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Notation of Multiphonics

Christopher Redgate and Paul Archbold

There are several methods available for notating multiphonic fingerings on the oboe. These range
from detailed fingerings with instructions including breath pressure and embouchure position through
to more aleatoric, non-fingering/non-pitch specific approaches.1

Where a composer uses only the occasional multiphonic, one or other of these approaches will
suffice. However, when there are large numbers of multiphonics in quick succession and/or the
composer wishes to communicate complex details of fingerings and pitch, the current notation
systems are inadequate.

Notation for multiphonics should be based upon fingering patterns rather than upon the specific
pitches revealed. This is because the pitches themselves, with a few notable exceptions,2 give the
oboist no idea of how to generate the desired effect.

When a large number of multiphonics are written in succession, the familiar methods of notation are
rather cumbersome and can be very difficult to read. The information the performer needs (fingerings,
dynamics etc.) is usually divided up; fingerings above the staff and rhythm and dynamics on the
staff sharing the space with complex pitch material. Multiphonic notation therefore remains rather
underdeveloped. Unless the notation system can be improved it could well prove detrimental to the
development and use of this extraordinary sonic resource.

As multiphonics are now being used by many composers and increasingly becoming a major part of
the instruments sonic repertoire, it is vital that a notation system is developed that can support the
complexities of compositional demands and the practicalities of the performers needs.

Of the notation systems currently available, that which Heinz Holliger developed in his Studie ber
Mehrklng3 has the greatest potential for development.4,5 It has been observed however that this is
a notation system developed by an oboist for oboists and therefore is not very composer friendly.6
The same observation could be made for each of the prominent notation systems currently in use.
The problem of notating multiphonic fingerings is that they are fingerings; they are developed so
that the oboist can read them and reproduce the required multiphonic.7 An in-depth knowledge
of the instruments key-work is therefore required in order fully to comprehend these systems. As
most composers are not oboists and do not have such knowledge of the instruments key work, it is
essential that the composer is able to copy out precisely all the information.

Holligers system notates the fingerings on the staff and these fingerings show the performer precisely
what should be done in order to produce the required results.8 This system is very performer friendly
and is a good starting point for a more sophisticated notation system.

1. We have written an overview of these notation systems which is available on the PRIMO website
2. Exceptions include the notation of dyads where the fingerings, which are often based upon the pitches notated,
can be looked up easily and in many cases will already be known to the performer.
3. See Holliger (1971/1980)
4. This notation system was developed specifically for this particular work and therefore, while it offers a very
useful way of notating some multiphonics it needs to be substantially revised in order to meet the demands of
todays music.
5. This notation has been used very occasionally in a few other places most notably in Chenna and Salmi (1994)
6. Burgess and Haynes (2004) p. 275
7. We are aware that there are additional problems with the production of multiphonics beyond the notation issues
and that the same fingering may on different instruments produce a different multiphonic. This particular problem
is beyond the scope of this article.
8. In Holligers study the notation offers the performer all the fingerings required. The notation does not offer the
precise sonic results that will result from the fingerings and so from this notation there could be a number of
slightly different results. See Burgess and Haynes (2004) p 275
Basic Notation Symbols

A diamond notehead representing a foundation fingering is central to both Holligers system and
to ours. A foundation fingering is a standard fingering that can be recognised instantly by a
performer. With stem pointing down this notehead is also the focal point of rhythmic activity, and
can be a hollow diamond or a filled-in diamond.

Ex. 1 Foundation fingerings, diamond noteheads and stems

Notation examples
(NB changed noteheads!)

Basic fingerings

holes closed hole quarter hole half hole open hole

Notation examples
The foundation fingering is then modified by a range of strategies including removing/adding keys,
and (NB changed
keysquarter-hole. The following noteheads!)
system offers clear symbols forC#these
trill key modifications. long 9F key

D trill key

Ex. modifications

Basic fingerings

2 Hole




closed hole quarter hole half hole open hole

ex. 5
Notation examples

side keys noteheads!)

