lines of the staff all the way across;
in addition, there would be a "letter" for each weight of rest, for accidentals in each position on the staff, and for notes of each duration and position on the staff. Counting, say, 15 staff positions (including risers and descenders),
5 or 6 note types + dots and accidentals, you'd need more than 150 separate "characters" (besides clefs, measure bars, etc.)

It would be very simple for any experienced typesetter to set music for a single melodic line on a staff with such a scheme. If you used four shape notes, you'd need four such fonts, but you'd only use one at a time on each staff.

But suppose you tried to typeset chords this way: instead of 15 note positions with one note each, there would be 15*15 possible combinations of two notes: times six note durations, and let's hope you never had two accidentals for the same chord ... anyway, your font tray would be too large. If you had to have chords on a staff, it would be time to send for the music engraver--a much less cost-efficient solution.

Or you could simply set each voice on a different staff: and this is what was often done.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Jerry Evans on 1999-11-23 05:00 am
Singers etal.

When at one of the many Gospel Singing Conventions, a leader often gets up and announces the number of a song that is totally unknown to all present including the leader. Near perfect harmony ensues from the congregation.

At the National Gospel Singing Convention I personally have experienced being called to the front to sing in a quartet. On the way up to the front I was given the music to a song that I had never seen nor heard.

Thank Goodness for shaped notes!

Usually six different song books are used at these conventions. For anyone interested in these books containing shaped notes contact me at

Jerry Evans
Bass singer from Texas
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: James on 1999-12-21 05:00 am
I happened upon this conversation just be accident. I find it very interesting. Shape notes have been a way of life for me and learned to use them at 8 years of age. I am a member of the Church of Christ and we sing a cappella, which encourages individual sight reading at times. Most of our song books are still printed in shape notes.

I have been teaching music at summer schools for many years and we teach shape notes because that is the only way to teach sight reading in a one week period, and we do it. The school is the Singing School at Abilene Christian University.

I also direct an a cappella gospel mixed chorus and most of the singers can read shape notes, which makes new pieces of music come to life within a short period of time. I print all our music with Coda's Finale which has shape note capability built in. For information about it, go to my web site at -

Most of us who sing have not had the opportunity to spend four years at a good college or university majoring in music so we can be "trained". I find very few "trained" musicians who can sing a new piece of music without the aid of an instrument. To me, that kind of training is worthless, if your purpose was to learn to sight read music. Shape notes are far better. Any time I hear someone laughing at shape notes and making fun of us who do, I just consider the source and feel sorry for them, knowing I can read music better than they can.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Sandra on 2000-02-02 05:00 am
I am interested in meeting with shaped note singers in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. I've figured out pretty much what to do and when, but would really appreciate learning and fine tuning the basics in a small group, or class setting so that I can then pass the techniques on to others. Thanks for any help any of you can supply.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Brenda Weaver on 2000-05-07 04:00 am
This discussion is so interesting. I have taught the Shaped Notes/Singing Schools for many years. For those who are Instrumentalists and (not) singers, they simply need to understand that Shaped Notes are read from the regular staff (just the same as round notes) - Accidentals are handled exactly the same way with no moving of the note, Also, anyone proficient in their note reading (and)or playing ability, can simply have a glorious and fun time singing (or) playing, but I must admit for my own part, having taught it, I personally would have to choose the "Pick up the Song Book and Just Sing It" A capello music can be the most beautiful singing there is (if) everyone involved sings his/her part properly and has excellent ability for counting time. I have so enjoyed everyone's comments on this page. It brings back so many wonderful memories. A man in a large church many years ago (who) is very negative toward The Shaped Note Music, spoke with me, saying this, "Shaped Notes" are (Inferior) to round notes. (Of course that was because he didn't have a Clue about Shaped Notes - I know many people who (think) they are actually sight reading, when in reality, they are only "guessing" a great deal of the time. Shaped Notes give the Singer a method to absolutely "perfect" (without error), his/her ability to sing any new piece of music without having ever seen it before and with no accompaniment. My greatest sadness about this style of music is that is has died out completely in many areas. We need to keep it alive and "kicking" so to speak in our various parts of the country There are so many folks who simply will (not) work at learning their music, of course that is their loss. Many of the Professional Gospel Singers have used this method in past years to improve their music reading skills. It works. (If) the Singer properly applies himself, (and) can carry a tune in a bucket, he cannot fail with this method. Does anyone out there share any of my thoughts on the subject?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Brenda Weaver on 2000-05-07 04:00 am
A P.S. Note - I apologize if I seem to be intruding in this wonderful discussion - Please forgive me for interjecting my thoughts. This is such a wonderful site, especially for those of us who love the subject matter being discussed. I personally thank each one for your thoughts and comments on the subject. Has anyone gotten much into the "Sacred Heart" Shaped Note thing?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 2000-05-20 04:00 am
For information on "Sacred Harp" and other shape note communities on the web, check out the topic on the Open Directory:
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Sue Morton on 2000-05-26 04:00 am
And I still want the little 'x'. No joy yet on that one. Maybe in version 1.8?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: David Whitten on 2000-09-07 04:00 am
I happened to stumble into this thread after doing a word search for "shaped notes" on a search engine. I had never totally understood the "true" purposes for the shaped notes,(I do understand they are used for singers, not instruments) but let me explain: I learned how to play the piano on my own, playing the fairly simple, yet wonderful old gospel hymns, as found in many of the standard "church hymnals". For some reason, I developed my own little system of using the shape notes to help me play. As I progressed, I found that I could pay more attention to their shapes, and their arrangement relative to each other on the staff, and I could play better, and make less mistakes using the shaped notes-version of songbooks. Another thing is that once you have "ingrained into your mind" the shape-note arrangements, I now can merely pay attention to the shapes, ignore the lines and spaces, and transpose a hymn into another key with little effort. For instance many hymns written "officially" in A flat, I prefer to play in F, and I just look at the shape notes, and somehow can play in the different key much easier than if they were all round notes. This may be hard to explain, or to be understood by anyone else, but I have found it works great for me! (And yes, to be honest, this has probably "hindered" my ability to read ordinary, more traditional songs/music, but for my own purposes, it is fine, as I have little interest in playing any other types of music. Anyone else out there that has found this to be helpful, let me know!
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Fiona Wilkinson on 2000-11-14 05:00 am
The little x's would be SO useful for spoken words and ESPECIALLY for percussion - it would solve my drum notation problem.

