Using this website

Here you will learn everything about using the Sympathetic Resonances site. Don't let the page size intimidate you, the Getting started section only takes about 2-3 minutes to read.

You may want to keep this page open while working in another browser tab.

Table of contents

Getting started

Signing up

In order to store your own mbira pieces, please register as a user. Click on the "Login" button in the menu bar at the upper right corner, and choose "Sign up".
After completing the registration form, you will receive an email with a confirmation link. Please check the spam folder of your email account, too! The link will take you to the login screen, which can also be reached from the Login menu.

User profile and privacy

The signup form asks for a few personal details, your name, email address, city, and country. User accounts are tied to a single email address - you cannot register twice with the same email.
No personal information is ever disclosed to unregistered visitors of the website. Your email address is never shown to anyone who does not yet know it, unless you use the website to send a email notifications on your behalf, which fills in your reply address.

Your name is shown to other registered users on a few occasions:

Aliases
If you prefer your name not to be shown to other users, fill in the Alias field. The alias is shown instead of your name throughout the website (unless when sending emails on your behalf).

Aliases may also make you more recognizable, e.g. as a member of an organization, or if there is another user of the same or similar name.

Browsing pieces

Logging in, or clicking the “Your Pieces” button in the menu bar gets you to your personal archive.
At the top of this page there is a drop-down list to select the instrument type, and a search box.

The rest of the page shows three lists of pieces for the selected instrument: Template pieces, your own pieces (if any), and pieces shared with you. Click on a piece's name to open it (e.g. "Nhemamusasa").

Searching pieces

Type in one or more search terms and hit the Search button or Enter key to show only pieces matching the terms. Press the Clear button to again show all pieces.
In case of multiple search terms, only pieces are shown which contain all of them, like "kari" and "pfu" in the picture above.

The search covers all bits of text in the entire piece record, including headings and comments of the parts themselves. With some naming scheme, like the one from Paul Berliner's The Art of Mbira book, you can search for individual parts:

Viewing pieces

The top of the page shows a number of form fields for the piece’s metadata, followed by a list of editable tables for the transcriptions:

Playback

You can audition a part with the ► (Play) button:
The ■ (Stop) button stops all playback.
Press the "+" button to play another part simultaneously.
Press the "-" button to stop a single part while keeping the others running.
This way you can play back any combination of parts. If some have their Hosho beats at different pulses, you can easily rotate a part to a different starting point.
Restart audio after changes
When you press the ► button, the web server synthesizes an audio file from the part and streams it to your browser. After editing a part, you need to stop and restart playback in order to hear your changes.
Generating a fresh audio file
Subsequent playbacks of an unchanged part re-use the audio file. On rare occasions something might go wrong, and the audio file would not sound as expected. Hold the Shift/⇧ key while clicking on ► or "+" to make the server generate an fresh audio file.

Choosing playback sound

Pick the playback instrument from the dropdown list next to the play buttons:
The lower part of the list shows all available sampled instruments.
Click the ⓘ icon right of the list box for details about the selected instrument.
Instrument reference key
Each line starts with the pitch on the chromatic scale closest to the instrument's "reference key". The reference key is an arbitrary choice, simply to have a reference for comparing instruments' relative pitches.

In general, the lowest key on the instrument is picked as the reference. Otherwise another prominent key, which is then mentioned in the notations section.

Choosing your preferred tuning
The three ‘Preference’ entries at the top are placeholders which you can personalize in order to play all content in your preferred tuning.

Public pieces use Preference 1 for Kushaura parts, #2 for Kutsinhira parts, and #3 for occasional third parts.

It is best to follow this convention in your own pieces, unless a part requires a particular instrument.

Playback tempo

The current playback tempo can be determined (and stored per piece) in the according field:
The tempo is specified in PPM (pulses per minute). With three pulses per beat, 300 PPM equals 100 BPM (beats per minute).

If you leave this field empty, the instrument type's default tempo is used (e.g. 240 PPM for an mbira). In a later version of the app the default tempo will be a user preference, so unless you see a good reason for pinpointing a specific tempo, just leave the the field empty when storing pieces.

For playback and rehearsal just temporarily change the tempo of any piece as you like.

Visualization

Click the button to show an animated picture of the instrument.
Click on the image to toggle colors which indicate the keys' pitch classes. Drag the handle in the lower right corner to resize the animation. Try it right here:
 
Non-existent keys
If a piece contains notes for which there is no key in the "virtual mbira" picture, a key label is shown instead, roughly at the position where the respective key would sit.
This njari lacks an LI4 key. It would be
a green key right below the blue LI5.
The label also shows when that key is triggered.
Hints

Using another notation

If you have used tabular mbira transcriptions before, the tables may look familiar, but perhaps you wonder about the numbers. The example pieces use the numbers 1-7 to enumerate the seven pitch classes (scale degrees) in each register. This notation is called Pitch.

You can translate the piece to another notation by selecting a Translator from the "Other Notations" section and pressing the “Translate Now” button.

Choose “Pitch → Position” to translate the piece into a more widespread notation where the keys are enumerated according to their position within each manual.

Hint: Don't hesitate to experiment with the translators or any other feature. All changes are temporary unless a piece is saved. The translator mechanism can also be used to transform pieces in interesting ways, like transposing them or translating them to another type of instrument.

Editing a part

Creating a new piece

Click again on “Your Pieces” at the menu bar, to get to your list of pieces, then on "Create Empty Piece" in the Template Pieces section. This section contains templates which will automatically be copied before editing.
At the bottom of the new piece’s page is a single empty part:
Choose your preferred notation from the 'Notation' listbox. For mbira dzavadzimu pieces, Position is a widespread beginner's notation, which numbers keys by their position in each manual.
Hint (matepe/madhebhe/hera pieces): Even though there are no notes yet, you may have to translate the piece to the desired notation in order to get the correct row labels in the table.

Hint: If the table is wider than your browser window or screen, you can make editing easier by shrinking the browser’s font size.

Editing cells

Let’s first look at the tabular section in the lower half. It works a bit like spreadsheet app. Click on an empty cell, type “Hi” and hit the Enter key:
As you see, you can write any text into the cells. Only the playback and translation functions require the use of a notation. Hit the Delete key to delete the selected cell(s).

The cursor can be moved around with the arrow keys. Holding Shift/⇧ when pressing the arrow keys or clicking with the mouse selects a rectangular area.

Use the ⌘/Ctrl+A shortcut to select all notes.
You can also select multiple cells individually by holding the Ctrl/⌘ key and clicking with the mouse.
Entering or deleting a value always affects all selected cells:

Cut, Copy, Paste, Duplicate

Inside a table, use these shortcuts for familiar clipboard and editing operations.