(NB changed

D trill key long F key

C# trill key

used for both half-hole and is at a diagonal so that there can be no

ex. the quarter-hole

Basic fingerings

Note that line


2 with a ledger
confusion line.

ex. 4need to be added include:

ex. 7 side keys and trill keys
closed hole quarterhole half hole
holes open hole

3 Added

ex. 5

side keys C# trill key D trill key long F key

ex. 8
ex. 6

2 4

ex.97has three fingerings for F: a standard fingering, a forked fingering and a long F. In this

The oboe

notation2 system these are2 notated in the following way. An F natural at the bottom of the staff

should fingered as astandard
ex. 5
F natural (see basic fingerings Ex. 1). The long F is notated on
line of the staff, (as can be seen in Ex. 3) and the forked F, which is absorbed
does not require a specific notation.
the top into other
fingerings, An F# on the staff is simply the F# key.

ex. 6
D trill keys are notated
in the centre of the staff as shown in


The C# 2and


his modifications are

2 2

represented by writing a or -a or 1/2 g etc.

In Holligers original notation
ex. 128

When a side
needs to be
added to a fingering it should be notated filled-in and keywhen
D trillakey
key long
is to be

C# trill F key
cancelled it should be hollow:

filled in notation
ex. 27

Ex. 4 Hollow and
ex. 4

ex. 28

ex. 5

is required
Occasionally a foundation fingering
logic of the system, a double-headed
which is modified with a half-hole and, therefore,
notehead is used for these occasions. The
6 Notation examples
double notehead consists of the diamond notehead, indicating the foundation fingering, and a
(NB changed noteheads!) (or quarter-hole) is required. This

notehead on the same
3 pitch which indicates that a half-hole

is needed because the

diamond notehead, which carries the rhythm, sometimes needs to be

filled-in.Basic fingerings

with half-hole
ex. 7


5 Foundation

holes closed hole quarter hole half hole open hole

ex. 8


C# trill key D trill key long F key

ex. 9
in an easily readable form as follows:
It is therefore possible to 2notate simple multiphonics
4 multiphonicnotation
Notation examples
Ex. 6 Simple (NB changed noteheads!)


ex. 10fingerings

ex. 5

holes closed hole quarter hole half hole open hole

ex. 611


In Ex. 6 the first and
second multiphonics
both employ a
fingering with E as its foundation. The
diamondside noteheads in the first two are therefore the same. The first multiphonic C# trill key requires
D trill key along F key
it. In the
half-holeex.on the A key and so there is a hollow notehead with a diagonal line through
is that the A key
second the

change is fully opened. The third multiphonic requires
a D

foundation with an A

half-hole while the last multiphonic has a G
foundation with the C key
opened. You will note also the simple rhythmic material added to the diamond noteheads.
ex. 4

ex. 8keys are notated by

using the numbers 1, 2 and 3 which are placed above the
The octave

ex. 5
multiphonicex. 13 fingerings.


2nd octave key notated

ex. 9

7 The

2 2

ex. 6

ex. 10

ex. 7

ex. 11

ex. 8

Notating the Keywork of the Oboe

This notation system represents the keywork of the oboe on the staff. Fig. 1 shows a annotated
picture of a Howarth oboe: we have not labelled every piece of keywork but only the keys which are
pertinent to our discussions.

C hole
A hole
G hole
left hand
-D (d trill)
LEFT HAND trill side keys long
-C# (c# trill) keys F
holes trill side keys long
G ' ' ' ' E' E'
Ab key keys F

' E' ' '  ' ' 

Eb key
F# hole B key G ' ' ' E' '
E hole Bb key ' '
D hole long F
right hand

RIGHT HAND F key side keys
F key holes
G E'
F key side keys

' ' !' ' E ' '
C key

G E'

' ' !' ' E ' '
C# key
Eb key

Fig.1 Keywork of the oboe

Photograph provided by Howarth of London- the oboe is a Howarth XL Conservatoire system.
Notation examples
(NB changed noteheads!)
The basic keywork of the oboe (as can be seen in fig.1) includes three front keys (we have called

holes in the diagram in order to distinguish them from the keys) for both the left-hand and


