AB Chromatic Music Notation


The musician Albert Brennink, who was playing the piano and organ daily, concentrated more and more on researching and developing a new music notation. The idea was to find or develop a notation based on the chromatic scale, to exist alongside the old diatonic music notation which is based on the medieval church modes and which represents the C-major scale.


Newly published  2016: Albert Brennink:  The Alternative Music Notation.   Edition Chroma / Coppenrath Verlag, Münster (Germany)

                                                                can also be ordered over: afbxyz@yahoo.de



After several experiments over quite a few years, Brennink arrived at a practical result and published it in 1976 with a specially founded music publishing company named EDITION CHROMA, first in Frankfurt, Germany, in combination with the publisher DIPA, and a year later as his own publishing company in Montreux, Switzerland. Here we show the booklet in A5-format: The Chromatic Notation in German and English. In addition,  Brennink published the first three fugues of J.S. Bach's The Art of Fugue in chromatic notation.



Notwithstanding a press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair and a review in a musical periodical there was little reaction. During the year 1978 Brennink also published a French / Italian version of the first booklet.



In the article in the musical periodical there was one remark that started to challenge the notation inventor: "Once more one of about fifty notation proposals!" What are these fifty music notations? To find out, Brennink started an international enquiry. It was organized with the help of pamphlets and reply cards in musical magazines all over Europe.

            After Brennink's emigration to Canada in 1979, the same procedure was carried out through magazines in North and South America and overseas. This yielded more than a hundred notation proposals, of which 24 corresponded with the given criteria. These proposals were evaluated and published in 1983 in a special edition: Chromatic Notation, The Results and Conclusions of the International Enquiry by the Chroma Foundation(47 pages)  an English and a German version.



As a result of the publicity this initiative received, a circle of notation experts originated, and in the year 1985 the Music Notation Modernisation Association, MNMA, was founded in Kirksville, Missoury, USA. There was a newsletter Music Notation News, and international conferences were organized. At its height the association had 130 members in 17 different countries.

            The new music notation was intended in the first place for the dodecaphonic or twelve tone epoche. But  compositions of modern composers like Arnold Schoenberg were not yet available (70 years waiting time after the author's death). Therefore Albert Brennink decided to start a dodecaphonic composition himself, as an example for the new music notation. Thus, by making use of some of his own writings, Blossom-Time, a Cycle of Songs for voice and piano came into being, first edition 1983.



Here we show the beginning of the second canto. Regrettably the width of the book is too wide for the screen. We had to cut off part of the last measures on the right.

         The characteristics of Brennink's notation are immediately visible. We have a staff of four lines and two ledger lines for each octave. The middle octave is marked at the beginning with a'. The note C is always on the top line, the note F-sharp is on the bottom line and the note A is in the middle space of each staff.

          There are no different clefs and no accidentals, and the note symbols are the same as in traditional notation. The only change is the full rest, it is double the sign of the half rest.



This composition, strictly speaking, is a six-tone music, because it is constructed on the two whole-tone scales which each have six notes. Brennink tried to follow the rule by which a change from one whole-tone scale to the other should not be made within a measure. In his chromatic notation this principle can easily be followed, because the notes of one whole-tone scale are all on the lines and in the other they are all in the spaces.

            The first performance of Blossom-Time took place on 3. 11. 1986 at the Kurtheater in Bad Homburg, Germany, performed by Michael Kreikenbaum, baritone, and Joachim Hess, piano. Both the musicians used Brennink's chromatic notation. The second performance on 27. 4. 1988 took place at the Musik-Hochschule in Cologne, and the third performance happened on 18. 8. 1988 at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, during the international conference of the MNMA (Music Notation Modernization Association.) In total the cycle Blossom-Time has been performed twelve times. There was also a studio performance for tape and compact disc.



The Two Main Rules of the

Ailler Brennink Chromatic Notation


First rule:  The four-line staff with two ledger-lines for each octave.