Also what would be useful is the long slashes for guitar strumming patterns.


Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Pamela Whiteley on 2000-11-21 05:00 am
David Whitten, I too learned to play the piano with books that had shape notes and I just prefer them over round notes. It seems like my mind registers them quicker than round notes. I also learned to play by using my left hand to play chords and octaves to keep the timing instead of the actual bass and tenor notes. I've heard that's old fashioned, but I took lessons from a teacher who taught me to play church music in 12 lessons (lots of practice of course) I play strictly gospel hymn music, those old-fashioned Stamps-Baxter Heavenly Highway Hymns songs, etc. Now I am at a church where I am the only one who can play piano, and I really do love playing.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Wilmer Gingerich on 2001-02-11 05:00 am
Hey Folks;
I Just happened on your conversation about shaped note programs by accident, so thought I'd offer my 2 cents.
Good Luck!!
Wilmer G.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Joe Music on 2001-02-12 05:00 am
Myrida-Online offers the shareware "Melody Assistant" and other products. I own it and NWC, as well as some famous names. The programs are very different in functionality and ease of use. For ease of use, you can't beat NWC but Melody does some extra things.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Timothy Ha on 2001-05-31 04:00 am
I am also a fan of NWC, and in my church we have may be 500-600 songs notated in NWC for our church services.

Recently I found that MusicEase has capability to type shaped notes. I am not a user of shaped notes :-) but this might help those who need it.

Great thanks to NWC creators!
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Joe Music on 2001-05-31 04:00 am
It seems that shaped notes are fashionable these days. I don't know why. It's not as if the music is easier to read or to notate than standard notes.

Before the rest of you start requesting shaped notes within NWC, be aware that NWC uses the same style regardless of position on the staff. Thus, merely providing something like a font modification would not, of itself, enable NWC to do shaped notes.

I have the feeling that shaped notes are a fad, that will die out in a couple of years. Anyone else think so?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen.Hutcheson on 2001-05-31 04:00 am
>>I have the feeling that shaped notes are a fad, that will die out in a couple of years. Anyone else think so?

It's hard to predict the future of a fad, but 150+ years of tradition sorta removes something from the "fad" category.

I'd suspect they'll last as long as any other vestige of harmonic folksong. Of course, commercial contempop has drastically cut into the audience and performers of folk music, and the ubiquitous non-tonal dance music has cut into the audience for singing -- or at least, opportunities to develop an appreciation for it.

But despite commercial pressure: harmony has an innate appeal to some people, even if it can't be taught in public schools or experienced in normal social settings. And the do-it-yourself attitude has always been strong in some parts of the world where harmonic music has been a part of cultural history. Where these attitudes intersect, there will be a niche for shape notes -- and so far, there has been nothing else to fill that niche.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Joe Music on 2001-05-31 04:00 am
Good point. Actually, I was referring to the usage of shaped notes not in terms of historical/cultural values, but rather as a possible substitute for ordinary staff music in things like hymns for congregations.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Alwin J. on 2001-06-30 04:00 am
Back to the original question that started this string . . .
I would recomend a music program that does everything you want when it comes to shaped notes.
Although the ease of use may not be quite like NoteWorthy in some ways, I have found the program very workable . . . I found him very willing to work with me in getting this into his program.
Check out, it may be worth your time.
The professional version has the shaped notes.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Yves Grasset on 2001-07-02 04:00 am
> The professional version has the shaped notes.

