Mod Symbol

So in math or programming, the modulo operator % is typically pronounced “mod”, as in 4 % 3 would be read as “four mod three”. As far as I know on its own, % has no meaning in music notation - not counting some extended fields in ABC or as part of a text token. Anyone want to verify or correct me?

I’ve been thinking of using it like in this contrived example:

In the context of an electronic instrument, “mod” seems pretty suggestive to me of mod wheel. (Or more generally modification)

In the experiment above, % is a playing technique with expression map entry that shifts what the dynamic markings in the % region actually do. While the mf marking in the beginning does what you expect dynamics to normally do, any dynamics of any sort that appear in the mod region instead adjust the mod wheel.

It works. This way, you CAN write graduated or more complex mod changes in the score in Dorico without resorting to the key editor. I kind of thought of it as a hack at first, but it’s growing on me.

Getting philosophical for a minute, when you use the mod wheel to open a filter or significantly alter a synth’s tonality it IS in many common cases (I would assert) functionally a form of dynamics change .

You can never make absolute rules with synths, and I get the idea behind other squiggles and wedges. But I think it’s extremely common (if it’s musically significant)that you are pulling some detail of the sound forward or pushing it back. Like a sequence that goes from a low dull pulse to a more prominent melodic element, a rise etc. It’s often I think what the example looks - a modified form of dynamic. Does that make sense to anyone else?

It seems to me a lot of things in notation came into common usage because it was convenient or simpler in certain situations, and it’s almost never the only way.

What’s grown on me is that it requires only one playing technique to remember/ expression map entry, yet has the power of all the existing richness of dynamic expressions. It doesn’t over power the score for a conductor, and they can almost miss the meaning and still do the right thing - dare I say intuit the needed gesture to look at the player and cue a musically significant change?

Not sure I want to, but the single character % seems to lend itself to extension like say %11 could be a different technique to “modify cc11”.

I am using % n. (mod niente) or % c. (mod centro) or % m. (Mod massimo) to specify an initial or resting position of the mod wheel / control. That allows for relative use of < > in the rest of the piece without a lot of p’s and f’s if you want to reach a required midi/technical value.

As to why put it in the score versus playing or drawing in the key editor: That may be a matter of preference or what fits the situation. But for me, there are times I know something musically significant and technical happens in bar 42 or whatever, but it’s invisible unless you open the piano roll. It helps me think, it feels like less work at times.

So how crazy and off kilter is it?

It looks pretty elegant and informative to me. I don’t remember seeing % in a score marking before. I suppose programmer-types might get the idea at sight, but I think musicians would want some explanatory note.

I would use a sans-serif font for the % sign itself, because the calligraphic aspect of the roman makes it look more like text.


I know the term modulo only since I learned how to code, hence I second MJs guess that one would have to explain it to musicians more often than not.

Why not use CC - - - - - - - - - - - -| instead? This would be clear to all keyboard players and simply stating the desired cc number at the first occurance would look quite naturally to me. The % sign in a musical score looks alien to me (actually it reminds me of sibelius documents when a music font is missing).


It is an interesting idea. Is this notation for your own reference or for presenting to actual live players? I would think live players may find modwheel instructions to be overly prescriptive, kind of like telling string players exactly which part of the bow and which fingering to use for every passage – which you can do – but outside of a pedogogical sense for learning, they don’t prefer it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Of course depending on the synth programming itself, the modwheel can be assigned to do all kinds of things, so it would seem to make more sense to offer musical instruction (e.g., increase tremolo, molto vibrato, etc) and allow the synthesist to determine how they would play this using the modwheel and assignments to LFOs/filter/etc.

If the modwheel as you imagine is mostly assigned to filter and amplitude, I feel like hairpins already suffice. I guess my general take is - using musical language to describe what you want to hear, allowing the player to interpret how to get there, is probably the best approach.

Forgive me if I’m not understanding your intended use case here!

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No worries, and this seemed like a great question to talk about first. Let’s say hybrid cues; one that actually is pretty prescriptive in the sense that there is a specific creepy or nasty that’s built into one of the synth patches and comes out with the mod. It needs to start -there- and come to a subtle climax -there-, release -here-. While not changing the volume (which would be problematic) listeners would think of it as “Oh, something is building up here, something is gonna happen any second…”

Not telling them how to play, but informing everyone what’s happening or needs to happen. A scripted move on probably not a random synth patch. I think it fits into your “absolutely necessary” criteria. I was thinking only of musically or story significant changes - I am a little worried of the overuse you mentioned.

Musical text is useful, but I wanted one that DOES produce automation in Dorico for playback (with the map I made at least) and was re-usable on the next cue where the mod might result in something completely different sound wise. (Say, makes the piano morph from period upright to futurist Westworld)

I’m resigned to including some kind of page with a description or explanation for synths. I need that even for me if I want to remember how something was done, sigh. And I guess I just assumed any non-standard mark would take a little explaining unless something does become a standard.

Despite the topic name, I’m most interested in everyone’s opinion on the functionality than the actual character(s) used. I’d be thrilled if the idea became somewhat common regardless of which letters/glyph. The cc suggestion might be right. I will say that I have run into wanting to use it over a single note, or someplace that’s crowded without using the continuation line. So I would offer that I think a shorter symbol is better if possible.

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My perspective is that playing technique markings are for players to know how to do their jobs, and overall shape/interpretation markings are more for directors. Ideally a composer could get the exact desired effect simply by indicating how everyone should play. But that ideal is unreachable; most ensembles need a director in that regard, to help unify the overall interpretation.

Some scores have special notes about balance (“melody” or «en dehors» or „hervortretend“ vs. “accompanying”, “under the violins”, etc.), but really good balance is so much subtler than what can be indicated on the page. And it’s more than just volume – it’s also timbre and “intention” (especially for voices). And it depends on the distances and acoustic conditions in the space. Also, for a recording, much but not all of this can (and must) be altered in post production.

But I’m thinking mainly of acoustic instruments, and there must be a lot of different considerations for electronic instruments that are separately amplified.

Just like a group came together in the 1980s to define MIDI, a congress needs to set standards for notating electronic music.

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