Note: There are a couple of limitations for different browsers:

But don't worry, if the keyboard shortcuts do not work in your browser, there is a simple workaround.

Command MacOS shortcut Windows shortcut
Cut ⌘X Ctrl+X
Copy ⌘C Ctrl+C
Paste ⌘V Ctrl+V
Paste (overwrite all) ⇧⌘V Shift+Ctrl+V
Duplicate ⌘D Ctrl+D
Duplicate (overwrite all) ⇧⌘D Shift+Ctrl+D
Select All ⌘A Ctrl+A

The difference betwenn the regular and the "overwrite all" Paste and Duplicate commands is that the former only pastes notes from the clipboard, while the latter also pastes empty cells, thus overwriting the entire target area:

Duplicate:

Duplicate (overwrite all):

Copying notes from/to another piece or spreadsheet

The Cut and Copy commands copy notes into your computer's clipboard. You can paste them into any other part, even between browser tabs.

You can also copy & paste table data from spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers and Google Sheets.


Copy Paste

The clipboard data is in TSV format, a simple way to exchange tables as text, where each row becomes a line, and cells in each line are separated by a Tab character.

You can already see this data in the input field whenever multiple cells are selected. Copying and pasting data from or to the input field has the same effect as in the table itself.

Workaround for clipboard commands in all browsers
Since the input field always reflects the selected data in the table, you can use this simple method as a workaround if your browser does not support the Copy/Paste keyboard shortcuts:

Whenever you would normally press ⌘/Ctrl+X, C or V, press the Enter key first, then ⌘/Ctrl+X, C or V, and then Enter again.

This moves the focus to the input field and back to the table, and directs the clipboard command to the input field.

Footnotes

Each cell can also be annotated with a footnote. Simple select a cell, and type the note into the footnote field:
The little asterisk indicates the presence of a footnote.

Changing the dimensions of the part

So far we have only edited the content of the cells. In order to change the number of cells in both dimensions, use the two groups of buttons labelled "↔" and "↕".

Use the "↔" button group to change the number of columns ("pulses").

The "↕" button group allows to the change the number of rows ("tracks") in the table.
The “Insert” and “Append” buttons insert a new track or pulse at the cursor position, or at the end of the table. You can add several tracks or pulses at once by entering a higher number than the “1” in the input field.

The remaining buttons, “Duplicate”, “Delete” and “Set Start” work depending on the selection, not the number input field. To duplicate a range of pulses, select the desired range (in any track) by holding Shift/⇧, then press “Duplicate” in the “Pulses” section.

Likewise, to delete a range or non-consecutive selection of pulses or tracks, select them holding the Shift/⇧ or Ctrl/⌘ key, and press the respective “Delete” button.

Rotating the part to a different starting point

The “Set Start” button in the "↔" section allows to cyclically shift the pulses so that the selected pulse becomes the new starting point. To cycle the whole part, all tracks need to be selected (for the sake of the example, the part is shortened to a few pulses):
To rotate just a single track, e.g. for setting the Hosho downbeat, just click on the desired starting pulse and press “Set Start”:

Part Layout

The “Layout” field next to the footnote determines the table's layout.
“12 12 12 12 page” means that the table contains four sections which 12 pulses each, and in case there are more pulses than 48, a new “page” of 4 sections is started. Currently "page" has no visual effect, and the numbers result in a little thicker division line between the cells every 12 pulses. In the future the parts will be broken down into multiple staffs at these points.

Managing multiple parts

Heading and Comments

A piece’s page may contain any number of parts (currently only limited by the increasing loading times of the page). Each part has a heading and comments field for additional information.

It’s a good idea to put some description into the heading field which uniquely identifies it in the context of the piece, so that you can refer to this particular part, e.g. as a background for other parts, or for a later cross-referencing feature:

A field for comments about the part:

The part list

Use the “Add Part” button on the right hand side to create a new, empty part underneath the current one.
“Duplicate" adds a copy, and “Remove" deletes the part from the list.

Unfortunately there is not (yet) an Undo function. Use the “Remove” function with care, and save the piece often, ideally after finishing every single part!

The Arrow up/down buttons change the position of the part in the list and exchange it with its upper or lower neighbor.

The moved part remains within the view, but sometimes this is not obvious unless you keep an eye on the position of the browser’s scroll bar.

Parts in the background of another

Parts can be shown in the background of another: All empty cells of the foreground part let the background shine through in a lighter color. You can stack up any number of layers. Simply select a background part from the dropdown box in the upper right of the part:
If the background part is shorter than the foreground, it is looped horizontally to fill up the number of pulses in the foreground.

Backgrounds are really useful to transcribe variations since only the changes have to be noted down. By changing the background you can also quickly try out the same variation on different parts. An underscore character (“_”) indicates an omission the background note.

Hint: When transcribing variations, it's generally a good practice to use a separate part for all notes which are meant to be played together. If there are many single-note variations, you can also put them into a single part and add a comment that can be played independently.

Merging and subtracting parts

The “Merge” button next to the background box merges all background notes into the foreground, i.e. all white notes become black.
Conversely, the “Subtract” button removes all notes from the foreground, which are equally present in both, foreground and background.

Saving & duplicating pieces

Saving new pieces

You can save a new piece with the button at the very bottom of the page, or drop it with the "Exit Without Saving" button - or by simply closing the browser tab.

Hint: No changes or additions become permanent until a Save button is hit, therefore it is good to save early and often.

Before saving a new piece you should give it a proper name, so you can locate it in the overview, and select the instrument and the used notation from the respective drop-down lists.
These settings are used to inform playback and translation, changing them has no effect on the numbers in the tables. Only translation changes the actual numbers (and can usually be reversed).

Saving existing pieces

Once a new piece is saved, you will see a different set of buttons at the bottom of the page.

Use "Save & Exit" to save changes and return to the list of your pieces.

Hit "Save" to save the piece on the server, and continue editing.
Duplicate pieces with the "Save As New Piece" button. The saved original remains unchanged, and the current state will be saved as a new piece.
"Exit Without Saving" simply returns to your list of pieces, without saving any changes you have made since opening the piece.
Hint: To discard any temporary or accidental changes to a piece and revert to its saved state, just use the browser's Reload button.

Checking a piece for typos

After you saved a new piece, you may want to check it for typos. Occasionally right numbers end up in the wrong row, so it is a good idea to do these checks routinely.

The simplest way to check a piece against a notation is to translate it to another (equivalent) notation, and then back. The translation process adds an [UNTRANSLATED] footnote to every cell it cannot translate.