And costs 5 times as much as NWC, just for info.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John on 2001-12-12 05:00 am
Programs that convert round notes to shapped notes are availabe. I have seen them. I do not know the program names, but they are available. There is also a program that will put the "X" for unspoken parts, try "Music Time" or "Songworks". And to reply to the person who said that shapped notes are a fad that will pass in a few years, I'm afraid that you will pass away long before shapped notes do.
My grandmother could pick up any song regardless of wheather she had heard it or not and just sight read it perfectly. She told me she learned to sight sing at the old "church campmeetings". I can't sight read anything, maybe if someone had taught me shapped notes it would be different.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: marsu on 2001-12-13 05:00 am
So did my grandma either, without shaped notes. She would have been horrified to know that such a thing exist. As I learned from her at the age of 6, a note is a note. Its place on the staff gives anything, with the key signature.
I still can't see the usage of these shaped notes, and the loooooooong discussions we already had on it didn't change anything :(
Maybe in my mother tongue would it be different?
Real question: What if you transpose a third above? You just have to remove the highest line, and place it under the staff?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Grant on 2001-12-13 05:00 am
I don't know whether shaped notes make it easier to learn sight-singing, but it is certainly possible (and not uncommon) to learn sight-singing without them.

As I understand it, in the shaped-note system the shapes of the notes are correlated with their function in the current key. How does this work when the music is highly chromatic or modulates frequently?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Joe Music on 2001-12-13 05:00 am
I understand that the shaped-note method (of which there are several) was developed for 19th century rural American hymns. I can't imagine that they were very chromatic or modulated. But I could be wrong.

Incidentally, the shaped note systems that I have come across (fasola and fasolami), do not use a distinct note for each pitch of the scale.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: hutcheson on 2001-12-18 05:00 am
>>As I understand it, in the shaped-note system the shapes of the notes are correlated with their function in the current key.

>>How does this work when the music is highly chromatic or modulates frequently?

Not well. This isn't much of a problem because....

>>I understand that the shaped-note method (of which there are several) was developed for 19th century rural American hymns. I can't imagine that they were very chromatic or modulated.

Yes, except not just hymns. Back then, there was an interest in general participation in other kinds of folk music. On the frontier, before the days of RCA and MP3, you made your own music -- with instruments you could carry with you -- or you did without.

And yes, in order to sing highly chromatic or modulated music, you have to be able to read music well enough not to need shape notes anyway. Pentatonic and diatonic scales are typical. Isolated chords in very remote keys (or even outright dissonances) are surprisingly common; modulation to anything but relative major or minor -- very rare.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: hutcheson on 2001-12-18 05:00 am
>>Incidentally, the shaped note systems that I have come across (fasola and fasolami), do not use a distinct note for each pitch of the scale.

The Aiken (7-shape) system, introduced about 1860, does. It is still widely used in new hymnals, especially for churches in the south and midwest. For instance, the Southern Baptists' official hymnal is printed (optionally) with Aiken notes; and I believe most churches of Christ use hymnals with Aiken notes.

The four-note systems are not widely used today, or in much new music, except within a (fairly active) "Sacred Harp" community, which sings (mostly) hymns but in (mostly) a "social-traditional" rather than religious context. You may be able to find a few Primitive Baptist churches that do use four-note tune books in worship.

Today, churches that emphasize a-cappella congregational singing are the major consumers of shape-note sheet-music.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Jaichand Johnson on 2002-05-12 06:48 am
I was hunting for some links to tonic sol-fa notation and luckily happened to be here. I see that even though a lot of discussion was there about 'Shaped notes' nobody even mentioned about the tonic sol-fa notation. Is that because tonic Sol-fa (and people like myself) are relics just like shaped notes? :-). I need  some information on any software that can convert staff notation to tonic and also to typeset for the purpose of preparing sheet music. NWC though does a lot of nice things, is unfortunately not doing this. For the uninitiated in this "relic", we don't use even the timing from the staff format. Just "Do, re, mi,....." and symbols like "| - : . ," to denote time. Following is an example in 3/4 time.
s:s:s      l:-:s      s:f:m      s:-:-

Following the above thread, I acknowledge that it is difficult singing pieces other than hymns with notations like shaped notes. But we have been singing fairly successfully quite a number of classical pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach etc. in tonic Sol-fa notation.

Is there anybody that can help? Stephen.Hutcheson ?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: marsu on 2002-05-13 12:52 pm
well, if I've well understood, fasola, fasolami and Aiken shaped notes indicates the "degree" of the notes in the scale, that's all, and it may help people since it's a bit more intuitive than reading the key signature, see a note, and deducing its degree. But it cannot work when a key signature occurs; and one sings "do" even if it is a mi (E) because the shape indicates it is the tonic.
Is this correct?

For the sol-fa system just mentionned, this is not the same, except that (like gregorian in a sort of way) the name also indicates the degrees; here also no change of signature, and the rhythm is indicated with text items, so Notepad would be enough (as some guitar tabs).

