Unconventional notation: A pianist's guide to intent and execution

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)


Music Performance

First Committee Member

Ivan Davis - Committee Chair


Pianists are confronted in all written or printed music with the problem that signs, symbols, and instructions in a score carry different meanings from generation to generation, composer to composer, and even from one piece to another. In this century, the eclectic and individualistic nature of much new music has resulted in the creation of many new notational systems and devices. As composers seek to express sounds and gestures not communicable through conventional notation, interpretive efforts are further complicated by lack of a consensual systematic approach. Additionally, there has been little attempt to relate notational expression of compositional intent to actualization through performance.While a comprehensive approach to understanding contemporary performance practice is beyond the scope of this document, score analysis that is related to the execution of a new work may uncover compositional intent, mode and manner of expression; essentially, its style. Score analysis includes the interpretation of notational conventions and innovations, and innovative practices evolve as new modes of musical expression necessitate their development. Thus, a comprehensive study of unconventional notational systems and practices can provide an essential and valid approach to understanding performance of nontraditional piano repertoire. Through this essay, this author seeks to establish the framework for such an approach and to illustrate its implementation through the examination of specific works. A thorough and precise system for categorizing musical elements may be derived from the acoustical properties of sound, each of which corresponds to a psychological property of musical sound. Frequency, intensity, spectrum, and duration relate to pitch, loudness, timbre and duration, respectively. The author has organized this document according to written representations of musical gesture, as expressions of elements belonging to one of four broad categories: pitch representation; intensity and mode of attack; timbral effects; or rhythm, meter and tempo.Learning to interpret new notational symbols results in greater awareness and understanding of the elemental shifts of emphasis that characterize the musical language of today. Through a better acquaintance with what composers seek to express through the written score, the pianist may learn to perform new music with confidence and conviction.


Music; Education, Music

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