F key
which is played by
of the
right hand. Each of these keys can be represented on the staff simply by using the
index finger, 2nd and 3rd fingers. There is also an
pitch to which they relate: C, A, G for the left hand and F#, E, F and D for the right hand.
holes closed hole quarter hole half hole open hole

In addition to these keys each little finger has a cluster
of keys. The left hand has G#, Eb, B, Bb and

long F while the right hand C, C# and Eb. The Bb, B, Eb, C# and C keys should be at the
bottom of the staff while the G# is notated on the second line. Each key is therefore represented on

side keys
the staff by the pitch with which an oboist would associate it. The G# C# trill key D trill key
can also be notated long F key
as an Ab
same key on the oboe.10

there are occasions when one is preferable to the other. They are the

Keeping the Fingerings as Simple as Possible
ex. 4 Notation examples
of the fingerings are very
(NB changed noteheads!)
of keys. Of primary concern is the reduction of as much clutter as
Some complex requiring the performer to finger and read unusual

and unfamiliar combinations

possible. There are two specific ways in which this is achieved.

Basic fingerings

an individual

ex. 5


as adiamond notehead it represents the use of all six
The diamond
example: if an Eb is notated
notehead mentioned above represents not only
key but a complete
on the front of the oboe plus the Eb key.11 There is therefore
keysholes no quarter
closed hole needhole
to notate
half holetheopen
hole keys

ex. 6

as the Eb represents all of them.
Ex. 8 Keys represented by the Eb foundation fingering

side keys C# trill key D trill key long F key
ex. 7

ex. 4

ex. 8

ex. 5

However this idea can be taken further. The fingering system as described above would usually
ex. 9

offer the lowest key in use as the foundation fingering 8.
as we have seen in Ex.

use but one further up the instrument. This is especially the case when a
2 2
There are many instances where, especially for clarity and simplicity, the foundation fingering may
be the lowest key in

ex. 6
not 2
is much higher up the instrument. In
orderto save a number of extra symbols it is simpler and less cluttered to read when the higher key
fingering includes a low B or Bb (ex. 9a) but the next key in use

ex. 10
is the foundation fingering and the B or Bb is simply an added key (ex. 9b).

with different foundation fingerings12

Ex. 9 Multiphonic notated
ex. 7

ex. 11

ex. 8

ex. 12

ex. 9

2 2

10. As there are several options of this kind on the instrument, it is up to the performer to choose which key is
ex. most
13 suited to the situation.

other forms of notation the placing of the letters Eb denotes which of these
11. ex. There
exist on the oboe two Eb keys one for the left hand little finger and one for the right hand little finger. In
is to be used. In practice this is not
really needed as any experienced oboist will automatically choose the most
This multiphonic fingering
(no. 176) is taken from Veale and Mahnkopf (1998).

ex. 11

ex. 6

Notation examples
This ex.
5 (NB changed
us to simplify a considerable noteheads!)
number of fingerings and to represent them with fewer


ex. 7

obvious when a basic fingering uses all (or most)

much the left hand

An example occurs of the fingers in
adds ex. 6 only one
or two in the
right or the left hand
little finger
keys. It is simpler to notate
the left2 hand fingering as the main fingering (not the little finger notes) and to add in the one or two
hole quarter

holes ex. 8
extra keys. This enables the notation to remain relatively uncluttered: closed in Ex.
hole10a the
half holefull
open notation
hole is
while in Ex. 10b simplified version.

shown, it is the


Ex 10 Simplified notation
ex.side9 keys C# trill key D trill key long F key

2 2
ex. 8

ex. 10

ex. 4

an alternative foundation fingering opens

the option of choosing
up the possibility of

being ex.
2 5
9 to notate amultiphonic in different ways. This can be useful when writing passages in

multiphonics 2
as it can simplify the notation even further.