The note C is always on the top line, the note F-sharp is on the bottom line and the note A is in the middle space of the staff.

On the left is the chromatic scale and on the right are the two whole-tone scales. For reasons of clarity the two ledger-lines between the staves must both be written.

The picture below shows the system of a grand-staff which extends over a range of up to seven octaves. Instead of five different clefs in the traditional notation, we have only one clef in the shape of a continuous octave scale. The octaves are marked with the numbers 1 to 7. The middle octave number 4 with the concert pitch a', on which the instruments are tuned, is specially marked with a frame.


Second rule:  The chromatic grand-staff with up to seven octaves.

The notes shown are forming one of the two whole tone scales.



During the year 1987 Greenwood Press published Sourcebook of proposed Music Notation Reforms by Gardner Read. This includes a second notation proposal with a four-line staff, published in 1904 by Johann Ailler in Stättledorf am Wagram, Austria. Consequently Brennink's notation is now called Ailler-Brennink Chromatic Notation. Ailler, however, did not make use of a grand staff. In piano music he has a system with two four-line staves for each hand.

           In the meantime Brennink continued his research work, and after a few alterations he could show the final look of his notation. Thus in 1992 he published Equal Temperament Music Notation, and in the same year the German translation Wohltemperierte Notenschrift. In 1994 a French and a Chinese version followed. This publication became the leading book in notation research. Here we show the title page and the contents.




Here we show two examples from the chapter 'Comparing the Old and the New' on page 68. In the piece on the left, Debussy, not only the difficulty with the many accidentals is obvious, but also the disruption of the note image by changing clefs. In addition Debussy follows the strict rule of having the top staff for the right hand and the bottom staff for the left hand, whereby the three final chords are split up between the two staves. In the ABC-Notation the hands are indicated by the situation of the note stem: stem on the left for left hand and stem on the right for right hand. The new music notation gives us a graphical picture of the music in exact proportions of pitch.

            The example on the right, Schoenberg, shows the consequence of the old notation, which can only be deciphered, if there is at least one accidental in front of each note. The measure on the right has 47 accidentals. Please play at sight!

            What these examples also show is the fact that the new notation needs less space than the old one. Less space means less page turning.    



We show 'Psalm-Symphony' by Igor Strawinsky from the last chapter 'Whole-Page Music Examples'. To provide true comparison we have tried to make the spaces between the staff lines equally wide. This example shows that in this case the new notation needs more space in height, but in width a lot can be saved.



In 1990 Brennink got his first computer, Apple's Macintosh, and in 1993 the notation program NoteWriter by Dr. Keith Hamel, Vancouver, with the necessary alterations for the AB-Chromatic-Notation. This was a great relief for the notational work. Up to now the music sheets had been created with Notaset, a system by which preprinted note symbols had to be glued into the staff-system, an intensive labor like the old way of printing with lead-letters. But the NoteWriter system does not function automatically either. Each note has to be put on the lines with the help of the computer mouse.

            In any case there was a big opening for EDITION CHROMA to start printing music books in AB-Chromatic-Notation. The Bach fan Brennink started straight away with J.S. Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues, called The Well-Tempered Clavier. Thus  the first part was published in 1995 and the second part in 1996, both in hard-cover. They are the first representatives of eventually 20 volumes of classical music from Bach to Debussy in AB-Chromatic-Notation.



Here we show the first page of Part I, Fugue 24 in traditional notation, edited by Alfred Dürr at the publisher Bärenreiter, Germany, and then the same fugue in AB-Chromatic-Notation, edited by Albert Brennink at EDITION CHROMA, Canada.




This example shows how much space is needed for accidentals. The last two staff systems have only two measures. Consequently this fugue has six pages in traditional notation, and only five in chromatic notation. The total volume Part I in traditional notation has 122 pages, in chromatic notation it has 116 pages. Further more, in chromatic notation the pages are not filled to the last corner as in traditional notation, but the music is equally subdivided measure by measure. If we count the empty parts of all the pages, it results to another 7 pages which could also be deducted, the result being 109 pages for the whole surface of printed music.

