Sheet music notation in its current form serves the needs of performers who must replicate a piece of music without hearing it first. As a result, the rhythmic values and absolute chromatic pitches of a melodic line take precedence over other features of interest to the composer or analyst, such as the relationship of a melody note to other notes, the harmony, or the key. This results in unwanted behaviors: key changes and slight rhythmic variations cause massive changes in the presentation even though they constitute single musical events, and because so much space is devoted to exact pitch and rhythmic replication, melodic phrases are often divided arbitrarily across multiple lines and pages, hindering comparisons.
Once an entire song has been stored using our software, visualizations called SongMaps are generated, which are based on consultation with songwriting faculty Stan Swiniarski at Berklee College of Music. SongMaps reflect the unique requirements for analyzing melody in popular music and the Berklee songwriting curriculum. For instance, SongMaps are normalized to the song’s tonal center to emphasize the relationship between melody notes and stable/unstable tones in the key. Rhythmic syncopation is identified and highlighted along the bottom to indicate structural choices as well as rhythmic motives. The length and placement of musical phrases against the bar lines, along with their harmonies, take precedence by forming the SongMap’s foundation. Each visualization fits on a single page to facilitate comparative analysis among phrases and song sections.
While SongMaps do not provide the detail necessary to recreate a piece of music, they capture the essential features useful for analysis and present them in a robust visualization to facilitate comparisons among musical phrases and other compositional practices. Below, we provide a sample from the beginning of the chorus to John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields forever.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” is copyright 1967 Northern Songs Limited. Words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.