This seems to me that it would have been possible to avoid such a system, if writing ALL scores in C major, with a little text which would indicates the real tone, as fret3 in a guitar tab indicates the E chord will sound a G chord). Each note would have been seen as its degree, since there is ONE tonality. But I don't want to create a new discussion! This is not my point.

If you want some interesting sites, a google search leaded me to:
Further searching would lead to other web sites. But these ones are already linking to other ones...

Hope this helps!
    Musically & respectfully yours
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: jenny tavernier on 2002-05-17 08:53 am
In re: this absolutely fascinating discussion, I would like to point out that searching "Early music FAQ" has quite a fascinating set of historical data from boethius, guido, up through discussions on shape notes and hand signs - plus is just an all-round enjoyable site to splurge in -
Personally, as a singer, instrumentalist and composer (choral mainly - I love voices/opera theatrical) that 2 things I notices immediately on checking out the links given, was A) the graphic aestetic usage - B} How amazingly easy it was to instantly identify chords - (theory) and as a manuscriptist that considers manuscripting an art, and is wont to "sound" anything if it looks remotely like a note on a line - I sat down and played it instrumentally - [examples given] and had no problem!  What absolute fun! Although I grew up surrounded by standard notation and nuemes (I'll go anywhere music-wise in history) - the most intriging thing I want shape notes for are the graphic/ historical usages -it's aestetic - what can I say?
BUT! Funny story here - while familiarizing myself, sitting in a coffee shop working on a graphic incorporating shape notes, I actually met 3 singers from pennsylvania - who saw what I was doing, and recognized it, thereby adding 3 new accapella friends! Hey! - it's a cultured etching - like a lodge sign! (laugh!) but also, I want neumes too, and xs' and ///! But hooray for shape notes - and thank you for letting me immerse myself in new knowledge! Jen
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: John Kavanagh on 2002-05-17 04:14 pm
I've sung some of the Sacred Harp music (which I love), and seen old hymn books in a couple of shape-note styles. It's interesting, but not too surprising, that so many people still find the shape-notes useful; it's a simple and clever idea to aid sight-singing.

How about this as a Noteworthy wish: if there was an "erase note head" function, which would probably not be a big deal, we could add x's, diamonds for harmonics, and any sol-fa shape that's on an existing font, all as text additions. It would be slow, but the new search feature could speed it up a fair bit.

Headless notes would also be useful for rhythmic notation (especially with the new option for one-, two-, or no-line staffs).

Okay, I'm submitting it.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: RC Robbins on 2003-01-04 03:22 am
I have enjoyed this line very much. I love shape notes because they are what I learned to read. They are more beautiful and easier to follow. They all have different sounds and when notes are sung it is compelling. I Can pick up a song that I haven't seen and find the tune so it can be learned correctly. I would like to find software that I can write the music to my own songs.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2003-01-05 01:25 am
A quick look at the major sites and BBS realted to shaped notes reveals that (a) they seem to be dominated by academic users, who are more concerned with history-related projects; and (b) they are not users of ordinary True Type fonts on ordinary Windows operating systems, for ordinary purposes.

Folks, if there were a widespread, substantial usage of standard shaped note symbols, then the necessary font would exist. I can find True Type fonts for Sanskrit, two kinds of Heiroglyphics, ancient Greek, and a language from Nepal. Why not shaped notes? I can only suppose that the number of persons who would really use a shaped note font, for real purposes (not academic projects, and not ancestral research) is not very large.

If there is a standard - repeat, standard - usage of shaped notes in contemporary music, where oh where is the published standard?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Lanessa on 2003-11-25 12:17 am
It saddens me that use of the shaped-note is not more widespread. Much talent lies dormant in the southeastern United States because of the incompatibility of academic music with users and readers of the shaped-note. I know of more than one naturally gifted musician with much wasted potential because of such inability to "read music". These southerners, non-academics, and rural, or a-cappella vocalists could enrich the academic environment greatly if purists were more welcoming of recent American traditions, rather than so firmly safeguarding the European heritage we have canonized- (pre-WWI American art & musical tradition of course has been pigeon-holed as mere folk art of colonists, only after we gain world power status does our artistic legacy begin to matter). As a visual artist with a background in an a-cappella-only denomination,  the shaped-note hymnal has had major impact on my work and thinking- the forms on the pages, as well as the harmony in the vocal sounds. Its impact is felt greatly by others in this region as well, and the tradition needs the support of academia if it is to be allowed appreciation and recognition outside it's currently limited niche.  APSU- Chattanooga/Clarksville,TN
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2003-11-25 02:05 am
There's a lot to be said about that. However, if you search the Internet for info regarding shaped note music, you mostly come across - guess what - academics, particularly in reference to "historical" gospel music.

The southeast US has Internet access. I see no reason why interested parties don't put up their own web sites, and let the rest of the world know.

