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Re: MusicML

From: Murray Macdonald <murray@mha.ca>
Date: Sun, 16 Aug 1998 21:19:41 -0700
Message-ID: <35D7AF5D.51C3C12A@mha.ca>
To: www-html@w3.org
Michael Hamm wrote:
> Okay, so we've got MathML, and we've got the HTML3 MATH tag. How about
> a MusicML?

As a person with many years of professional experience in both computers
and music, I have some concerns about this concept.

> There's currently no way (aside from graphics) to put standard musical
> notation in HTML, but this can be remedied. Here's a proposal. (I'm
> styling it after HTML3's MATH tag.)

Is it really wise to establish a standard that will encourage people to
depict compositions in such a limited format?  Classical music notation
lacks many of the things required to properly depict a composition.  If
you want to display scored musical notation, why not supply a standard
.mid file and translate it to score using any one of the many utilities
that do this?  I bet there is already an applet that does this. 

If we establish a "Notation" standard in HTML then there will certainly
be a requirement for a MIDI translator. I suggest the opposite. Musical
score lacks the precision and details already supported in MIDI. I'd
rather translate MIDI to Notation than Notation to MIDI.  The results
would be better, and people could actually hear the intended

> The MUSIC tag can go within BODY, and has no attributes. It contains
> the tags STAFF and nothing else. STAFF takes attributes CLEF="bass" or
> "treble" or "whatever", TIME="3/4" or "6/8" or whatever, and whatever
> else is necessary.
> STAFF is nonempty (though the /STAFF can be implied, as the /TD and
> /TR are). STAFF will contain the musical notation. Now, I don't know 
> much about musical notation, so what I'm about to say might actually 
> be ridiculous, but, well, if so, so? Here goes: To make a note sharp 
> or flat, put a # or b after it. The notes should be in capital 
> letters, with a number indicating the length (4 for a quarter note, 64 
> for a sixty-fourth note, 1 for a note, etc.), and a space after it, 
> thus: <MUSIC><STAFF CLEF="soprano" TIME="3/4">A4 B#8 C4</MUSIC>. A 
> rest can be indicated by the string "rest" and the number of notes or 
> the fraction of a note; thus, "A4 rest/4 B4" is a quarter-note rest 
> between the two notes and "A4 rest4 B4" is a four-note-long rest. Or 
> something like that.
> Comments? Suggestions?

Professional MIDI sequencers often use 480 or more clocks (sequencer
steps) per quarter note.  This is required to capture the "feel" of a
musician's performance.  You see, a 1/4 note can be played with
'straight', 'shuffle', or 'swing' feel(s).  This is where classical
notation falls down.  Although there are a few latin words to describe
these concepts of 'feel' as well as a few more latin words to describe
other aspects of playing style, these are terms are very vague, leaving
so much up to the interpretation.  The classical institutions recognized
these limitations, hence the need for a conductor to determine the
subtleties of dynamics and tempo.  Simply stated, classical notation a
'low-resolution' music notation format.  (here come the flames)  Classic
notation should be a low-res display option for a standardized
high-resolution music format.  Please do not approach music with
typesetting in mind.  There are so many qualities of a musical
performance that are lost with such an arcane format.  I thought the
HTML idea was to deliver the complete content ahead of getting hung up
over the issues of presentation.

Please keep in mind that there are well established standards and a
plethora of tools and utilities, that allow people to create, edit, and
capture musical performances as MIDI files.  Your suggestion would
create a mediocre new format complete with a requirement for new
tools/drivers capable of this format.  Why should people have to buy and
learn a new tool to depict music in some new format when I and every
other serious musician/computer-owner already have access to tools that
allow us to view a .mid file as music notation if we so desired.  Who
else needs this anyways?  Besides, most music notation on the web IS
merely graphical art.  

The music industry has shown great leadership to established a global
standard for representing a composition; one that I say we should
support and respect.  I suggest that the effort be spent establishing a
standard that determines the properties of how a MIDI file is to be
graphically rendered as notation, not a standard for typesetting

Received on Monday, 17 August 1998 00:19:22 UTC

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