Chromatic Lyre Notation has been developed by Jan Braunstein as a complement to modern lyres with the isomorphic whole-tone string layout. One of the major advantages of such design is that any given musical interval has the same physical distance and can be played with the same (or mirrored) fingering in any key. The Chromatic Lyre Notation reflects the string arrangement on a lyre and it partially serves also as a fingering tabulature. Nevertheless, it is not limited to lyres only and can be as well thought of as a general purpose music notation that is easy to read, write and comprehend.
Basics: Chromatic Staff & Notes

The basic element of the notation is a “chromatic staff” where each of the 12 notes has its own unique place. Sharp and flat symbols are not used anymore. The staff consists of only 2 lines per octave. Filled and hollow noteheads help indicate the note pitch and are no more linked to a note lenght. Two notehead types also represent the notes in each of the two whole-tone scales as they occur on the lyre so an optimal fingering of both hands can be easily  judged already by a quick look. The white notes are usually played with the right hand and black notes with the left hand.
As well as on the whole-tone chromatic lyres, the physical distances between notes reflect the actual musical relations. Twelve-tone chromatic scale with a half-step between every two following notes is musically linear (with possible nuances according to actual temperament which is irrelevant for notation anyway) and it also looks linear in chromatic notation. Below is the chromatic scale spreading 4 octaves from C to c’’’ written in chromatic staff and compared to the traditional diatonic notation using bass and treble clef. The alto clef in chromatic staff indicates the position of c’ (middle c).

Staves & Clefs
The basic 2-line chromatic staff can be stacked up to cover desired range. The notes keep the same positions in all "stacks" (octaves). The alto clef (C-clef) always sits in the middle octave and points to c’. The simplest form of chromatic staff contains two stacks (2 octaves) and covers a similar range as a standard 5-line staff.

The staves can be used with the same manners as in traditional notation and they can also be connected with accolade when desired like in any standard harp or piano notation. However, when using with lyres where both hands usually interact with each other rather than playing separate voices, it is recommended to use “stacked” connection where the result is a single staff spreading several octaves. Such a connection is represented by a bracket. When it is not possible to use standard alto clef (the written music is either too high above c’ or too low below it), there are two other clefs that shift the range one ocatve up (soprano clef) and down (bass clef). In both cases, the clefs do not change the positions of notes in the staff as in traditional notation but instead just indicate the absolute position of middle c. If necessary, both soprano and alto clefs can be also used together with "8" symbol to shift the positions yet another octave (8va, 8vb). The following scheme shows the way of using staves with different types of clefs. In the first example, the note always indicate middle c and staff is extended to any desired range. Below, each clef shifts the range another octave higher starting on C (cello C). The staves are written in vertical "steps" just for illustration - the purpose of different clefs in Chromatic Lyre Notation is that even the scores using wide range can be written with minimum vertical span.

Notes & Rests Duration

The rhythm indication differs from traditional notation since the filled and hollow noteheads refer to a note pitch instead of a duration. The rests can be placed anywhere in the staff and whole / half rests are no more associated with their position (above or below the line). The half, whole and double-whole rests, however, should not touch the lines (to prevent confusion with notes). A simple dash (half rest) can be also used as a full-measure rest regardless of the time signature. Notes & rests lenghts in the lyre notation with their equivalents in traditional standard notation are shown below:


The look of intervals in Chromatic Lyre Notation is consistent and the distance between note heads remains the same in any key. Contrary to the traditional notation the vertical spacing also reflect real musical proportions. The following chart shows all intervals up to an octave:

Enharmonics, Sharps & Flats

The main difference of chromatic lyre notation towards traditional music notation is that it uses 12 particular note positions instead of just 7. Therefore, there is no need to use any accidental signs for raising or lowering the notes. However, those 12 notes can actually have many different spellings. A note on one particular position can be for instance F, E# or Gbb. Although the tone is played on the same string, the spelling is different acording to the key signature and music progression. In Chromatic Lyre Notation there are two possibilities how to handle this. The first one is really simple - the spelling is not speciified. This does not mean that the information is lost but it requires some knowledge of music theory in order to name the notes correctly. However, this is not essential for playing the notes correctly on a lyre. The second option is using of slanted noteheads in order to distinguish sharps, flats and naturals. The noteheads of sharp notes are rised from left to right, flats are lowered and all natural notes remain unslanted.

The notehead angle does not directly indicate whether it is a flat, sharp, or natural but instead whether it is a lowered, raised or unaltered version of some pitch. For example, on the single ledger line, which is usually thought of as C, a notehead angled downward is not a flat, but a double flat (namely, Dbb). There can be no flat at that particular staff position, so the downward angle here unambiguously indicates a double flat. Similarly, an upward angle at that staff position unambiguously indicates a sharp (B#), because there can be no double sharp at that position. A non-tilted notehead does not necessarily mean a natural. For example, a non-tilted notehead at the staff position for C#/Db cannot indicate a natural; it just means that the spelling has not been specified.


The structure of scales in chromatic lyre notation can be easily recognized at first sight by different notehead colours (whole step = same notehead, half step = different notehead). This also serves as a fingering scheme since the change of the notehead colour also means the swap of hands (hollow = right, filled = left). Same as with intervals, the look of a particular scale (as well as the fingering) remains consistent in any key. Of course, the notation is not determined by diatonic keys so any types of scales can be written while maintaining a simple look. As an example, all major and minor scales are shown. They are ordered according to the crircle of fifths showing the spelling of sharp and flat notes in each key by sloping noteheads (sharp and flat keys are separated by double barlines).

More information about alternative notation systems including innovations based on similar
ideas as Chromatic Lyre Notation can be found on The Music Notation Project website.