A paid web site (not the free kind that has annoying ads) need not cost much, especially if its cost is shared among several users. However, you would not be able to post a lot of audio files (mp3, etc.) because those are heavy on server space. If you or someone else does set up a suitable web site, be sure that you are not paying per-bandwidth usage fees. It would be better to have an upper limit on how much bandwidth you can use per month for a low cost, than to committ to arbitrary bandwidth charges.

It would also be better if any media files were released with right to copy to other websites, without royalty, to encourage others to spread the word. The details of that would be your own responsibility.

If someone wanted to write a brief intro to shaped note music, you could publish it as PDF on the Internet, and encourage users to download and print it without limitation.

My point: Your horse can be led to water.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Fretheim on 2003-11-25 08:25 pm
Having absolutely nothing to do today at work, I wound up perusing this thread, and found it fascinating.  I'm not a shaped-note user, but I have plenty of respect for those who are.

One observation: it is clear to me that some folks along the way have been confused by the Solfage references in the explanations of Shaped Notes.  To folks such as myself, being I suspect those who had their primary school music training in the U.S., Do-Re-Mi does not refer to absolute pitches (as we strictly use the A-B-C system of pitch names in the US).  It is used instead as a replacement for "Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, Subdominant.. etc." in the major scale.  Do or Re or Mi can be any pitch, until the key signature is set.

This is is not the case for those who grew up in France, or a large number of other countries, where Do-Re-Mi refers to actual pitches, independent of key.  I believe this is the explanation for many confused responses about what happens to noteheads upon transposition, and much lack of understanding about what the shapes are good for.

As I understand it, when you see a given combinations of shapes on the page, you not only know what chord is being sung, you understand which note in the chord you are to sing. This is important in churches where congregational a-capella singing is preferred. In some of these churches, use of instrumental music in the church service is actually considered blasphemous, and for these, it is vital that everyone be a very quick study on unfamiliar hymns. I have personally stood in awe while a visitor to such a church, listening to the congregation sing as good as a professional chorus, without an organ in sight.

If I understood clearly, the guy originally wishing for shape notes was needing to be able to print new music for such a congregation, or perhaps for a singing society emulating the same music.  It seems like a reasonable request, and apparently was reasonable enough that Coda added the capacity to their software.

Personally, I too would like to have "x"s for note heads. Percussion parts look weird to me without them. (I do a hidden staff with the "real" (MIDI compliant) percussion staff, but I also create single- or triple-line staffs for printing.)

Googled this font for Aiken shape notes:

Same dude's home page, has plenty good info:
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2003-11-25 10:17 pm
The above reply is enlightening. My remarks:

(1) Yes, Do-Re-Mi meaning different things in different places IS very confusing.

(2) The blashpemy thing is interesting. I am told that there was a time when no Christian churches (there was only one, then) would play music, because the Romans liked to play music during events such as Christians vs. Lions. That changed with time, and then changed again. Where I sing, hardly anything is a cappella except maybe during Lent, and even then it would be OK to strike a tone (or chord) on an instrument to get the choir in gear. But in a place where that's a no-no, the confusion from different systems would be more severe.

(3) Most sites I've seen on the subject of shaped notes do, indeed, refer to 19th century systems, and do not indicate any common system that is "the" method used today (if such exists).

(4) Aren't there any computer programmers among shaped note singers? Well then, what are you waiting for?
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Gerald Penton on 2004-05-25 07:20 pm
I am not sure this string is even active anymore as I am reading it in May of '04 and there hasn't been a post in over a year.

However, growing up in South Mississippi and attending small churches most all of my life, shaped notes are NOT at all strange to me and seeming many of you are familiar with them.

I just wanted to point out that prior to the AIKEN system there was a system called the FA,SOL,LA  system in which the major scale would have been sung; FA SOL LA FA SOL LA MI FA with the raised seventh of the Major scale being the only alteration.

This is very interesting to note.

By the way, if your interested in more concering shaped not hymnals composed using the AIKEN system, email me at  I will be GLAD to recommend some to you that are still being published and WIDELY used in the south.

Gerald Penton
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen on 2004-05-27 03:02 am
The four-shape system is older; it was devised in New England, and presupposes the sort of solmization described in the previous message, which was long used in England.  The shape notes were criticized by those who wanted to introduce the more up-to-date system used in Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century, and to encourage the use of do-re-me solmization.  The seven-shape systems, of which Aiken's is the most successful, were a reaction to this criticism.  Both four- and seven-shape systems remain in use in some circles, and latterly there has been a revival of shape-note singing among urbanites with no ties to the conservative churches that preserved the tradition through the twentieth century.

Stephen R.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Jim on 2004-06-04 02:11 pm
Having found this thread, I didn't read all to see if anyone knows of shaped note capability for composition software.  Someone has developed a way to use shaped notes with Finale.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2004-06-04 04:08 pm
I recall seeing some sort of shaped note capability elsewhere (but don't recall where).