Since you just want to see this error indication, and not save the piece in this state, it is best to open the same piece in two browser tabs. In the first tab you fix possible mistakes and later save the original piece, in the second tab you conduct the double translation and just close the tab when you are done.

Sharing pieces

To share a piece with other users, click on "Share" in the overview list.
In the subsequent dialog you can enter the recipients' email addresses, and choose whether they may only read or also edit the shared piece. Change the latter by sharing the piece again with different settings.
Recipients not yet registered as users will receive an invitation mail.

Please use the sharing facility responsibly, and respect your teacher’s interests where appropriate!

Transforming pieces

Besides employing a different notation, the translator menu offers other options to transform a piece.

Transposition

You can transpose a piece up or down by 1-3 scale degrees. Choose a translator from the "Transposition" section, and press the "Translate Now" button.

(Note: This currently work only with the mbira dzavadzimu in Pitch notation, or matepe/madhebhe/hera in Pitch.4 notation. If you are using another notation, first translate to these notations, then transpose, then translate back to your preferred notation.)

Two methods for transposition are available, "Shift" and "Cycle".

Automatic transposition does not always deliver the most playable or musically satisfying results, but should provide a reasonable starting point for quick exploration and manual post-editing.

Sometimes more than one note ends up in the same playing area (see the "L" track in the picture below). This is no problem for the playback machinery, but impossible to play with one finger, so you may have to make the choices that the translator cannot provide.

Hint: Avoid repeated transposition. Rather start over with the original piece and a wider interval. In certain cases, multiple notes are mapped to the same target which changes intervals (e.g. the missing B2, key is substituted by B1 when shifting downwards).

Translating pieces to another instrument type

You can translate a piece to another instrument by choosing a translator from the "Other Instruments" section, and pressing the "Translate Now" button.
As of today, you can translate As instrument types differ in key layout, playing techniques and composition styles, sometimes more than one note may end up in the same playing area as the result of the automatic translation. Nonetheless it is a good starting point for exploration and manual post-editing.

Piece metadata

The form field in the metadata section at the top of a piece page should be by and large self-explanatory. Let's look at the non-obvious bits:

Alternative name(s)

The Alternative Name(s) section is meant to list alternative names of the piece, one name per field. Use the and buttons to add and remove fields.
If you paste URLs (hyperlinks) into the Medium Details, Where, Source Details, Lyrics, or Notes fields, they will appear as clickable links below the respective field after you saved the piece:
    

Links to Youtube and Vimeo videos appear as embedded videos. You can also embed the SoundCloud audio player using the shorthand format below.

If you want links to be shown with a text, or media players to have a title, enclose title and link (in this order) with double brackets:

[[My link to Wikipedia https://wikipedia.com]]

will be shown as

My link to Wikipedia

Shorthand for embedding videos and SoundCloud tracks
Instead of with a URL, you can also embed embed media players like this:

[[My Youtube video YOUTUBE:11KXsY2ZMM0]]
[[My Vimeo video VIMEO:176602346]]
[[My SoundCloud song SOUNDCLOUD:278804666]]

The digit/letter sequences behind the colon are the video or track IDs. You will find them in link or code when sharing the video or audio track [for embedding] on the respective platforms. It is that section of the sharing link or code which differs when sharing two different media items.

This format is also the only way to embed SoundCloud tracks, as links to a song page do not contain the actual track ID.

Media start times
Playback start times specified in Youtube or Vimeo links are passed to the embedded media players. In the shorthand format, specify start times like this:

[[YOUTUBE:11KXsY2ZMM0@90]] (Start at 90secs)
[[VIMEO:176602346@1m30s]] (Start at 1min 30secs)

Note the slightly different format for Youtube and Vimeo.

Embedded Soundcloud players do not accept start times.

Preferences

Open the preferences page via the User menu in the top right corner.

Playback instruments

In the Instruments section you can choose you preferred playback instruments for each instrument type.
Press the Save Instruments button at the bottom of the list to update your preferences.

Playback starting point

Use this setting to determine where audio playback of a piece starts.
Press the Save Playback Settings after changing the setting.

The Play button icons on the piece pages reflect this setting. Refresh browser tabs which are already open to update the setting.

Hosho volume

This option determines the volume of the Hosho shaker sound.
Press the Save Playback Settings after changing the setting. Refresh browser tabs with are already open for changes to take effect.

Notations

A notation is a set of names for the keys of an instrument. This website supports different notations for most instruments, and users can translate their transcriptions to any other notation with a few clicks.

Key names have two parts: The row label and the cell content. In the picture below the cursor sits in a row RT on a cell with a 1. Both components are required to identify the key, so the full key name in the notation is RT1.

Key Aliases

Sometimes the same key can be played with different fingers, usually to maintain a motoric pattern for the player. We want to able to reflect this in transcriptions in a way that is compatible with translation of pieces to other notations. Therefore the same key can have multiple names, and can possibly be referred to in different rows (if rows represent different fingers or playing areas).

For instance, on the mbira dzavadzimu the right thumb occasionally plays the RI3-5 keys or even the L1 key. The RI3 can also be referred to as RT3'. (The names in this example are in Pitch notation.) The naming scheme for key aliases is different for each notation, and listed below.

If you miss a specific alias for your transcriptions, please let me know.

Mbira dzavadzimu

This instrument class represents the mbira dzavadzimu in its most widespread layout - seven keys in the lower left manual, seven (sometimes less) in the upper left). For mbiras with additional keys, see mbira dzavadzimu (with extra keys).

Currently there are six notations. They are called

All of them use a track for the Hosho downbeat (denoted by a dot "."), plus three or four tracks which correspond to the playing areas of the mbira:

  • RI: Keys played with the right index finger
  • RT: Keys played with the right thumb
  • L: Top left manual
  • B: Bottom left manual
The "Art of Mbira" notations are meant to facilitate entering parts from Paul Berliner and Cosmas Magaya's book The Art of Mbira.

Use Art of Mbira (notes) if you can read musical notes fluently. If not, you may want to try Art of Mbira (lines).

There are only three track captions; in case the right thumb and index finger play simultaneous notes, use a second R row, as in the picture below:

  • R: Keys played with the right hand
  • L: Top left manual
  • B: Bottom left manual

All notations are convertible to and from Pitch and Pitch+Octaves. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use two translation steps across on of these.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

RT
RI
L
B
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1
2
3
4
5
6
7

The numbers indicate the key's position within each of the three playing areas, from lowest to highest.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI45678910111213
RTL1123456
L1RT1324567
B1234567
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RTL1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT1LRT1RT1 key played with the left thumb
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5RT5RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI6RT6RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RT
RI
L
B
3
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1
2
1
5
4
6
7
1'
2
1
3
4
5
6
7
2

Like Pitch+Octaves notation, but octave indication is ommited where can be deduced from the playing area. If a manual contains the same pitch class twice, the less frequently used key gets the octave indication.