Ex. 11 Simplified notation

ex. 6
ex. 10



Influenced by


ex. 13

Due toex.the
8 design of the oboe there are some fingerings that require a different treatment. These
12 a little strange and possibly a bit illogical to the non-oboist.

may seem


Bb and B keys when depressed can have an effect upon the bottom C key. This is not
standardized in oboe manufacture or across the systems. The notation system assumes that when
the bottom
ex. 9 Bb or B are used as a foundation fingering (i.e. with a diamond notehead) then the C

key is2 also depressed (ex.12a),
2 (in order to play a bottom Bb or B the oboist will often depress this
a matter of course
key as
and so it is obvious in this notation system to maintain this convention).

ex. 13 14

when the Bb and B keys are employed as a modificationof another fingering (not notated
as diamond headed pitches) then the C key is not depressed (ex. 12b). This will save the notation
ex. 10
of unnecessary information. When a Bb or B is a foundation fingering but the C key is not required

then the modification should be shown with a hollow C (ex. 12c);

Ex 12 Bb and B notation issues15
ex. 11

ex. 12

the C# or Eb keys are indicated in conjunction with the Bb and

B keys the C key cannot be

13. ex. This

13 multiphonic fingering (no. 333) is taken from Chenna and Salmi (1994).

independently of the B and Bb keys.

14. Performers playing a great deal of contemporary music or multiphonics should ensure that the C key works

15. These multiphonic fingerings (Nos. 6, 243, 16) are taken from Veale and Mahnkopf (1998)

ex. 10

The Eb ex. and also require special
14 G# fingerings, when used as foundation fingerings, treatment. The
Eb fingering
ex. 12 automatically takes down D while G# (or Ab) automatically takes down G. However

These should be notated as follows:

there will be occasions in multiphonic fingerings where the respective D or G key needs to be

ex. 11


Ex. 13 ex.and
14 Notation with released G and D keys 16 17

ex. 13 ex. 12

ex. 16

Eb key is used but the E key needs to be released a D# should


ex. 13
When the

be used as the foundation
ex. 14
Ex. 15 Eb key (D# key) with E key released18
2 2ex. 17

ex. 14

ex. 15

ex. 18

Multiphonic and Monophonic

ex. 15

Mixing Pitches


are often used in conjunction with standard pitches. The following examples
ex. 16
demonstrateex. 19 how multiphonic fingerings are integrated with standard fingerings. In most situations

what isex. 16 should be 2obvious as there are usually clear visual differences. However if there
example a singlepitch an unusual fingering which
to a multiphonic
there are two options available in order to maintain clarity. An N
is likely to be confusion, for is required but with

then moves

can be placed above the single note fingering and if needed an M (multiphonic) above
the multiphonic
ex. 17
ex. 20
fingering. (These could, if preferred, be added to the stem of the notes in question.)
Alternatively, if a second staff is added3 to1notate resultant pitches1 (see later) then this1 will bring 5all
17that is required.
1 2 5 2



16Moving from a normal pitch with an unusual fingering to a multiphonic

ex. 18

ex. 21a

ex. 21b




ex. ex.1922 320

1 2
multiphonic3and standard

17 Mixing 3

3 3 3

the numbers above the pitched notes refer to alternative

not octave keys)
1 2



ex. 20

1 2 3 1 5
2 1 5

1 3
1 2 1
ex. 23

3 1
ex. 20
2 5
3 3 35 3

Mfingering (no. 351) is taken from Chenna andSalmi (1994).
ex. 21a ex. 21b

Mahnkopf (1998).

N multiphonic
multiphonic fingering
16. This multiphonic N M

M fingering (no. 30) is taken from Veale
3:2(1994). M
ex. 24
17. This ex. 21b




taken from David Gortons for

oboe SoundSpotter
and used
M 5:4 4:3

18. This (no. 220) is taken from Chenna and
Errinerungsspiel of



19. Passage

ex. composer.
the 22

20. Passage taken from Diana
3 Burrells Vespers
3 used
3 by permission
3 of United
3 Music Publishers.
3 London.

3 3 3 3
ex. 22
3 3

passages of multiphonics



ex. 16
On many ex. 19 occasions when writing passages with continuous multiphonics it will be possible, instead
of writing ex. 20 every single multiphonic fingering in its entirety, to notate only the changes that are
1 2
only2 occasionally.