NWC2 (now in public beta test) has the new capability to place notes with invisible (empty) note heads. That is, you can choose to show just the stems and flags, etc. If you happen to have a font that includes suitable symbols for the heads of shaped notes, you can place them as text items at the empty note head locations.

That's not exactly the same thing as built-in shaped notes, but it's something new.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Wlokos on 2004-06-05 06:58 pm
Personally, I think that it's a great idea.  I've never used shaped notes, but the Xs are perfect for percussion.  Glad to har the NWC2 can do this.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen Hutcheson on 2004-06-06 06:04 am
What are the chances that the generous folk who brought us the other Noteworthy specialty fonts could be persuaded to generate the fourteen noteheads required?

The Aiken system would enclude open and closed noteheads of these shapes, inscribed in a rectangle circumscribing the standard oval notehead. (The four-note systems are mostly subsets of this):

DO: equilateral triangle, base at bottom
RE: semicircle, diagonal (flat side) at the top.
MI: lozenge (equilateral parallelogram with vertical and horizontal axes)
FA: (a) right triangle, lower left half of square.
FA: (b) right triangle, upper right half of square.
SOL: (no help required, uses normal notehead)
LA: rectangle.
TI: quarter circle, center at bottom center of circumscribing rectangle.

Obviously the circular sections are stretched to meet all four edges of the enclosing (circumscribing) rectangle.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2004-06-07 01:05 am
S.H.: I don't work for NW, but at some time in the past I gave some thought to creating the required note-heads myself (having a font editor).

But correspondence with a handful of shaped-notes afficionados showed that nobody really cared. All of them already had some sort of specialized way of doing it. Even though they were enthusiastic about having numerous music programs handle shaped notes, nobody was enthusiastic enough to send me a precise specification for the required shapes! They couldn't have been very enthused!

Although some systems (such as the one you mentioned) are described in various net resources, none was clear about how they are used, or why.

So, I abandoned that idea. as the users of shaped notes might say, God helps those who help themselves; I didn't see much self-help.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Stephen Hutcheson on 2004-06-07 06:50 am
Please, please, correspond with me!

The description I gave above was intended to be detailed enough to be implementable, but I'd be happy to provide clarification wherever needed.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2004-06-07 04:25 pm
S.H. : The link to my own web site can be found in the NWC center stage. From there, you can find my current email address (which I change from time to time).
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: James Tackett on 2004-07-27 12:00 am
I wanted to update the link to my shaped note page in comment #58. It has moved to:

The value of shaped notes is not evident to those who are musically trained on an instrument but to those of us who read music by just looking at it, if the notes are shaped it is a huge help.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L.Reid, Music Editor, Leoma Music on 2004-08-12 03:44 am
As a music editor of a 'Southern Gospel Convention Music Company', many of the comments and statements are interesting. Especially those who seem to think they are experts on the subject.  Even when they are wrong.  If you will use the FINALE program, you will find it in shape notes for DO RE MI FA SO LA TI.  It does well enough for us, as we publish music each year, and typeset our proof sheets on this program. We have a new book and CD each year.  As to you all who have questions, may I recommend going to a SINGING SCHOOL, to learn some of the History of this truly American Music.  Even if it is Southern and Christian.  This is differnt from FaSoLa or Sacred Harp, but linked by history.  Go see the James D. Vaughan Museum in Lawrenceburg Tennessee, or visit us at or email me
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Shay Pednotes on 2004-08-12 04:12 pm
If you correct the spelling of, you will get to the site on Geocities. Once there, "click here to enter site" seems to be the wrong thing. Unless it is changed in the future, try clicking on the image of the spinning ball.

The site seems to sell CDs and other materials related to church music, presumably in the style described above. But it doesn't appear to be an on-line educational resource for shaped note notation.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Kettle on 2004-08-13 02:25 am
...they are experts on the subject. Even when they are wrong...DO RE MI FA SO LA TI
Ah, but it's really DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI
See and/or
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L.Reid, Leoma Music on 2004-08-13 04:01 am
The L In SOL over the last fifty years of more, has been dropped from usage in teaching, so that all of the notes have a vowel ending.  This is more useful when teaching voice lessons, to an individual student, or to a class.

Sorry the site name was spelled wrong.  It is  We do sell music.  But we do teach in music schools, like the DO RE MI Gosepl Music Academy.  You can also access Cumberland Valley School Of Gospel Music, (They have a music company as well), and the Jeffress/Phillips music company, Marty Phillips teaches in music schools year round as a living.  Also, the Alabama School of Gospel Music, North Georgia School of Gospel Music, Heritage Music Company, etc., etc. etc.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L.Reid, Leoma Music on 2004-08-13 04:17 am
By the way, this fall will see several big Gospel Singing Conventions.  This is class singing, with a piano player, and some special groups along the way.  The 3rd weekend in August-Mississippi State.  2nd weekend September-Tennessee State.  1st weekend October-Oklahoma State. 2nd weekend October-Georgia State. 3rd weekend October-Arkansas State. 1st weekend November-Florida State. 2nd weekend November-Alabama State.  3rd weekend November-National Gospel Singing Convention @ Crossett Arkansas for 2004.  All of these big singings will have songbooks from the music publishers, (5 or 6), and you get to sing out of them, learn where some of the music schools will be next summer, and have a great time Praising God and singing songs with friends from accross the land.  Email Joe Windham, he will give you directions.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Shay Pednotes on 2004-08-13 03:47 pm
Thanks for the additional leads!