Caveat: The notation uses two single quotes (''), not a double quote (") for the highest register.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI34567123''4''5''
RTL13123'45
L1RT345671'2
B1345672
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RTL1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT3LRT3RT3 key played with the left thumb
RI3RT3'RI3 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger (Note the RT3', as there is also RT3)
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5RT5RI5 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RT
RI
L
B
3
1'
2'
3'
4'
5'
6'
7'
1''
2''
1
5
4
6
7
1'
2'
1,
3,
4,
5,
6,
7,
2

The numbers denote scale degrees (1-7) of the mbira's seven tone scale, starting with 1 as the lowest tone of both the L and B registers. Apostrophes and commas indicate the octave position relative to the middle register. e.g. 1, 1 1' 1''.

Caveat: The notation uses two single quotes (''), not a double quote (") for the highest register.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI3'4'5'6'7'1''2''3''4''5''
RT131'2'3'4'5'
L1345671'2'
B1,3,4,5,6,7,2
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RT1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT3L3RT3 key played with the left thumb
RI3'RT3'RI3' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI4'RT4'RI4' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5'RT5'RI5' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
The Analytic notation can be used to analyze and transform the harmonic and rhythmic structure of mbira pieces, and to compose new music.

There are two kinds of tracks in this notation:

  • Tracks with notes (the first five rows of the table above)
  • Transposition tracks (the row at the bottom)
An equals sign (=) in a transposition track indicates repetition, making 1==3== the same as 111333. Each number (or repetition) in the bottom track transposes all notes in the respective column. The caption of the bottom track (4) in turn transposes the entire transposition track.
Playground for experimentation
The resultant piece in the picture is a well-known Nhemamusasa kushaura part. The bottom row contains the System of Mbira-style harmonic "standard" progression 135-136-146-246, which is lifted to the fourth degree by the 4 in the bottom left corner, thus 461-462-472-572. The = signs nicely visualize the harmonic rhythm of the piece.

With all harmonic information factored out, you can see how the remaining pattern merely contains unisons, fifths, and occasional thirds, and is repeated four times in near identical form. Looping backgrounds allow you to state this pattern only once.

On this level of abstraction, you can transform the entire piece simply by changing or moving a single number. Try it out and learn more techniques with this demonstration piece.

Adding degrees
All numbers in the table range from 1-7 and denote either scale degrees or transpositions. Since we are counting 1-7, not 0-6, the way two degrees a and b add up is not a plain addition. Therefore let us not use a+b, but a new symbol a°b, meaning "a lifted to the b-th degree".

Here is how ° works: Take a + b - 1, and subtract 7 if the result is bigger than 7.

°1234567
11234567
22345671
33456712
44567123
55671234
66712345
77123456
This way of adding degrees may be unfamiliar at first, but has the advantage of all numbers in the table being interchangeable.
Mapping notes
The Analytic notation works like an abstract mbira, with all degrees 1-7 available in all tracks.

Hosho.
RI1234567
RT1234567
L1234567
B1234567
On the real instrument, however, not all scale degrees are present in all manuals. E.g. the RT manual is made of degrees 1-3 only. Therefore, when playing back the piece, or when translating it to another notation, all notes must be mapped to existing keys.

When a note is not available in a manual, it can be either moved to another manual or octave, or get substituted, harmonically informed by the transposition tracks. There are a number of methods for this, each trying to retain a different aspect of the abstract mbira piece.

  • Retain Pitches.  Notes move to where they are found on the instrument. E.g. the non-present L3 key is moved to RT3 of the same pitch. This may result in pieces not being playable, e.g. if the right thumb is already busy with another key.
  • Retain Motor Pattern.  Each note not present in a manual is substituted by a harmonic equivalent, so that fingers keep playing the same motor pattern. This sometimes leads to large interval jumps, especially between RT and RI keys, and many note repetitions in the RT manual.
  • Retain Octaves:  Map notes so that they remain within three registers
    • All B keys → low register: B1-B7
    • All L keys → middle register: L1-L7 including B2 and RT3
    • All RT/RI keys → high register: RT1-RT7, transposing down RI1 and RI2
  • Retain Playability.  A mix of the above mappings, striving to maximize playbility of the resultant part - given that the abstract part itself is playable.
Hint: When composing pieces or exploring variations, it is generally best to start with the Retain Pitches method, and then trying the others for getting the result to the instrument.

For technical reasons, you choose the method via the Notation drop-down list. The same Analytic notation is listed four times, indicating the mapping method. To change the method, simply pick another "Analytic (...)" entry.

Transposition track rules
  • You can use any number of transposition tracks. They all add up.
  • An empty cell means that the track does not affect the transposition of that column.
  • If no number is found left of an = cell up to the beginning of a track (empty cells skipped), the lookup continues from the end of the track. This means you can always safely rotate transposition tracks along with the notes.
  • If a transposition track contains no number at all, but only =, the number 1 is substituted, allowing for purely graphical transposition patterns.

Miscellaneous
  • The L1' key is currently not reachable by Analytic notation. This means you cannot transcribe the popular RT1 L1' RT1 L1' RT1 L1'... figure in some mbira pieces, but have to use RT1 RT1 RT1 RT1... instead. This will likely change in a future update.
  • You can use any positive number, not just 1-7 in the tables. The general formula for combining degrees is a°b = 1 + (a-1 + b-1) mod 7.

This notation is meant to facilitate entering parts from Paul Berliner and Cosmas Magaya's book The Art of Mbira.

Simply enter the musical notes names and the register (e.g. g, g1, g2, g3 for g, g', g'', g''') in the respective tracks: Open oval notes in the B track, triangular notes in the L track, and closed oval notes in the R track.

When you are done entering parts, you can translate them to a different notation.

If you have trouble reading notes, try the Art of Mbira (lines) notation.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes.

Hosho.
Rb1g2a2b2c3d3e3f3g3a3b3c4d4
Lg1c2d2e2f2g2a2
Bgbc1d1e1f1a1

This notation is meant to facilitate entering parts from Paul Berliner and Cosmas Magaya's book The Art of Mbira, particularly if you have trouble reading musical notes. It works as follows:

  • Enter open oval notes in the B track, triangular notes in the L track, and closed oval notes in an R track.
  • Each note may either sit on a line, or above or below a line. If it sits on a line, just enter the line number. If it sits above a line, enter the line number and a +, or a - if it is below a line. For the five staff lines either option works.
  • If the note sits within or right above or below the 5-line staff, count the lines bottom up: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • If there are extension lines, just enter the total number of lines (regardless if the note is above or below the 5-line staff): Either 6, 7, 8 or 9. (The 6 is used in both the B and the R manual, otherwise the note names are unambiguous).