      And this in a smaller format. At EDITION CHROMA the pages of music books are in general of the American letter size,  11" x 8. 5"  ( 28 cm x 21. 5 cm  ). This small size makes it possible to put four pages next to each other on a piano or organ music stand. For Bach's fugues an important advantage, because there is rarely a hand free for turning a page.




        Tonality symbol. For diatonic music pieces there is a small symbol above the first staff system on the right, indicating the tonality of the piece. It consists of the four lines of a staff plus a note head. A white note means major, a black note means minor. This fugue is in B-minor.  

        Voice Leading. In the AB-Chromatic Notation voice leading is made visible by the position of the note stems. The bass always has the stem left down, this is the basic rule. The other voices follow alternating right and left, whereby the direction up or down is of lesser importance. So in a three-part chant the soprano (treble) will have the stem left (up), in a four-part chant right (up). 


As an example for piano music we show the first page of 17 Variations Sérieuses by  Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, starting with the title and the first music page of the edition in chromatic notation, edited by Albert Brennink, and then the first page in traditional notation at the Henle Verlag, edited by Christa Jost.



For indication of the hands in piano music the note in the tonality symbol above the first staff system gets two stems. The stem to the right for right hand and the stem to the left for the left hand, accompanied by the indication m.d.= mane dextra (right hand) and m.s. = mane sinistra (left hand). For dodecaphonic music the note-symbol with the stems is at the same spot, but without the staff lines (Piano Piece by Arnold Schoenberg further down).

        If the music is polyphonic in character, like a fugue, the indication of the voices (voice leading) is more important and indicated as shown above. The trained pianist finds the way for his hands through practice. In some narrow note positions a pencil line between the notes dividing the hands may be helpful.



Again an example of traditional notation showing how much more space is needed because of the accidentals. In chromatic notation there are five staff systems on the page, while in traditional notation there are six, and the last four measures are not even shown up, they are on the next page.

           Furthermore, note the clumsiness of the note picture, especially in variation 1. This is caused by the too narrow pitch or vertical distance between the notes. In chromatic notation we have a perfect picture of pitch, as the notes of the chromatic scale are positioned in correct proportion.




With variation No. 7 we have a volume of up to six octaves, which in chromatic notation is covered by five staves. In the arpeggios the positioning of the note stems gives a clear indication for right hand and left hand. In traditional notation this is entirely missing, which makes quick sight-reading difficult. Besides this disadvantage the many accidentals again take up a lot of space; in the old notation we have five staff systems, in the new one only three and a half.



In this example (Edition Peters, Leipzig, by Hermann Keller) we show how difficult it can be in the old notation to show the hands. Written for harpsichord, this piece with the name "Chromatic" is a show piece for our aims, to make music notation easy to read. Look at measures 10 and 11 and compare it with the chromatic notation. The rules are stem down for the left hand in the old notation, in the new notation it is stem to the left for the left hand.



With Golliwogg's Cakewalk by Debussy we demonstrate how in a piano piece with different octave ranges the grand-staff can be applied in a space-saving way. If music jumps into the sixth or seventh octave, chromatic notation displays it with graphical precision. Traditional notation, however, hides it to the eye and shows it with a space-wasting clef symbol.

         The principle in the new notation is to widen the staff system only in those measures, where the notes extend into other octaves. This piece in chromatic notation has three and a half pages, while in traditional notation there are five full pages.



The example in traditional notation is taken from: Debussy Children's Corner, edited by Maurice Hinson. 

An Alfred Masterwork Edition by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Printed in USA.




To show another example of dodecaphonic music, Brennink published one of his organ compositions. This sample Christmas Sinfonia is a combination of four pieces, in which a transition is performed from a subject with the tonality of the whole-tone scale to a chorale melody with diatonic tonality.