Incidentally, version 2 of NWC (as of the first public beta test) allows a note (or any number of notes, selected individually), to be shown without a note-head. This allows the user to insert any font item as "text" where the note-head would be.

So, if there is a Windows True Type font with shaped note-head symbols, it could be a user font in NWC, and you could get the ffect of shaped notes.

This is not the same as in internal shaped note capability. But with practice, it would allow a NWC2 user to print music with shaped note symbols.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L. Reid, Leoma Music Company on 2004-08-13 06:28 pm
Chomatic pitches and chords are used quite often in Southern Gospel Music, altho simplicity of style and, as I was taught, having 'natural' or easy to follow voicing of your harmonizing parts, makes the music easy to sight sing. I can remember getting a new book, and singing the notes first, then singing the words, just to make sure we would sing it right.  This we all did at home, before we would go to a singing.  This type of singing is a participation activity, not a passive one.  The chromatice scale is DO DI RE RI MI FA FI SO SI LA LI TI DO, ascending the scale, and DO TI TE LA LE SO SE FA MI ME RE RA DO, descending the scale.  Please note, these names are for the 1/2 steps between the full steps of a Major Key.  You can get a James D. Vaughan, Jeffress/Phillips, Cumberland Valley, or other basic rudiment book with this info.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L. Reid, Music Editor, Leoma Music on 2004-08-13 06:40 pm
For more information, you may want to email, Mr. Joel McKissack, Senior Music Editor, Leoma Music Company at  Also, you may email Mr. Joe Windham at  Mr. Windham runs an information site and could help forward you to many different people.  Having grown up with this type of music, (although I studied music in school), and having a father who taught singing schools every summer, (He was a school teacher), I realize how lucky I was.  To many people, they have no idea what this is, and they always get this and FASOLA, (Sacred Harp), and Black Gospel, all mixed together and think it is the same thing.  That is like saying that Soccer, and Rugby, and Football are all the same.  They share a lot in common, and they borrow from each other, but they are unique in there own way.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L. Reid, Leoma Music on 2004-08-13 08:17 pm
So that no one else will email me another question, there are no additional shapes for the CHROMATIC pitches.  You just put an accidental, (a degree modifier), like a sharp of flat, in front of the shape note and use the pitch name indicated. Example: SO (o) when sharped (#) becomes SI (#o).  The same as with the absolute pitches, that is, D when sharped becomes D-sharp.  The only time a conflict arises between shaped note relative pitches and the absolute pitches, (C D E F G A B C), is when you sharp MI or TI, or flat FA or DO.  There is no 'pitch name' altho as a musician, you would 'read' a F-flat as a E, or a C-flat as a B, or a E-sharp as a F, and a B-sharp as a C.  Since relative pitch changes with each key, where ever DO is, RE MI FA SO LA TI, fall right in line.  Please keep in mind that shape notes served as a visual aid to teach tonality, to people who did not have the time, or opportunity to study music, in what many of us would consider the Classical Western European Model.  In this, it serves the same SYMBOLIC purposes, as A E I O U does, in teaching vowel sounds to school children.  It is a visual aid, to train the mind to remember a sound with a symbol.  Some learn by intervals by lines and space on the music staff, but to the average person going to church over the last 200 years, they just wanted to be able to know how to sing, and that they could sing it correctly.  Even in those days, many clergy wanted the congregation and local community to get this basic of music education.  And after visiting some churches, reading words off a screen with no music tells me, we have missed the boat somewhere!  People seemed amazed that my family can sing, much less compose our own music.  If they would only have or go to a SINGING SCHOOL.  But, people want to be Entertained, not put an effort into something that will require them to learn.  That is the challenge.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Kettle on 2004-08-14 01:57 am
The L In SOL over the last fifty years of more, has been dropped by lazy people.  It always will and ever shall belong in the word.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L. Reid, Leoma Music on 2004-08-14 02:48 am
As I said, The L was dropped in teaching voice.  That way, in using the pitch names, you are singing all vowels.  It is not that any one is lazy, or does not want to use it.  You will find it still written as SOL in many rudiment books, but you will also find many who use it as SO.  That also makes each pitch name a two letter word.  So KETTLE, forget the lazy bit.  No lazy people I know of, since many I deal with are serious about the music they compose, and the work for God they are doing.  I don't know you, so I don't know what kind of point you are trying to make, unless it is to be picky over a petty issue.  I am sure you are just trying to point out the historical aspect of SOL having a L. Well, okay.  For us who teach voice, you sing vowels, and enunciate consonants, and thus DO RE MI FA SO LA TI are much better to use.  As to music composition, the melody and hamony make the music, and the lyrics make the message. The shape notes make the sight reading easier for those who do not choose to make music a career, or active avocation.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Senator Jimmy Jeffress (Arkansas) on 2004-09-06 04:08 am
Believe me, Dr. Bryon L. Reid know his music.  I was the Best Man at his wedding and have called him my friend for many years.  No one is more dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of shape note music than he.