When you are done entering parts, you can translate them to a different notation.

If you can read notes fluently, you may want to try the Art of Mbira (notes) notation.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
R35+66+77+88+99+1010+11
L24-45-55+6
L3+4+
B7-6-61-12-3-
B1+2+
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
B1+B2-Above the first line = below the second line
B2+B3-Above the second line = below the third line
L3+L4-Above the third line = below the fourth line
L4+L5-Above the fourth line = below the fifth line
Comparison of notation styles
Each notation has specific advantages and disadvantages. Here is a comparison of some aspects which led to the choice of Pitch for the public content of the website:

Position Pitch+Octaves Pitch
+ Used in various publications and score books
+ Can be used with very little previous knowledge - Requires memorizing the octave layout
- Presence of an extra key (e.g. B2) shifts all subsequent numbers in the rank + Compatible notations for instruments with and without extra keys
+ Quick identification of groups of same pitches in different octaves
+ Easy identification of symmetries between a piece's sections
+ Easy calculation of scale intervals
- Lots of apostrophes and commas
+ Looks almost as 'clean' as the Position notation
+ Can transcribe "breach of the rules", like playing the L1, B1 or RI keys with the right thumb.
+ Uses only numbers - Needs octave indication
+ A dedicated track for each of the four playing areas reflects the motoric playing patterns and their symmetries (unlike a 2 or 3 track notation).

Pitch notation with four tracks provides considerable insight into the structure of a piece, even at a glance. This makes the music accessible even for non-players. For new students of the instrument, learning the octave layout quickly pays off.

One of the design goals of the app was to avoid an authoritative standard notation, and allow users to use their own preferred formats. A later version will provide custom formats and automatic translation of pieces according to users' preferences, wherever translation is possible without loss of information.

Mbira dzavadzimu (with extra keys)

This instrument class offers notations for the mbira dzavadzimu with all sorts of extra keys (most notably B2 and LI3), especially the ones shifting the numbering of the Position notation.

There are the same three notations as for the mbira dzavadzimu without extra keys

but with an additional LI track:
  • RI: Keys played with the right index finger
  • RT: Keys played with the right thumb
  • LI: Left index finger
  • L: Top left thumb manual
  • B: Bottom left thumb manual
All notations are convertible to and from Pitch. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

The numbers indicate the key's position within each of the three playing areas, from lowest to highest.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI45678910111213
RTL11-1023456
LI1
L1RT1324567
B12345678
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RTL1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT1LRT1RT1 key played with the left thumb
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5RT5RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI6RT6RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger

Like Pitch+Octaves notation, but octave indication is ommited where can be deduced from the playing area. If a manual contains the same pitch class twice, the less frequently used key gets the octave indication.

Caveat: The notation uses two single quotes (''), not a double quote (") for the highest register.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI34567123''4''5''
RTL1367123'45
LI3
L1RT345671'2
B12,345672
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RTL1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT3LRT3RT3 key played with the left thumb
RI3RT3'RI3 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger (Note the RT3', as there is also RT3)
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5RT5RI5 key played with the thumb instead of the index finger

The numbers denote scale degrees (1-7) of the mbira's seven tone scale, starting with 1 as the lowest tone of both the L and B registers. Apostrophes and commas indicate the octave position relative to the middle register. e.g. 1, 1 1' 1''.

Caveat: The notation uses two single quotes (''), not a double quote (") for the highest register.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RI3'4'5'6'7'1''2''3''4''5''
RT13671'2'3'4'5'
LI3
L1345671'2'
B1,2,3,4,5,6,7,2
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
L1RT1L1 key played with the right thumb
RT3L3RT3 key played with the left thumb
RI3'RT3'RI3' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI4'RT4'RI4' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger
RI5'RT5'RI5' key played with the thumb instead of the index finger

Matepe / Madhebhe / Hera

This instrument class represents the matepe type of mbira from northeast of Zimbabwe and adjacent areas in Mozambique. The key layout of the regional variants matepe, hera, and madhebhe is very similar so we can use a common notation format for all three.
26-key matepe
by Kadori (TIC 269)
    
29-key hera
by James Kamwaza
    
26-key madhebhe
by Ephraim Masarakufa

Currently there are six notations. They are called

All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot "."). The number of tracks varies, the Pitch notations have the most fine-grained division of playing areas:
  • RX: Hera "extra" manual for emphasized solo lines, played with the right thumb, alternatively to the RT manual
  • RI: Keys played with the right index finger
  • RT: Keys played with the right thumb
  • LI: Left index finger manual
  • L: Top left thumb manual
  • B: Bottom left thumb manual

All notations are convertible to and from Pitch.4 as well as Pitch+Octaves.4. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.4 or Pitch+Octaves.4.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7; 4 being the lowest key of the instrument. It is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.4 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area. Only the 5, and 5 keys in the L manual need to be distinguished.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI4 and RI5.

Comparing this notation with Pitch of the mbira dzavadzimu reveals similarities in the key layout, e.g. the characteristic sequence L1 L5 L4 L6 L7 L1' on the mbira matching the L1 L5 L4 LI6 LI7 LI1 keys on the Hera.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX2345671
RI4'5'6712345
RT4/5/6712345
LI67123
L5,1456
B46723
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4RI4'RT4 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT5RI5'RT5 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb

Same numbers as the Pitch.4 notation, but full octave indication.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI4'' and RI5''.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX2''3''4''5''6''7''1'''
RI4'5'6'7'1''2''3''4''5''
RT45671'2'3'4'5'
LI671'2'3'
L5,1456
B4,6,7,23
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4'RI4'RT4' key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT5'RI5'RT5' key played with the index finger instead of the thumb

This is the same as the Pitch.4 notation, with 1 as the lowest key on the instrument.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI1 and RI2.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX6712345
RI1'2'3456712
RT1/2/3456712
LI34567
L2,5123
B13467
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT1RI1'RT1 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT2RI1'RT2 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb

This notation is based on James Kamwaza's numbering scheme as described in Jocelyn Mory's Yelloweaver blog. The seven scale degrees are numbered top-down, 1 being the highest pitch of a Hera's left thumb area, which James considers as the core of each piece.