3 1
5 1
Insuch cases
a long beam (below its duration
needed. This is possible when the foundation changes

the staff) indicating
while the

the foundation includes
more rapid changing fingerings are notated with beams above the
fingerings. This is a contextual
notation, where
1720 only the key changes from the preceding multiphonic are notated. 21

be 1 2 3 1 5 2 1 5


from Written

ex. 21a

in the following passageex.

seen clearly Paul Archbolds out fully

bars of the
passage looks like this:





Ex. 18 Paul
ex. 18 Archbold Fluxions - full notation22

ex. 21a
ex. 21b



3 3 3 3


ex. 3
1 2
3 3
ex. 23 3
3 3 3

in the following way:

3 3 3 3

However this can be simplified

- simplified

ex. 20Archbold Fluxions
Ex. 19 Paul
notation 23
1 2 3 1 5 1
2 1 5

ex. 23


3 3 3 3 3

N M 4:3


5:4 3:2 4:3


ex. 21b

ex. 24
is the


first multiphonic.

The minor fingering
The 4:3

only given in this passage



changes being made in this passage mean
that many of the fingers remain static with only
ex. 22 at a time.
two changing (Examples include
cancelling the long f, opening of shut keys and closing
of open keys.) 3 3 3 3 3 3

When making
a reduction this
an difference
important cancels
in the notation
way the works.
When multiphonics are fully written in Ex. each fingering out previous
fingering. However, when the fingerings are reduced so that only changes are notated there is the
ex. 23
need to cancel some keys. The obvious example from the above is the long F key use in ex. 19.
3 3
major3 fingering3 changes3 such as the 3

the notation:
Some longer multiphonic passages require following passage

from David

Errinerungsspiel in which

there is no effective way of simplifying

Ex. 20 David Gorton Errinerungsspiel 24

ex. 24



N 5:4 3:2 4:3


21. Such simplifications require an in-depth knowledge of the oboes keywork and as such are probably best left
to the performer to adapt as required.
22. Passage taken from Paul Archbolds Fluxions for oboe, small ensemble and electronics and used by
permission of the composer.
23. ibid.
24. Passage taken from David Gortons Errinerungsspiel for oboe and SoundSpotter and used by permission of
the composer.
These should be notated fully and where simplifications can be found these should be done by the
oboist. In such cases the composers job will be to copy correctly the fingerings in full.25

When writing out a succession of fully-notated fingerings there is no need to cancel out previous
fingering as this is done automatically by the new fingering.

Notating Pitch

For many composers it is essential that the pitch content of multiphonics is notated alongside the
fingerings.26 As we have already stated the pitch content gives the oboist no indication of how to
produce the sounds but it is a very useful guide when testing multiphonic fingerings and making
sure that the notated fingering produces what the composer expects.

The ideal place to notate pitch content is on a second staff above the main fingering line rather
in the way scordatura can be notated for string players. This can offer all the pitch information
necessary as well as clarifying complex situations where the music alternates between standard
pitches and multiphonics. In addition it leaves the main staff clear for the notation of the fingerings,
which is what the oboist needs.

Ex. 21 Roger Redgate Ausgangspunkte 27





5:4 7:6


This example demonstrates movement from single pitches at the beginning of the bar to
multiphonic pitches in the centre of the bar. The last section of the bar includes a multiphonic trill
with single pitch interjections. This can be seen in the notation by the use of M and N. The upper
staff not only demonstrates the sounding pitches but also helps to maintain clarity in what is a very
complex passage. It can also be observed in the final part of the bar that in the fingering notation
the single pitches are being fingered in unusual ways. This is in order to maintain the fluency of the
trilled multiphonic.

Many of the manuals and books which contain multiphonic fingerings also include instructions as
to what breath pressure and embouchure position should be used. These indications can be added
above a multiphonic fingering in the usual way, although personal experience suggests that most
of them are not really worth including as there can be so many variants in performer embouchures
and reeds. Where significant and continuous changes are required an additional line can be
included above the staff.

