Tongan music notation
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The Tuʻungafasi or Tongan music notation is a subset of the standard music notation, originally developed by the missionary James Egan Moulton in the 19th century for singing church hymns in Tonga.
The Tongan music notation has been developed by Moulton, as an alternative to the very complex and difficult to learn international note notation. In effect it is nothing else than the doh-ray-mi-fah-sol-la-si-doh scale, but unfortunately, as Moulton quickly found out, when this is Tonganised to to-le- and so forth it suddenly got a sexual meaning. So instead he used the numbers 3-4-5-6-7-8-9-3. Some of the notes can be sharpened, which is indicated with a slash through them. For example:
7, for the use of 7# or 8b. Therefore the full 12 notes of the octave become: 3- 3-4- 4-5-6- 6-7- 7-8- 8-9, which are pronounced as: to-lu-fa-ma-ni-o-no-tu-fi-va-a-hi, (variants of the Tongan numerals 3 to 9 being tolu, fa, nima, ono, fitu, valu, hiva). All these notes can have a dot above them to indicate that they belong to the next higher octave, or they can have a little tail under them to indicate they belong to the next lower octave. Therefore 3 octaves can be spanned by a single voice, being (midi) octave number 3, 4 and 5. Remember that the notation is primarily designed for singing, it cannot deliver the full tonal range of musical instruments. Yet occasionally one encounters a double tail, which puts the note one octave lower still, but that should largely be an exception.
It is standard in Tongan singing to have 4 different voices. As such a typical piece of Tongan music contains 4 lines, one for every voice. The first one is the leader and is called fasi, a male voice. The next one is kānokano or alto, a female voice. The third is the tēnoa or tenor, and the last one the laulalo or bass. Sometimes fewer voices are used. The fasi is always there, so if there are only two, then the second one will be the laulalo. As said above, every voice has a range of 3 octaves only, but these ranges vary with the voice. The tenoa is often 1 octave above the laulalo, but 1 below the fasi and kānokano. The actual middle doh or C position of each voice is determined by the key signature, as in the schedule below:
If 3 notes appear, then the fasi and alto are together on top, the tenor is in the middle, and the bass is on bottom. For some keys the bass doh would come too low, and is then on the same level as the tenor, so that only 2 notes appear. Not all musicians agree about this, however, some take all basses equal to the tenor. In that case they may end up with their dohs too high, forcing them to use two tails to arrive at the proper octave.
Unlike the international music notation, where the duration of every note is given by its appropriate symbol, in Tongan music notation the duration is determined by the number of notes in a given beat, which on its turn is determined by the time signature. We shall take as example 2/4 notation, which means that there are 2 beats in a single measure, the beat being a quarter note long. (With the standard tempo of 96 quarter notes per minutes, this yields to 48 measures per minute, every measure taking 1.25 seconds.) Therefore if there is a single note in the beat, it is a quarter note. If there are 2 notes, then each is an eighth, and so forth, up to a maximum of 4 notes per beat. To make notes of longer duration, some beats are to be tied. This is simply indicated with one or more dashes (-). The beats are separated from each other by colons (:) and slashes (/). The two symbols are equal, although it is customary to have the slash in the middle of long measures and the colons elsewhere. The measures are separated from each other by vertical bars (|) or double bars (||) the latter especially used to indicate repeats.
Therefore a particular (strange) piece of music in 2/4 may look like this:
||3:4|-:-|56:-7|8888:9--0| : ||
The 3 is a quarter note; the 4 is with the two following dashes extended to a three-quarter note; the 5 is an eighth note; the 6 is with the dash extended to two-eighth, that is a quarter note again; the 7 is an eight note; every 8 is a sixteenth note; the 9 is extended to a three-sixteenth note; the 0 is used to indicate a rest, in this case a sixteenth rest, but the following empty measure is also a rest (the 0 only being used when confusion may arise), therefore the rest is extended to nine-sixteenth. As in the example above, it is perfectly allright for tied notes to cross measure boundaries. Some musicians, however, prefer in such a case to repeat the note number rather than use a dash. In that case they are forced to put a tie-arc above that note and the previous one to indicate the tie, (as in the international music notation), while the consistent use of dashes would always alleviate this problem.
To be complete the following scheme holds true:
- In 2/2 (like |3:3|) and 3/2 (like |3:4:5|) time signature every single digit in a beat is a half note. Two digits in a beat means each of them is a quarter note. When there are three digits in a beat, then the first is a quarter and both others are eighths. And when there are four, then each is an eighth note. The three digit notation is preferably only to be used for a /3-4/ construction, which is a three-eighth note followed by a one-eighth. A construction with digits only, like /345/ is better to be written as /3-45/ to avoid confusion. Some musicians use a dot or a comma in such a case, like /3,45/ to remind the singers of the unequal length of the notes.
- In 2/4 (like |3:4|) and 3/4 (like |3:4:5|) and 4/4 (like |3:4/5:6|) time signature the same story holds true as for the 2/2 and other time signatures mentioned above, but all notes are twice as short. A single digit is now a quarter note, four digits make each one a sixteenth note.
- In 6/8 (like |3:4|) and 12/8 (like |3:4:5:6|) time signature every single digit is a three-eighth note. With two digits the first is a quarter and the second an eighth note. With three digits each of them is an eighth note. And with four digits one has two eighth notes followed by two sixteenths. In this case a comma or dot may appear, as in /34.56/ as a reminder to the different durations. The two digit notation is preferably only to be used for a construction like /3:-4/ being a five-eighth followed by an one-eighth note. A notation like /34/ is better to be avoided to be written as /3-4/ instead. Occasionally one encounters 6 digits in a beat, each then is a sixteenth note. This is usually foreign music put in Tongan notation.
- Ko e fasi ʻo e tuʻi ʻo e ʻotu Tonga (national anthem)
Categories: Tongan music | Musical notation