Please note the layout of the staff system. We have four staves, which with the addition of a few ledger lines cover the whole range of the organ keyboard. The lowest note is C of octave 2 on the third ledger line below the lowest staff. As in organ music the octaves are always the same, namely the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, the numbers need not be written.

       At the beginning the three staves for the hands are specially marked with the letter M for manual and the bottom staff with a P for pedal. Under the notes for pedal the feet are indicated with D (dextra) for the right foot and S (sinistra) for the left foot.

       As the staff for pedal is not separated as in traditional notation, organ pieces in chromatic notation can also be read and performed on an organ without a pedal-board, if the distance of the bass notes is not too far away for the hands.


The Well-Tempered Clavier

Part I

J.S. Bach



Transposition is a practice commonly executed by musicians, especially when accompanying singers whose vocal range or tessitura does not comply with that of a given composition. So, for instance, Schubert's songs are available for high, medium or low voice. With computer technology it has become easy to carry out transposition of sheet music. While in traditional notation clefs and accidentals have to be changed, in chromatic notation we can move the notes without any changes up or down the ladder of the staff lines.

         To show the results, it is done here with the first page of Prelude No.1 of J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. The first sample with the remark "C-on-line" is the regular version, "C-in-space" is the transposed version.



In traditional music notation the clefs are changing the meaning of the staff-lines. In chromatic notation this is done similarly by transposition. In the old notation from F-clef to G-clef there are five steps, while in chromatic notation there are twelve steps, the steps of the chromatic scale. Thus, by transposition, the note C can be placed on any of the twelve semitone steps. The corresponding melody will sound exactly the same in each position, except the difference in pitch level.

       As a result we can find the AB-chromatic notation on each of the twelve semitone steps. Indeed an interesting topic of dodecaphonic practice and theory.



A great surprise. During the nineties Brennink obtained J.S. Bach's Orgelbüchlein in handwriting, a facsimile edition, edited by H.H. Löhlein at Bärenreiter, Germany. When he studied the manuscript, it became obvious that the note picture looks very similar to his chromatic notation edition. The reason: Bach did not use the G-clef or Violin clef for the higher octaves and the F-clef for the lower octaves as is usual today. Bach made use of the F-clef in combination with the C-clef on the bottom line, the Soprano clef. The space between the two staves is very narrow and contains only the note B. This combination, however, is a grand staff.


The similarity of the two note pictures is striking. And it is even more surprising when we realize, that in Bach's time music for harpsichord and organ was generally written in this way. Not only the master's last manuscript The Art of Fugue, was done in the same way, but also the Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, for example. This shows that not only Bach himself favoured a grand staff notation for his complicated compositions, but all his family and students were writing music and playing instruments according to this grand staff notation.


Bach's Grand Staff


Another discovery  – thanks to the grand staff – is the beauty of some of the choral preludes when played on the piano. The art of putting more or less pressure on certain notes – which can neither be done at the organ nor at the harpsichord – changes these pieces into musical poetry.

The Organ Works of J.S. Bach, Edited by Ivor Atkins, revised by Walter Emery, Novello & Co LTD, London.


Here is an example of the nowadays traditional way of printing organ music. There is a special staff with F-clef for the pedal-board, for a pianist almost impossible to read and play at sight. Further down is the same in chromatic notation, a grand staff notation similar to Bach's manuscript.



It is amazing to watch the young Bach experiment with chromatic modulations. There is a change of tonality in almost every measure and the main melody departs away from the original choral base. The result is an independent composition.

      Some of these preludes are published by EDITION CHROMA in combination with the choral "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in a special edition for piano. Try to play these pieces and enjoy the new ways in chromatic notation and in the art of J.S. Bach.

      These discoveries confirmed to Brennink that he was on the right track and encouraged him to go on with his research work and publish twenty music books in chromatic notation. Further down we give a complete list of Brennink's publications on music.