Following the sequence, L0 was added to the notation for a key not present on Kamwaza's Hera.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI2 and RI1.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX4321765
RIRT2RT17654321
RT987654321
LI76543
LT9876543210
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT2RIRT2RT2 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT1RIRT1RT1 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
This positional notation is based on a handwritten transcription by Chaka Chawasarira. Even though most keys have their individual number, the playing areas of the both hands (L, L, B and RT, RI, RX) are distinguished, to avoid two numbers in the same table cell, e.g. 11/20 if right thumb and index play together.

I've also added the RX keys to Mr. Chawasarira's original numbering to achieve a complete mapping between the different notations.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI23 and RI24.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX1234567
RI161718192021222324
RT11B11A12141113151617
LI25242323A23B
L97351
B108642
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT16RI16RT16 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT17RI17RT17 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
This notation is based on the one used by Joel Laviolette in his Rattletree forum. The keys in each playing area are numbered bottom-up according to their pitch.

Joel only uses R for the right hand), but this notation also distinguishes the playing areas of the right hand (RT, RI and RX), to avoid two numbers (e.g. 3/10) in the same table cell if right thumb and index play together.

Some instruments and transcriptions employ right index finger keys up to RI13 and RI14.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RX1234567
RI67891011121314
RT1B1A1234567
L12345
B1234567899A
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT6RI6RT6 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb
RT7RI7RT7 key played with the index finger instead of the thumb

Nyonganyonga / Malimba

This instrument class represents the nyonganyonga or malimba, mostly found among the Barwe, Gorongozi, and Sena people in Mozambique, according to Andrew Tracey's article The Original African Mbira?. Other than the similar name it has little in common with the popular 15-key karimba called nyunga-nyunga.
29-key nyonganyonga
of Barwe origin (TIC 153)
 
    
31-key nyonganyonga
with LI5, RT6, and RI6/ keys
by Bazari Kaingo (TIC 154)
The nyonganyonga is a close relative of the matepe / madhebhe / hera. Compared to the matepe, the right-hand side is lowered, and the left-hand side raised by one octave each. Other than that, the LI manual is extended to 5, sometimes up to 7 keys, and the two lowermost LU keys are omitted, so that this manual (in Pitch.1 notation) starts with the scale degree 1 and follows the characteristic 1-5-4-6-7-1' sequence (from bottom up) also found on the mbira dzavadzimu and on the matepe.

As the number of keys on both ends of each rank is quite variable among different instruments, the LU1 key (starting the aforementioned characteristic sequence) is chosen as the instrument's reference key.

Currently there are two notations. They are called

All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot ".").

There are five playing areas:

  • LI: Keys played with the left index finger
  • LU: Left thumb upper manual
  • LL: Left thumb lower manual
  • RI: Keys played with the right index
    There is no fixed transition point between keys played with the right thumb and index finger. It varies from instrument to instrument (possibly from player to player, or piece to piece). On the instruments of the ILAM collection, the thumb goes up to the 7th scale degree, the index finger down to the 5th.
  • RT: Keys played with the right thumb
    The number of keys on the right hand side of the instrument is variable on both ends. Among the instruments of the ILAM collection, the lowest thumb note is the 6th scale degree (others are 7th and 1st).
All notations are convertible to and from Pitch.1. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.1.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7; 1 being the lowest key of the LU manual. It is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.1 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LI5671234
LU145671'
LL6723
RI4,5,67123456/
RT67123456,7,
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4RI4,RT4 key played with the index finger, not the thumb
RT5RI5,RT5 key played with the index finger, not the thumb
RI6RT6,RI6 key played with the thumb, not the index finger
RI7RT7,RI7 key played with the thumb, not the index finger

Same numbers as the Pitch.1 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LI5671'2'3'4'
LU145671'
LL6,7,23
RI4,5,6,7,123456
RT6,,7,,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4,RI4,RT4, key played with the index finger, not the thumb
RT5,RI5,RT5, key played with the index finger, not the thumb
RI6,RT6,RI6, key played with the thumb, not the index finger
RI7,RT7,RI7, key played with the thumb, not the index finger

Karimba

This instrument class represents what Andrew Tracey in his article The Original African Mbira? calls the South Bank Karimba type.

Most instruments cataloged at ILAM originate from the Sena/Nyungwe or Sena/Tonga people in Mozambique. In the article Karimba: The Shifting Boundaries of a Sacred Tradition, Jocelyn Mory (then Moon) explores the "big" (20+ key) karimba in Zimbabwe's Northeast.

Its key layout is a rather straightforward extension of the 15-key 'Nyunga Nyunga' karimba, and also resembles the njari without LT manual, which just has the bass keys layed out consecutively for the left thumb, and the lower left keys played with the forefinger.

Currently there are four notations. They are called

All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot ".").

There are five playing areas:

  • LU: Left thumb upper manual
  • LL: Left thumb lower manual
  • RI: Keys in the right upper manual, played with the index finger Depending of the type of Karimba, these keys are either struck downwards or plucked upwards.
  • RT: Keys played with the right thumb
    On certain karimbas, the outer keys of the right lower manual are also plucked with the index finger, like on the njari
  • B: Bottom keys, played with the right thumb.
    For some keys, the right thumb then reaches across the lowest key of the instrument. When played with the left thumb, these notes become part of the LL row - see pictures below.
All notations are convertible to and from Pitch.4. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.4.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7; 4 being the reference key of the instrument (which most cases is the lowest key, as in the picture above). It is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.4 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU7123456
LL2,3,4,5,6,7,2345671
RI7/1234567
RT1234567
B234567
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
B2LL2,B2 key played with left thumb
B3LL3,B3 key played with left thumb
B4LL4,B4 key played with left thumb
B5LL5,B5 key played with left thumb
B6LL6,B6 key played with left thumb
B7LL7,B7 key played with left thumb

Same numbers as the Pitch.4 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU71'2'3'4'5'6'
LL2,3,4,5,6,7,2345671'
RI71'2'3'4'5'6'7'
RT1234567
B2,3,4,5,6,7,
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
B2,LL2,B2, key played with left thumb
B3,LL3,B3, key played with left thumb
B4,LL4,B4, key played with left thumb
B5,LL5,B5, key played with left thumb
B6,LL6,B6, key played with left thumb
B7,LL7,B7, key played with left thumb

This is similar to the Pitch.4 notation, just assigning 1 as the reference key's scale degree.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU4567123
LL6,,7,,1,2,3,4,6712345
RI4/5671234
RT5671234
B671234
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
B6LL6,,B6 key played with left thumb
B7LL7,,B7 key played with left thumb
B1LL1,B1 key played with left thumb
B2LL2,B2 key played with left thumb
B3LL3,B3 key played with left thumb
B4LL4,B4 key played with left thumb

Same numbers as the Pitch.1 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU45671'2'3'
LL6,,7,,1,2,3,4,6,7,12345
RI45671'2'3'4'
RT5,6,7,1234
B6,,7,,1,2,3,4,
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
B6,,LL6,,B6,, key played with left thumb
B7,,LL7,,B7,, key played with left thumb
B1,LL1,B1, key played with left thumb
B2,LL2,B2, key played with left thumb
B3,LL3,B3, key played with left thumb
B4,LL4,B4, key played with left thumb

15-key Karimba 'Nyunga Nyunga'

This instrument class represents the 15-key, 6-tone scale karimba, developed at Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo in the 1960s. Following the lead of Dumisani Maraire it later came to be called nyunga nyunga mbira. Despite the similar name, it is a very different instrument than the nyonganyonga of Mozambique, a close relative of the matepe.