25. It is authors intention to publish a list of multiphonic fingerings cross referenced to the major multiphonic
fingering resources at
26. No matter which of the notation systems is used it is essential that any and all information pertaining to the
fingerings should be available to the performer. Never separate the information between a full score and a
performing part.
27. Passage taken from Ausgangspunkte by Roger Redgate, used with permission of Lemoine, Paris.
Translating From Other Notation Systems

The most common form of notation for multiphonics has been adapted in a number of ways over
the years. It is usually notated vertically above the staff. Versions of this have been used by many
composers and by the leading manuals containing multiphonic fingerings. The six circles represent
the six fingers on the front of the instrument (C, A, G, F#, E and D as can be seen on ex. 22)

Ex. 22


These can be translated into our notation in the following way:

Ex. 23
ex. 26

ex. 26

ex. 27

3 ex. 28

ex. 27

ex. 29

ex. 28

A half-hole or open key is translated:
ex. 30
Ex. 24

1 2 3

ex. 29 ex. 27

ex. 30 ex. 28

2 3

ex. 27
F key (not the long F) is translated as follows:


Ex. 25

ex. 28

2 3

2 3

ex. 27

The various keys for the little fingers are represented by letters as follows:
ex. 28

Ex. 26 3 33

ex. ex.

1 2

ex. 30 (g#) g#

Eb B

Bb ex. ex.


ex. ex.

The octave keys can be represented in a number
of ways. Either by numbers (as with ours) or with
other symbols:


Ex. 27

ex. ex.
1 11 2 22 3 33


It is therefore a very simple operation to translate from one system to the other.

The notation system discussedhere can also be used for the other members of the oboe family,
but remember that when using multiphonics on transposing instruments you do not necessarily get
a straightforward transposition of the multiphonic even when the keywork remains the same.

The first works to employ this notation system were Paul Archbolds Fluxions, Diana Burrells
Vespers and Christopher Redgates Transcendental Etude No.3.
A Note on Thumb-Plate Instruments

There are a number of keywork systems available for performers but by far the most common is
the Conservatoire System. All of the major lists of multiphonics were written by exponents of this
system and it is the one that is shown in the photograph in this article. In the UK however, the
Thumb-plate System is very common.

Many modern Thumb-plate instruments are actually a dual system combining both the Thumb-plate
and Conservatoire mechanism. This means that there is no situation where the notation needs to
be system specific. If however a Thumb-plate instrument is being used that does not have the dual
system there is one situation where the performer needs to revise the notation (or at least be aware
of the issue).

If a multiphonic uses the F# key but raises the G key or the G and A keys together then the thumb-
plate should be released. The equivalent happens automatically on the dual system but not on
these older instruments.

Other Applications for this Fingering Notation System

There are a number of other areas where this system of notation could be applied and, in addition,
some compositional possibilities which arise from it.

Wherever there is a need to notate fingerings or where the fingerings need to be notated in an
easily readable form, this notation can be applied. In particular the notation of rapid strings of
microtones or colour fingerings could benefit greatly, especially when the second staff is employed
to offer a sounding guide.

Compositionally it offers the possibility, which was also inherent in Holligers original system, of
offering a degree of aleatoric freedom by notating fingerings and leaving the exact results to the


Burgess, G. and Haynes, B., The Oboe, (New Haven: Yale Musical Instrument Series, 2004).
Chenna, A. and Salmi, M., Manuale DellOboe Contemporaneo, (Milano: Rugginenti Editore, 1994).
Veale, P. C.-S., Mahnkopf, The Techniques of Oboe Playing (Kassel: Brenreiter-Verlag
Karl Vtterle GmbH & Co., 1994).


Archbold, Paul Fluxions Unpublished, 2009

Burrell, Diana Vespers United Music Publishers, London 2010
Gorton, David Errinerungsspiel Unpublished, 2008
Holliger, Heinz, Studie ber Mehrklnge (Study in Multiphonics) in Pro musica nova: Studien zum
Spielen Neuer Music fr Oboe Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Hrtel, 1980.
Redgate, Christopher Transcendental Etude No.3 Unpublished, 2009
Redgate, Roger Ausgangspunkte Lemoine, Paris 1982