The newsletter Chroma Report (a 20-page pamphlet in letter-size format) was published by Chroma Institute quarterly from July 1997 until 2000 and half-yearly from Spring 2000 until Fall 2001, in total 16 issues. The half-year issues are in three languages: English, French and German.

  Among other items, notation proposals by  Busoni and Schoenberg are discussed. In the July 1998 issue, shown on the left, Brennink presented the first pages of Arnold Schoenberg's piano piece opus 11, No. 3 in traditional and in chromatic notation.

        It is in this field of dodecaphonic music that the need for a new notation is most obvious. Schoenberg himself has tried for many years to find an answer to the problems with traditional notation. He even published his own notation proposal, but was not successful.* The reason, as with so many notation inventors, was that he did not see the possibility and the potential of a grand staff. In the end apparently he gave up in despair and decided to have in his music at least one accidental in front of every note head. This, of course, made reading even more difficult.


*  Arnold Schoenberg: Eine neue Zwölfton-Schrift (A New Twelve-tone Notation) published in Musikblätter des Anbruch 7,  No.1. 1925.




This music is so complicated that for the first measures the author needed a second staff with F-clef for the left hand. With this measure plus changing clefs the layout of the note picture is completely disrupted. Compare these measures with the chromatic ones. You will see the exact position for each detail and be surprised by the complexity of this music. Can it really be played with only two hands? Whatever the answer is, in chromatic notation we see the music in correct pitch proportion, which makes it easier to understand and read. The two hands are indicated with the note stem, left for the left hand and right for the right hand.

       This example should convince even the most critical sceptic that something has to be done. We at the araumus association are looking forward to receiving other notation proposals and hope that one day a positive decision will be reached to solve our notational problems.




Books about the AB-Chromatic-Notation by

Albert Brennink


                                                                                                                                                             hc = hard cover

                                                                                                                    sc = soft cover

1          1976    Die Halbtonschrift oder Die Chromatische Notation,

                       eine graphische Darstellung der Musik

                       The Chromatic Notation,

                       a graphical Representation of Music 

                       booklet A 5 *                                                26 pages         sc        sold out


2          1978    La Notation Chromatique ou L'Ecriture par Demi-Tones

                       Une representation graphique de la musique

                       La Notatione Chromatica,

                       una reprezentatione grafica della musica       

                       booklet A 5 *                                                26 pages         sc        sold out

 3          1983    Chromatische Notation

                        Die Ergebnisse und Schlussfolgerungen der internationalen Umfrage

                       durch die Fondation Chroma

                       format 31 cm x 23, 5 cm                                48 pages         sc        sold out


4          1983    Chromatic Notation

                       The Results and Conclusions of the International Enquiry

                       by the Chroma Foundation   

                       format 31 cm x 23, 5 cm                                48 pages         sr         sold out


5          1992   Equal Temperament Music Notation

                       Results and conclusions of the music notation reform

                       by the Chroma Foundation                            96 pages         hc        25, - €


6          1992   Wohltemperierte Notenschrift

                       Ergebnisse und Schlussfolgerungen der Notenschrift-Reform

                       durch die Chroma-Stiftung                            96 pages         hc        25, - €


7          1994   Le Temperament Egal en Notation Musicale

                       La Notation Chromatique Ailler Brennink

                       Results et conclusions de la réforme de la notation musicale

                       par la Fondation Chroma                               96 pages         hc        25, - €


8          1994    Chinese Version of Equal Temperament Music Notation


                                                                                              112 pages       hc        25, - €

9          2001    Tutorial for Piano and Organ Playing

                       according to Chromatic Notation,  Part I

                       in co-operation with Joachim Hess, Pianist,

                       and Carsten Lenz, Organist.   (broadside)     52 pages         sc         20, - €


                       *  The size is, if not indicated differently    11" x  8. 5"    (27, 5 cm x 21, 5 cm)