Hello, Byron.  It's great to read your treatises on this site.  Give me a call sometime soon.  I've got some great tunes that I'd love for you to set the harmony to for me.

Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B. L. Reid /Leoma Music on 2004-10-31 09:12 pm
Senator Jimmy Jeffress is a good friend, and writes great lyrics and great melodies!  He would also make a great President!  Good to hear from you Jimmy, and enjoyed seeing you and Candance at Hot Springs.                    I have had a few emails sent to me, and thought I would say that not everyone who sings music with shape notes sings acappella.  In fact, most of the 'Southern Gospel Convention Singings' use a piano or organ for instrumental accompaniment.  While some Christian churches sing acapella as a standard practice, others sing with a piano.  It is a shame that more people in the Academic world have over looked and treated as inferior this type of music.  It is just like getting young people to listen and appreciate classical music.  A closed mind is a aurgument you have already lost.  Like Dr. Cecil Roper, and his brother Joe Roper, (both from my hometown of Hayden, Al.), I can also appreciate any music that is presented well.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Dr. B.L.Reid/Leoma Music Co. on 2004-11-15 03:22 am
To all concerned,
This past weekend, Nov. 12, 13, & 14, 2004, the 74th Alabama State Gospel Singing Convention met at the Holiday Inn Convention Ctr. in Decatur.  The Holiday Inn had over 600 chairs, and ran out.  They estimate over 700 people were there, and the local paper ran an article for Saturday from the Friday Night program.  They had folks there from the Alabama School of Gospel Music/Boaz, Al., to be held at Snead State Jr. Coll. June 6th thru 17th, 2005, as well as Texas School of Gospel Music and North Georgia School of Gospel Music.  Six music Publishers had song books there, Cumberland Valley, Gospel Heritage, Jeffress/Phillips, Leoma, Speer, and Texas Legendary.  Next year, the Convention will be held at Shocco Springs, near Talladega, Al., which is A Baptist Church retreat.  They have 1300 motel rooms on site according to the information given at the convention.  For those of you wanting to learn something about the seven shape note music, this is a singing convention you must plan to go to next year.  You will make contacts with people from Texas to North Carolina, and many people in the Music Education field and in Church work, who also participate in Southern Gospel Convention Singings.  See you at the National Gospel Singing Convention next weekend in Crossett, Arkansas, Nov. 19th, 20th, and 21st.  May God bless you all, everyone.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2005-02-05 09:01 pm
See for NWC version 2 only.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Tammy Jeffress Bussell on 2005-08-01 11:39 pm
I just found this site and was happy to find my family name as a "leader" in promoting shaped notes.  From a musicians' point of view, I find it easier to read and transpose music when using shaped notes.


Seriously, thanks for this site.  It's good to know there are others who want to preserve this system of music and allow others to be aware that shaped notes are alive and well.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: James Johnson on 2005-09-07 08:08 pm
I have used shaped notes since I was old enough to read and they are a lot easier for me to use when I sing than are the round notes.  With the round notes it is harder to tell if the note is full step or a half step.  With shaped notes it is easy.  My folks were too poor to afford music lessons, but I was able to learn to read music in church singing schools.  I probably could not have learned enough in the few lessons that I got if I had to rely on the lines and spaces to sing the song.

I have sung in a choir that used the round note music, and I could sing with the round notes by relating them to the shaped notes, but it is harder.  Many Churches of Christ use only a capella and every song book I have ever seen from the Churches of Christ uses only shaped notes.  I think a lot of the Baptist Churches are the same, but probably not so much in the North.  From what I have seen, the shaped note tradition was most active on the rural Western Reserve in the early 1800s and was preserved in the 1900s in the Southern churches.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Robert A. on 2005-09-07 11:00 pm
Be sure to look at version 2 of NWC. The program allows "headless" notes, and you can place your own note head shapes. A font with the correct shapes, and automation to do it, is now available. The method is only for changing the appearance just prior to printing.
Title: Re: Shaped Notes
Post by: Kenzie Adams ashlock church of christ on 2005-11-12 09:59 pm
To anyone who cares the church i am a memner of still uses shaped notes. We sing the notes to songs everyonce in a while. We key everysong you know like Do Sol Mi Do or La Ti Do Sol Mi Do pending on the key. Ihave taught one singing class. I am trying to write some songs but i can't find a computer program w/ shaped notes. If you would like totalk or have any info my email is or Thank you