The notation is created by combining elements of Simplified Notation with that of Common Practice Notation. The true credits belong to those who laid the foundation of music.

Author: Eric Chan, Sydney, Australia, 2008
Copyright - Public Domain


First let us look at an example as a picture worths a thousand words.

An Example of Digital Common Notation


To play a note, we need its octave, its position within the octave and the duration we need to play it for.

To play multiple notes at the same time, the notes should be laid out in a way that highlights the timing relationship and even fingering relationship of those notes.

Common Practice Notation is the standard notation in music lessons.

Simplified Notation is very popular in Asia including China and Japan.

I analysed the two notations to identify their strengths and weaknesses in Analysing CPN & SN to see whether I can make it easier to learn and to play.

Common Practice Notation

It is relatively easy to read the duration from the common notation. The timing relationship between multiple notes are well represented.

On the other hand, it is quite hard to read the note itself especially when the same location could mean any of the 3 different notes (neutral, sharp and flat) depending on the key.

Common Practice Notation also has some other problems as described in my analysis What are the problems of the Common Practice Notation (CPN)

Simplified Notation

It is an explicit notation so sight reading is easy. It is also a self-transposing notation so key transposition does not even have to be done! Personally, I find it a bit hard to read 4 to 6 notes in Simplified Notation and timing is not as easy to read as the Common Notation. The other problem is that it is a complete break from the Common Notation. So you have to choose either Common Notation or Simplified Notation.

So I tried to work out how to combine their strengths to create a notation that can be used by people who have been trained in either notation. I worked out number of strategies of combining the notations in Strategy of combining CPN and SN. The result is the Digital Common Notation.

Digital Common Notation Defined

Note Symbols
  • Digital Common Notation is common practice notation annotated with Diatonic note number and octave.
  • Diatonic degree is the number we assign to the diatonic notes on a scale. Diatonic notes are notes that sound well together in a scale. Diatonic degree is actually the note number used in the Simplified Notation.
  • Those are the notes represented by "Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti".

  • 1=Do
  • 2=Re
  • 3=Me
  • 4=Fa
  • 5=So
  • 6=La
  • 7=Ti

  • The list of notes are extended by sharps and flats on the right of the corresponding note name e.g. 1#, 2b etc.
  • Accidental is treated as part of the note name i.e. if we need 1#, we write 1# as a distinct note not 1# as a sharp of 1. So all togher, we have 17 distinct note names. In our system, 3# is an illegal note name.

The full list of note names is

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 plus 1#, 2b, 2#, 3b, 4#, 5b, 5#, 6b, 6#, 7b.

  • The note name is added to the left of the common graphical symbol.
  • The idea is the note name itself tells us exactly which note it is within an octave wihtout referencing anything other than the root note.

  • Middle octave (MO) - This is octave in the middle of the piano of the piano starting with C4 (Middle C). Notes in this octave is simply the note name e.g. "1", "2#".
  • Octave is shifted from the middle octave by octave bar "|". Each octave bar shifts the base octave by one octave. It is lower if the bar is on the left. It is higher if the bar is on the right.
  • Lower octaves - Octaves lower than base octave (MO) is called L1 (Left 1), L2, L3 etc. They are denoted with "|" on the left of note number e.g. "|2" is "Re" on L2 and "||3" is "Me" on L3.
  • Higher octaves - Octaves higher than middle octave (MO) is called R1 (Right 1), R2, R3 etc. They are denoted with "|" on the right of note number e.g. "5|" is "So" on R1 and "7||" is "Ti" on R2.

Key Signature
  • In consistent with the design of explicit symbol, the actual key and semitones from Middle C to the new root note is written on the staff as a tag e.g. "G +7"

Time Signature
  • The base (denominator) of the time signature is always 4. In other words, quarter note is always 1 beat. The deviation from the existing system to further simplifies the notation so the same symbol always means the same thing.

  • The score has the same staff layout as the common score.
  • Strictly speaking, we do not need the lines. We keep the lines and the position so that people who can read the common notation can use the new notation and we can convert an existing sheet music to the new notation with less effort.

Multiple Accidentals in the Same Bar
  • In Digital Common Notation, an accidental is simply part of the note name.
  • If the note name contains an accidental, then it is written in that way.
  • As a consequence of this rule, we never use the neutral accidental as none of the note is named with neutral as part of the note.
  • Note. The rule of Common Practice Notation and Simplified Notation is that an accidental lasts for one bar.

Other Common Practice Notation
  • All other symbols retain their original meaning.


  • Note number in different octaves may have different colors or fonts.

About the name. I though I would call it ECN (Enhanced Common Notation). It also encodes my initials. So it is EC's Notation. But it sounds really general. I ended up calling it DCN (Digital Common Notation) to emphasize

(a) we are in a digital world now. Notation needs to move with technology. Even English has changed over time!
(b) to reflect that the enhancement is by adding number to the notation.

And it happens to encode my wife's initials DC. So it could be DC's Notation. Whether it is done deliberately or by accident is for you to decide ;-)

Music Notation Software

I have developed scripts for Harmony Assistant. If you happen to use Harmony Assistant, I can send it to you. I will try to submit the scripts back to the official website for Harmony Assistant.

I think it should not be difficult to do with other music notation software if there is scripting capability.