Rousseau Melody Notation

Rousseau numbered musical notation is now available for iOS. The Rousseau App has a seven-note keypad that produces ordinary or numbered notation on the screen to the sound of an Italian harpsichord. Various buttons allow for playback, key and octave change, accidentals, and formatting. Melodies may be saved and opened to iReal Pro, Midi or MusicXML.

Title page Make no mistake about it. Geneva-born philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a master musician and composer. Many people haven't read or otherwise ignore his first published work entitled Dissertation sur la Musique Moderne (in french) in which he thoroughly explains numbered musical notation. This book was printed in Paris in 1743 and expands on material from his previous Project Regarding New Signs for Music (french with english translation) presented to the French Royal Academy of Sciences a year earlier. The Academy wrongly considered this work unoriginal, yet commended the young Rousseau for his effort and excellent presentation. There is no doubt that inventing and using numbered notation played an important role in his own musical education. Rousseau's progression from amateur to professional musician is very well documented and we are fortunate that he was extremely qualified to share his knowledge.

The Rousseau App is based on his original musical system. The symbols, special usage of numbers for notes and ideas on rhythm were all programmed directly from the historical texts (minus the prose). The result is a universal iOS and Mac based sketch pad for musical ideas and for exploring music theory anywhere you please. Rousseau numbered musical notation allows non-musicians and musicians of all levels to benefit from modern technology in a fun and easy way.

To get an idea of how numbered musical notation works, take the following example of this 18th century popular song, Lisette Quitté La Plaine. An actual photograph of Rousseau's hand-written manuscript is presented on the left. In the middle the notes have been entered on an iPhone. And on the right, the song is shown in ordinary musical notation (obtained by pressing the bottom right button in the iOS App).

Original Rousseau manuscript.    

Numbers for Notes

The keypad on the screen (or keyboard of the computer) was used to enter the numbers 1 through 7 that represent the notes of the diatonic scale. Depending on the key you are in, a number can have a different pitch. The numbers stay the same from octave to octave and from key to key. For example, in the key of C the notes of the diatonic scale are:
  and in the key of G :  

The very first musical example (in the key of G) found in Rousseau's published works shows how to use dots to move from one octave to the one directly above or below.

The melody starts with the numbers 1 7̣ 1̇ 2 representing Rousseau's year of birth, which correspond to the notes Sol, Fa dièse, Sol, La. In anglo-saxon notation this would be G, F#, G, A. Notice that the dot below the 7 tells us to move to the octave below. The following dot above the 1 tells us to return back up to the octave where we came from.

Position for Rhythm

As we have just seen, in numerical notation the information for pitch is contained in the numbers themselves. In ordinary notation this information is indicated by the position of the note on the staff. A similar opposition exists for rhythm! In Rousseau's notation, rhythm is determined by position whereas in ordinary musical notation the notes themselves contain the timing information. When writing music with numbers, it is through positioning (using spaces, the comma and dots) that rhythmic value is given to the numbers in each measure. This is perhaps best understood by comparing a few incipits showing "number-view" with "note-view" mode directly beneath it. (Click on a staff to open the musical example in the iReal Pro App if installed.)

G   63̇3   7̣66   366   76⋅  
Eb   1, 1̇   7̣ 56, 7 1̇   1̣, 6   5  
C   1, 27̣   1̇2, 7̣   6663̇   0  
C   6⋅7, 1̇⋅3   2 6̣ , 6⋅6̇   6⋅6, 5⋅3   3,⋅6  
C   656 , 56⋅   ⋅6 , 56⋅  1  656 , 56⋅   ⋅6 , 56⋅  

Rousseau MusicPad Control

Main screen options
      ×  Erase/restore    
      ◀ Move/play left    
            ?   Help screen            
 Export melody
  ▶ Move/play right
  Text/note view

Music editing buttons
    •  Top Row
          1)  change key signature or modulate (root note = 1)
          2)  dot next to a note makes it longer
          3)  space after a note makes it longer
          4)  dot above = octave up
          5)  comma separates a measure in two
          6)  bar line
          7)  backspace

    •  Bottom Row
          1)  change key signature down
          2)  add a sharp (/)
          3)  add a flat (\)
          4)  dot below = octave down
          5)  zero = rest

    •  swipe left ← goes to previous measure
    •  swipe right → goes to next measure
    •  swipe up ↑ goes to beginning of the song
    •  swipe down ↓ goes to end of the song
    •  pinch ↔ resizes the text

System requirements:  iPad/iPhone/iPod touch iOS 4.3 or later.

© 2011-2022  Norman Schmidt