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Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine

Didjeridu & Traditional Music of the Top End
The content of this page was originally created by Peter Lister

Didjeridu Home : Moyle's Music Notation

Moyle's Music Notation

Dr Alice M. Moyle uses a notation for the recordings she made of aboriginal music throughout Australia during the 1970's, based upon standard music notation.

As this material is somewhat difficult to find, especially overseas, I have reproduced examples of it here for those with a musical background (unlike myself). This material comes from the companion booklet for a 12-inch LP Disc, Cat. no. AIAS/14, produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1978 and apparently now out of print. [My apologies for not being able to include sound files linked to the notation - maybe in the future.]

On page 29 Moyle says:

Symbols and abbreviations


In the following notations the aim has been to choose symbols to represent pitches in their relation to A4 == 440 cps. In some cases - to avoid the use of leger lines, accidentals and other notational devices - there have been pitch transpositions and, inevitably, simplifications. The notations were made (aurally) from tape dubbings of the original field tapes. My apology for my inabilty to align some of the notations with their explanation - I'm still trying.

Encased symbols descending in pitch. These represent an inventory of the pitches used in the notation. Modifications are added (e.g. upward and downward arrows). The inventory appears only once and is not reproduced at the beginning of each stave as in the case of a 'key signature'. The selection of pitch symbols has not been made with a view to presenting this music as conforming to the theoretical demands of 'key'. 

Inventory of notated pitches sounded in a didjeridu accompaniment. The upper tone is represented as a harmonic.

Fast upward slur executed by the didjeridu player from the drone pitch to the overblown or upper tone.

The second symbol here denotes the articulatory release at the conclusion of a rhythmical didjeridu pattern.

(a) Upward and (b) downward pointing arrows signify pitches heard as (a) sharper and (b) flatter (by less than a semitone) than the pitch represented in the notation.

Gliding between two notated tones; after and before one notated tone.

A sound of indefinite pitch

A voiced tone produced by the didjeridu player.

A voiced of pharyngeal or guttural quality produced by the didjeridu player.

Periodic modification of pitch as in a prolonged voiced 'pharyngeal' trill produced by a didjeridu player.

Rasped sounds with arrow representing the initial impact of the two rasped components.

'Time signatures', tempo

Denotes 9 durational values, each equivalent to an eighth note or quaver, not especially grouped in threes.

Tempo expressed in terms of a metronome figure.

Modification of the notated tempo. The sign corresponds to meno mosso.

Bar lines

The placement of bar lines is, as a rule, after the 'longs' (i.e. the longer tones - or substituted 'rests' - which occur at the ends of syllable strings). Shorter lines are placed after 'longs' which occur as part of the syllable string. As used in these notations, bar lines do not imply accentuation

Syllable strings

Encircled figures placed above the stave give the number of each succeeding string of syllables in a song item.

A partial syllable string following the full string numbered 4 etc.

Refrain string or string of syllables regularly occurring in alternation with other syllable strings.

Calls, bird sound imitations, etc. which occur as part of the song item in regular alternation with syllable strings.

Melodic divisions
I I1 I2 etc. Melodic divisions(descents). (Moyle, 1974:198) 


bcl paired boomerang clapsticks
dr skin drum
dj didjeridu
f. single female voice
f2 two female voices
fgp group of female voices
f/dj finger flicked against the tube of the didjeridu
hcl handclapping
h/g hand, or held object, beaten on the ground (st/g represents a heavy stick beaten on the ground)
h/l lap-slapping by female singers
jm junior male voice
m. single male voice
m2  two male voices
mgp group of male voices
mfgp group of adult (male & female voices)
sr seed rattles
sts paired sticks
st/gst stick beaten on a stick lying on the ground
st/dj stick beaten against the tube of the didjeridu
v voice (in notations of the didjeridu part, this symbol represents voiced tones (various) introduced by the player while blowing)
V intake of breath by the singer (breathtake)

The music....

Notation 17. Didjeridu (Side 2, Band 1a), Borroloola, NT. The player is from western Arnhem Land.

Notation 18. Didjeridu (Side 2, Band 1b) Borroloola, NT. Played by a woman in the eastern Arnhem Land style.

Notations 19 & 20.

Notation 19: An example of B-type didjeridu playing by a player from Groote Eylandt.

Notation 20: An example of A-type didjeridu playing from Delissaville (now Belyuen), NT.



Copyright 2002-2006 J.H. Burrows and Peter Lister