Stenographic Music Notation as a Musical Memory Aid among Dulcimer Players in Switzerland’s Alpine Region

Yannick Wey


Music stenography is a method for the simple and fast transcription of sound. Many systems have been developed, primarily during the nineteenth century, but did not find a practical application among musicians and composers. Examples of nineteenth-century music stenography, previously only documented in didactical treatises, were discovered during digitisation projects in the archive of the Centre for Appenzell and Toggenburg Folk Music in Switzerland. Some dulcimer players from the Alpine region of Appenzell mastered their own form of musical notation based on stenographic symbols. To decipher the code of pitch and rhythm symbols, I compare these to standard notations of the same pieces.
Music notation in an ethnomusicological sense is widely understood as a tool to outsource memory. The study of music stenographs contributes to our understanding of the relationship between oral and written traditions of music memory and the partition of musical information into graphemic representations and knowledge based on musicians’ experience and practice. In this article, I analyse a sample of the idiomatic notations found among instrumentalists in the Swiss region of Appenzell in the context of transcription theories and concepts of music cognition. The details of musical information included in, and excluded from, music stenographs provide insight into the musical thinking of their transcribers and performers.


Stenography; Notation; Transcription; Alpine; Switzerland; Dulcimer

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