Tuʻungafasi, Tongan music notation

To make a long story short: this is what the Tongan music notation looks like.

Tonga music notation

It has a one to one correspondence to the international notes music notation, but it is much simpler to write.

Note music notation

And this is the way it sounds

(depending on the assignment of some musical instruments to the different voices).

You can use your favourite text editor to type in tuʻungafasi, but a dedicated program is available from Tauʻolunga komipiuta. It can type in the strikes, dots and tails, which normal text editors cannot. It can assign lyrics to the notes, and it will assist you in proper formatting them together. Then it can assign jumps and repeats, musical instruments and save your composition to a midi file for playback on any synthesizer. It can play the music on the screen, and it can import midi files (as long as their sounds are within range). It also can make Quicktime files with karaoke as you see and hear above.

The program is for Apple Macintosh only, but the music files can be used on any platform.

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For system 10.5 or 10.6, download now 1.7 MB

DONATIONWARE (That is you get it for FREE, but if you like it, you promise to send us a donation, be it money or whatever you think it is worth).

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Music files only for playback on any platform 230kB

Computers must have QuickTime installed, Mac: version 6.4; Windows: version 6.5 or later.

Tuʻungafasi, the pride of Tonga.

A tutorial into the Tongan music notation

The Tongan music notation has been developed by Moulton, as an alternative to the very complex and difficult to learn international note notation. In effect it is nothing else than the doh-ray-mi-fah-sol-la-si-doh scale, but unfortunately, as Moulton quickly found out, when this is Tonganised to to-le- and so forth it suddenly got a sexual meaning. So instead he used the numbers 3-4-5-6-7-8-9-3. Some of the notes can be sharpened, which is indicated with a slash through them, for example 6, as in the 4th measure above, for the use of 6# or 7b. Therefore the full 12 notes of the octave become: 3-3-4-4-5-6-6-7-7-8-8-9, which are pronounced as: to-lu-fa-ma-ni-o-no-tu-fi-va-a-hi, (variants of the Tongan numerals 3 to 9 being tolu, fa, nima, ono, fitu, valu, hiva). All these notes can have a dot above them to indicate that they belong to the next higher octave, or they can have a little tail under them to indicate they belong to the next lower octave (as in the song above). Therefore 3 octaves can be spanned by a single voice, being octave number 3, 4 and 5. Remember that the notation is primarily designed for singing, it cannot deliver the full tonal range of musical instruments. Yet occasionally one encounters a double tail, which puts the note one octave lower still, but that should largely be an exception.

Looking at the example song again, we notice that the digits are the notes and every line is a separate voice. It is standard in Tongan singing to have 4 different voices. The first one is the leader and is called fasi, a male voice. The next one is kanokano or alto, a female voice. The third is the tenoa or tenor, and the last one the laulalo or bass. Sometimes less voices are used. The fasi is always there, so if there are only two, then the second one will be the laulalo. As said above, every voice has a range of 3 octaves only, but these ranges vary with the voice. The tenoa is often 1 octave above the laulalo, but 1 below the fasi & kanokano. The actual middle doh or C position of each voice is determined by the key signature, as in the schedule below:

key signatures

If 3 notes appear, then the fasi & alto are together on top, the tenor is in the middle, and the bass is on bottom. For some keys the bass doh would come too low, and is then on the same level as the tenor, so that only 2 notes appear. Not all musicians agree about this, however, some take all basses equal to the tenor. In that case they may end up with their dohs too high, forcing them to use two tails to arrive at the proper octave.

Unlike the international music notation, where the duration of every note is given by its appropriate symbol, in Tongan music notation the duration is determined by the number of notes in a given beat, which on its turn is determined by the time signature. We shall take as example 2/4 notation, which means that there are 2 beats in a single measure, the beat being a quarter note long. (With the standard tempo of 96 quarter notes per minutes, this yields to 48 measures per minute, every measure taking 1.25 seconds.) Therefore if there is a single note in the beat, it is a quarter note. If there are 2 notes, then each is an eighth, and so forth, up to a maximum of 4 notes per beat. To make notes of longer duration, some beats are to be tied. This is simply indicated with one or more dashes (-). The beats are separated from each other by colons (:) and slashes (/). The two symbols are equal, although it is customary to have the slash in the middle of long measures and the colons elsewhere. The measures are separated from each other by vertical bars (|) or double bars (||) the latter especially used to indicate repeats.

Therefore a particular (strange) piece of music in 2/4 may look like this:

||3:4|-:-|56:-7|8888:9--0| : ||

The 3 is a quarter note; the 4 is with the two following dashes extended to a three-quarter note; the 5 is an eighth note; the 6 is with the dash extended to two-eighth, that is a quarter note again; the 7 is an eight note; every 8 is a sixteenth note; the 9 is extended to a three-sixteenth note; the 0 is used to indicate a rest, in this case a sixteenth rest, but the following empty measure is also a rest (the 0 only being used when confusion may arise), therefore the rest is extended to nine-sixteenth. As in the example above, it is perfectly allright for tied notes to cross measure boundaries. Some musicians, however, prefer in such a case to repeat the note number rather than use a dash. In that case they are forced to put a tie-arc above that note and the previous one to indicate the tie, (as in the international music notation), while the consistent use of dashes would always alleviate this problem.

To be complete the following scheme holds true:

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