Its layout is an extension of Jege Tapera's karimba which originates from Tete province of Mozambique, with two keys added in the upper manuals (see Andrew Tracey's article Mbira Music of Jege A. Tapera).

Currently there are five notations. They are called

All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot "."). The Pitch... notations distinguish four playing areas:
  • LU: Left thumb upper manual
  • LL: Left thumb lower manual
  • RI: Right index finger upper manual
  • RT: Right thumb lower manual
The Berliner notation uses only two playing areas. In case both right hand fingers play a key in the same pulse, use two rows labelled R:
  • L: Keys played with the left thumb
  • R: Keys played with the right thumb or index finger

All notations are convertible to and from Pitch.4. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.4.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 6; 4 being the lowest key of the instrument. It is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.4 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU1234
LL6,456
RI1234
RT4123
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RI4LU4Highest key in the center, either played with the left thumb or right index finger

Same numbers as the Pitch.4 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU1'2'3'4'
LL6,456
RI1'2'3'4'
RT4,123
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RI4'LU4'Highest key in the center, either played with the left thumb or right index finger

This is similar to the Pitch.4 notation, just with 1 as the lowest key of the instrument. The six scale degrees are numbered from 5 to 6 and from 1 to 3.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU5671
LL3,123
RI5671
RT1567
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RI1LU1Highest key in the center, either played with the left thumb or right index finger

Same numbers as the Pitch.1 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
LU5671'
LL3,123
RI5671'
RT1,5,6,7,
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RI1'LU1'Highest key in the center, either played with the left thumb or right index finger

This is a positional notation which Paul Berliner uses this book "The Soul of Mbira". Keys in the upper row are marked with apostrophe. If right thumb and index finger play keys simultaneously, transcriptions need two rows labelled R.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
L12342'3'4'1'
R12342'3'4'1'
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
R1'L1'Highest key in the center, either played with the left thumb or right index finger

In this popular positional notation by Dumisani Maraire keys are simply numbered 1-15 from left to right, according to their position on the soundboard.

To increase readability, two captions U and L are used for keys in the upper and lower ranks. If multiple lower keys are played simultaneously, transcriptions need two rows labelled L.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes.

Hosho.
U1012148
U642
L97111315531

Njari

This instrument class represents the njari, which comes in several variants. Hugh Tracey's 1932 article The Mbira Class of African Instruments in Rhodesia tells about the history and distribution of this (then most widespread) type of mbira.

Njari layouts
The number of keys in all manuals varies substantially among different njari, including the absence or presence of entire manuals (left middle, right upper).

Despite that variance, key layouts are generally very regular and symmetric, at least conceptually - it may not always be obvious to the eye. Pitches in all manuals rise from the center to the outer keys without gaps in the scale, occasional exceptions only at the lower end of the bass manual.

Two clusters of njari layouts can be distinguished by the presence of the left middle manual, called LT (left thumb) in the notations.

29-key njari without LT manual
by Simon Mashoko (TIC 146)
    
33-key njari with LT manual
from Mount Darwin district (TIC 147)
19-key njari without LT/RU manuals
by Gwenzi Gwasera (TIC 145)
Andrew Tracey calls LT-equipped njari the "northern" type; nowadays players in Harare sometimes refer to them as "Makonde Njari" (Makonde district, northwest of Harare). Njari without LT often come from Southeast of Zimbabwe (Masvingo, Mutare), late Karanga njari player and maker Simon Mashoko being a famous exponent.

To avoid possibly unjustified geographic or ethnic attribution, this documentation uses "njari with/without-LT" for distiction.

Reference key
There is hardly a key which for all njari reliably marks either end of a manual.

A possible exception is the lower right manual which - among the 40+ instrument layouts compared for developing the notations - consistently features all seven scale degrees (shared between thumb and index finger), and gets extended on the lower end only.

The outer lower right key - no.7 in the picture - therefore is a good reference key candidate. For symmetry with other types of mbira (Karimba) we choose not this one, but instead the first of the seven lower right keys (no.1) as the njari's reference key.

Notations
Currently there are four notations. They are called All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot ".").

There are seven playing areas:

  • RU: Right hand upper manual, played with the thumb
    On different njari, this manual has 3-8 keys. Sometimes it is not present at all. If an 8th key is present, it sits on the lower end, sometimes played by both thumbs.
  • RI: Outer keys of the right hand lower manual, played with the index finger
    Of the 7+ keys in the lower right manual, the 2-4 outer ones are commonly played with the forefinger.
  • RT: Inner keys of the right hand lower manual, played with thumb
    Most often the entire lower right manual has seven keys, occasionally one or two more are added on the lower end.
  • LU: Left hand upper manual, played with the thumb
    On different njari, this manual has 4-9 keys. If an 8th key is present, it sits on the lower end. A 9th key is added at the top.
  • LI: Outer keys of the left hand lower manual, played with the index finger
    On most njari this manual has 3 or 4 keys, matching the forefinger keys of the other side. Sometimes an upper or lower key is added, occasionally there are only two keys (in a single instance only one).
  • LT: Left hand middle manual, played with the thumb
    If present, this manual has 3-5 keys, and is almost always arranged to facilitate strumming from the LU octave counterparts.
  • B: Left hand bottom manual, played with the thumb
    The bass manual usually has 4 or 5, sometimes 3 or 6 keys. It starts top down with the same pitches as the RI (and LI) manuals, just on octave lower. Generally the keys are consecutive, on some instruments there is a B2 insteard of B3 (in Pitch.1 notation).

    Njari maker Phillip Nangle extends the bass manual downwards to ten keys, which are included in the notation.

All notations are convertible to and from Pitch.1. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.1.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7; 1 being the reference key of the instrument.

