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Music Library Thematic Displays: Graphic Notation

This guide showcases resources from the George F. DeVine Music Library centered on specific themes. Selected themes reflect UT School of Music events and programs, as well as cultural celebrations.

Score: Treatise, Cornelius Cardew, 1963-7

Display Case

Graphic Notation display in the music library

Graphic Notation Display Case, June 2023

Books About Graphic Notation


Graphic Scores at the Music Library

Spiral Galaxy by George Crumb. The score is in the shape of a spiral.

"12. Spiral Galaxy (Aquarius)"

Makrokosmos I

George Crumb, 1974

Oversize, M24.C94 M3 1974a

CRUMB, G.: Makrokosmos I and II (Henz-Diémand)

Part III: No. 12 Spiral Galaxy (Aquarius)

Naxos Music Library

Eight Songs for a mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies. The staves create a birdcage.

Songs for a Mad King: Eight Songs for a Mad King

Peter Maxwell Davies, 1971

M1613.3.D3 S6 1971

Belle, bonne, sage, plaisant

Baude Cordier, 15th century

Find "Belle, bonne, sage" in Capturing Music: the story of notation by Thomas Forrest Kelly (ML 431.K45 2015).

Vocal Music (Medieval) - CASERTA, P. de / CORDIER, B. / EGIDIUS DE FRANCIA / PYKINI (Codex Chantilly, Vol. 3) (Tetraktys)

Bonne, belle, sage, plaisant

Naxos Music Library

Projection 1 by Morton Feldman

Projection I

Morton Feldman

Find "Projection 1" and other works by Morton Feldman in The Graph Music of Morton Feldman (ML 410.F2957 C55 2016).

FELDMAN, M.: Patterns in a Chromatic Field (Deforce, Y. Oya)

Projection I

Naxos Music Library

Excerpt of score from Arcana by Murray Schafer


Murray R. Schafer

M1613.3.S325 A7

Serenata per un satellite by Bruno Maderna

Serenata per un satellite

Bruno Maderna, 1970

M1470.M3 S5

BERIO: Linea / Sequenza VIII / Chamber Music / MADERNA: Serenata per un satellite / Giardino Religioso / Oboe Concerto No. 2

Serenata per un satellite

Naxos Music Library

John Cage, Solo for Voice no. 87

"Solo for voice no. 87"

Song Books, Vol II

John Cage, 1970

M1620.C175 S6 1970

Types of Graphic Score


Augenmusik ("eye music"): Music with graphic features apparent to a performer or reader, but not to a listener.

One of the earliest graphic scores dates back to the 15th century. “Belle, bonne, sage” (“Beautiful, good, wise”) by Baude Cordier is a rondeau about love, appropriately arranged in the shape of a heart. 

"Belle, bonne, sage" by Baude Cordier. The score is shaped like a heart.

"Bonne, belle, sage" by Baude Cordier

Some 500 years after Cordier, George Crumb employed a similar technique in Makrokosmos II, arranging “12. Agnus Dei” (a reference to the section of Christian liturgy that end with the words “grant us peace”) in the shape of a peace sign.

"Agnus Dei" by George Crumb. The score is arranged in the shape of a peace sign.

"12. Agnus Dei (Capricorn)" from Makrokosmos II by George Crumb

Listen to "Belle, bonne, sage, plaisant" and "Agnus Dei (Capricorn)" on Naxos:


Chamber Music - CORDIER, B. / CUVELIER, J. / GALIOT, J. / VAILLANT, J. / SENLECHES, J. de / TREBOR (French Ars Subtilior) (Trio Subtilior)

Belle, bonne, sage, plaisant

CRUMB, G.: Makrokosmos I and II (Stange)

Part III: No. 12 Agnus Dei (Capricorn)


Electronic Sound

Some composers utilize graphic notation to describe electronic sounds that have no representation in traditional staff notation. In the example below from Symfonia: muzyka elektroniczna (Symphony: electronic music), composer Bogusław Schäffer uses a variety of pictograms and symbols to notate electronically produced sounds.

Symphony Electronic by SchafferExplanation of the notation symbols in "Symphony Electric Music" by Schaffer

Symfonia : muzyka elektroniczna, Bogusław Schäffer


Graphic scores can be difficult or impossible to interpret at first glance. This inspires some composers to create music that varies drastically depending on the performer interprets the score. In this way, graphic notation serves as an improvisation guide, rather than a prescriptive recipe for sound.

Most famous for his composition 4’33”, avant-garde American composer John Cage (1912-1992) “investigated ways of opening up his compositions by making their notation ambiguous, a situation he referred to as “indeterminacy.” This meant that the results of his compositional systems were no longer fixed objects but took on more the character of processes. The performer’s role was to animate the process Cage had set forth, producing results that, while having certain similarities, would differ in details at each performance or “realization.””

Citation: Pritchett, J., Kuhn, L., & Garrett, C.  Cage, John. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 9 Jun. 2023.

Aria No.2 by John Cage

John Cage, "Solo for voice (Aria no. 2)"

Compare two different interpretations of "Solo for voice no. 52 (Aria no. 2)" by John Cage:


Singing Through: Vocal Compositions by John Cage, Joan La Barbara

Songs of Irrelevance and Passion, Canto LX, Frank Agsteribbe

Extended Techniques

Graphic notation can communicate extended techniques or unconventional methods of using an instrument. These extended techniques might require playing an instrument in an unorthodox way, like tapping on the bell of a brass instrument, or they might dictate a timbre or tone color, like instructing a singer to scream or sing with a breathy tone quality.

Excerpt from Berio's Sequenza III

Luciano Berio, Sequenza III (excerpt)

Guide to Berio's Sequenza III notation

Listen to Sequenza III interpreted by Barbara Hannigan:

Creating Graphic Scores

Logos of Finale, MuseScore, Sibelius, and Dorico

MuseScore, Finale, Dorico, and Sibelius all support imported graphics. Check out a laptop from the music library to use Finale or Sibelius, or download MuseScore for free. UT students can also download Adobe Creative Cloud for free through the Office of Innovative Technologies.