Music Books in AB-Chromatic-Notation

 edited by

Albert Brennink


10        1976    The first Three Contrapuncti from J. S. Bach's 'The Art of Fugue'

                       in ABC-Notation as supplement to the booklet "The Chromatic Notation"

                       Format A4                                                                  12 pages       sc        sold out


                       A. BRENNINK

11        1983   Blütezeit, ein Lieder-Zyklus für eine Singstimme und Klavier

                       Blossom-Time, a cycle of songs for voice and piano

                       22 Gesänge, 22 cantos; German & English  

                       Format 33 cm x 25, 5 cm                                           76 pages        sc        40, - €


                       J. S. BACH

12        1995   The Well-Tempered Clavier  I                 

                       Foreword: English, French, German             118 plus 10 pages      hc       40, - €


                       J. S. BACH

13        1996   The Well-Tempered Clavier  II                

                       Foreword: English, French, German              138 plus 10 pages     hc       45, - €


                       J. S. BACH

14        1996   Organ Works I  Orgel-Büchlein with 4 Faksimiles  (broadside)

                       Foreword: English, French, German              86 plus 10 pages       hc       35, - €


                       Albert Brennink

15        1996   Christmas-Sinfonia    (broadside)                         44  pages         sc       20, - €

                       Four organ pieces wherein a transition is performed

                       from a subject with the tonality of the whole-tone scale

                       to a chorale melody with diatonic tonality.


                       J. S. BACH

16        1997   Inventions and Sinfonias

                       With introduction by Joh. Seb. Bach 1723   62 plus 10 pages        sc        20, - €


                       J. S. BACH

17        1998    Organ Works II  Chorale Partitas and Schübler Chorales

                       Broadside  21, 5 cm x 31 cm                                    84 pages         sc        25, - €


                       J. S. BACH

18        1998   Chromatic Fantasia und Fugue                           16 pages         sc        10, - €


                       J. S. BACH

19        1999   Organ Works III  Preludes und Fugues Part I

                       Broadside  21, 5 cm x 31 cm                                    116 pages       sc        30, - €

                       J. S. BACH

20        1999   Clavier-Exercises Part I:   Partitas

                       With a dedication by the author  1731         114 plus 10 pages      sc        30, - €


                       L. van BEETHOVEN

21        1999   Sonatinas and Early Sonatas                     54 plus 6 pages          sc        20, - €


                       L. van BEETHOVEN

22        2000   Rondos and Other Piano Pieces                   48 plus 6 pages          sc        20, - €


                       R. SCHUMANN

23        2000    Album for the Young Volume I

                        " composed 1848 for younger players "      22 plus 6 pages          sc        15, - €


                       R. SCHUMANN

24        2000    Album for the Young Volume II

                       "composed 1848 for more advanced players"  40 plus 6 pages      sc        20, - €


                       R. SCHUMANN

25        2000    Kinderszenen                                                         16 pages         sc        sold out


                       F. MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY

26        2000    17 Variations Sérieuses                                         22 pages         sc        15, - €


                       J. S. BACH

27        2001    "Jesu,  Joy of Man's Desiring" and                      12 pages         sc        10, - €

                       4 Chorales from 'Orgelbüchlein' for Piano


                       C. A. DEBUSSY

28        2002    Children's Corner

                        petite suite pour piano seul 1906 – 1908                  24 pages         sc        15, - €


                       C. A. DEBUSSY

29        2003    Two Arabesques   1888                                          16 pages         sc        10, - €


                       J. S. BACH

30        2009    The Art of Fugue in proportional Notation

                       Introduction German and English                  82 plus 14 pages        hc        30, - €

                                                                                                                                  sc        25, - €



Manuscript Paper with 4-line-staves, format:  hight   16. 5" x 11. 5"   ( 42 cm x 29 cm  )  10 sheets        5, - € 



EDITION CHROMA is no longer in Canada. The books can now be ordered over:    post@araumus.com