This is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.1 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU7/12345671''2''
RI4567
RT6712345
LU7/12345671''
LI345671
LT12345
B5,,6,,7,,12345671/
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4RI4RT4 key played with right index finger
RI5RT5RI5 key played with right thumb

Same numbers as the Pitch.1 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU71'2'3'4'5'6'7'1''2''
RI4567
RT6,7,12345
LU71'2'3'4'5'6'7'1''
LI345671'
LT12345
B5,,6,,7,,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT4RI4RT4 key played with right index finger
RI5RT5RI5 key played with right thumb

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7; 4 being the reference key of the instrument.

This is the same as the Pitch+Octaves.4 notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU3'45671234''5''
RI7123
RT2345671
LU3'45671234''
LI671234
LT45671
B1,2,3,45671234/
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT7RI7RT7 key played with right index finger
RI1RT1RI1 key played with right thumb

Same numbers as the Pitch.4 notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU3'4'5'6'7'1''2''3''4''5''
RI71'2'3'
RT2345671'
LU3'4'5'6'7'1''2''3''4''
LI671'2'3'4'
LT45671'
B1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1234
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
RT7RI7RT7 key played with right index finger
RI1'RT1'RI1' key played with right thumb

Mbira dzaVaNdau

This instrument class represents the mbira dzaVaNdau - "mbira of the Ndau [people])" - from central Mozambique (Northern Gaza, and Southern Manica and Sofala provinces) and adjacent Southeast of Zimbabwe.

The hexatonic mbira dzaVaNdau played as a solo instrument for entertainment and secular occasions. With little need for standardization, tunings, key layouts and repertoire are highly individual.

Resources
In his article The Original African Mbira?, Andrew Tracey distinguishes several subtypes by their key layout, and describes the specifics of scales and intervals.

Tony Perman has written a brief introduction to the instrument on mbira.org. His article Brevity, Ambiguity and Expressivity in Mbira dzaVaNdau Performances (a chapter of this book) explores musical key characterictics, such as "rhythmic complexity, harmonic stasis, employment of overlapping patterns, and the role of brevity and ambiguity in shaping the instrument's expressivity [...]".
A tale of two mbiras tells about its more recent history and uncertain future - it is considered almost extinct. (Both articles are available from the author on request, especially for people without access to the publications.)

Luis Gimenez Amoros' documentary The Mbira Republic and the preservation of Zimbabwean mbiras features Mbira dzaVaNdau player and maker Solomon Madinga (get in touch for contact) playing his instrument.

Subtypes
Based on their key layout, Andrew Tracey distinguishes the "Tomboji", "Danda", and "Utee" subtypes (not locally used terms). All based on a common core, the "early" type, though the distinctions are "not that clear", as he noted in personal communication.

While the "Danda" type mainly adds to, and occasionally substitutes keys of the (older) "Tomboji" type, the "Utee" type adds an entire right hand bass manual (RL) in exchange for the left upper one (LU), compared to "Tomboji"/"Danda".

30-key Mbira dzaVaNdau, "Danda" type
by Mubati Muyambo (TIC 272)
    
30-key Mbira dzaVaNdau, "Utee" type
from Chimanimani (TIC 137)
32-key Mbira dzaVaNdau, "Danda" type
by Solomon Madinga
Reference key
The leftmost key of the left upper manual (LU1 in Pitch notation) serves as our reference key.

In general, most manuals tend to start with octave counterparts of that key, though sometimes they are extended downwards. For the right hand manuals their leftmost key may not always be apparent, as often the keys form continuous ranks across the soundboard.

Therefore in order to locate the first scale degree it may be necessary to compare the bottom end of several manuals - there might be additional keys, but it is never missing.

Notations
Currently there are two notations. They are called All of them employ an additional track for Hosho [down]beats (denoted by a dot ".").

There are seven playing areas:

  • RU: Right thumb upper manual
  • RI: Keys in the right lower manual (or middle, if RL is present), played with the index finger
  • RT: Keys in the right lower manual (or middle, if RL is present), played with the thumb
    There is no fixed transition point between thumb and index finger keys in this manual, depending on the piece many keys are played with either finger.
  • RL: Right thumb lower manual
    "Utee" type only.
  • LU: Left thumb upper manual
  • RL: Right thumb lower manual
    "Danda" and "Tomboji" types only.
  • LM: Left thumb middle manual
  • LL: Left thumb lower manual
All notations are convertible to and from Pitch. If a direct translation between two notations is not available, use an intermediate step across Pitch.

Click on the tabs below for a description of each notation:

Scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 6; 1 being the reference key of the instrument (which in most cases is the lowest key of all manuals, as in the picture above). It is the same as the Pitch+Octaves notation, with all octave indication omitted where it can be deduced from the playing area.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU5/1234561''2''3''
RI3/456123
RT6,123456
RL13451/
LU134561''2''3''
LM5,134561'
LL5,,134561/
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
LL6RT6,LL6 key played with right instead of the left thumb (on 'early' type)
RT3RI3/RT3 key played with the right index finger instead of the thumb
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', 'Danda' and 'Utee' types)
LM5RU5/LM5 key played with right instead of the left thumb (on Solomon Madhinga's mbira)
RI5RT5RI5 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', 'Danda' and 'Utee' types)
RI6RT6RI6 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', 'Danda' and 'Utee' types)
RU1LM1'RU1 key played with left instead of the right thumb (on 'Utee' type)

Same numbers as the Pitch notation, but full octave indication.

Key Overview
The table below shows all keys of the notation, from lowest to highest. Each row contains all possible keys for that playing area. Each column contains all keys of the same pitch.

Not all instruments may have keys matching all these notes. Red notes are alias names for the same key, if it can be played with different fingers.

Hosho.
RU51'2'3'4'5'6'1''2''3''
RI34561'2'3'
RT6,123456
RL1,3,4,5,1
LU1'3'4'5'6'1''2''3''
LM5,134561'
LL5,,1,3,4,5,6,1
Aliases
The table below lists all alias keys. Row names are shown in black, cell content in red.
KeyAliasNotes
LL6,RT6,LL6, key played with right instead of the left thumb (on 'early' type)
RT3RI3RT3 key played with the right index finger instead of the thumb
RI4RT4RI4 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', 'Danda' and 'Utee' types)
LM5RU5LM5 key played with right instead of the left thumb (on Solomon Madhinga's mbira)
RI5RT5RI5 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', 'Danda' and 'Utee' types)
RI6RT6RI6 key played with the right thumb instead of the index finger (on 'early', Danda' and 'Utee' types)
RU1'LM1'RU1' key played with left instead of the right thumb (on 'Utee' type)