What software can make circular notation?

I have a short piece that I’d like to display in circular notation. Does anyone know a notation software that could do this, or is it going to need to be something like photoshop manipulating regular notation? Thanks!

Example (not mine):

There’s a long tradition of this. For example the hundreds of Circular Canons by John Bull (which remain very mysterious pieces.)

I don’t know of any notation program that lets you do this. But I found a forum post elsewhere that suggested making concentric circles in Photoshop, then exporting the notes as a graphic slice and using a polar coordinate filter to make a circular path

Or you could export the line of notes as SVG and use InkScape to do something similar.

Vector drawing software, like Affinity Designer, Inkscape, or Adobe Illustrator, is the tool for creating lines and shapes. These apps are regularly used to edit PDFs from notation software.

Photoshop is for bitmap, pixelated images, like… well, photos. :stuck_out_tongue:

Finale comes with a circular score in its sample documents: but it’s done entirely graphically – using lines and shapes.

You can eat soup with a fork, but it’s the wrong tool for the job.


Finale demonstrated something like this a few years back, but I have no idea how; and my sense from once looking at an explanation of how is that it is a very technical operation even in Finale.

If you decide to try it, you might just decide to set aside a serious block of time and then see if you can use a trial version of the program (read their terms first to make sure there are no restrictions on the trial that prevent you from printing it or the like.).

Although I have owned Finale since it was first released, I find I use Dorico for my daily work and am very happy with it even if it cannot produce music that goes around in circles. :smirk:

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@mbira Out of curiosity may I ask the reason for the circle? Is it just so-called ‘eye music’?

(OT about the example above) – Ah, “Chameleon”. I note that it’s a bass line written in treble clef. But the clef and signatures are not shown because where would you put them in such a loop? The “first” bar starts at 12:00 of course, but the pattern begins with the 3 pickup notes. (These are problems I never noticed in other circular scores.) Carry on.

Believe it or not Blender would work well here - you can do 2D renders off a 3D scene. Reason why is due to the rich programming environment, either python or geometry nodes (easier) you can have it do the heavy lifting, like allowing you to add the notes and glyphs which it automatically snaps to the staves properly. Just for fun, you’d have to be deep into Blender to do that.

Fascinating … not finding much on the nets in a cursory glance, is it thought to be anything more than just a whimsical repeat?

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It will be part of the educational excerpts explaining how to listen to and play traditional mbira music. I have found that even when I explicitly tell people the music has no starting or ending point that they inevitably gravitate to the first notes written as being their “one”. So I’m playing with the novel idea of having a pinwheel type contraption that explicitly shows the circular nature of the music.

The actual piece itself won’t be in the circular format, just the excerpt.

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Ah, so my comment wasn’t entirely off-topic! This is the thing about looping, especially in African traditions. Westerners learning African patterns always want to ask “Where’s one?” And the typical answer is “What do you mean? It’s a cycle.” The whole concept of ‘downbeat’ is foreign.

Exactly. I’m excited about this piece I’m working on. It will be a sort of “choose-you-own-adventure” format where each player will navigate through cells of notation. But different than pieces like “In C” it will be structured so they will always be playing in the rigid harmonic framework of mbira music (in other words they will always be in the correct place within the cycle), but the melodic lines themselves will be able to have their own individual starting points and time signatures.

Amadeus could do this since version 1, 25+ years ago, and I think also Graphire (spelling?). I’ve not seen any modern software. Lilypond most certainly, but I have not seen any samples.

I believe Lilypond is capable of some quite wacky and experimental score-based art if you’re willing to put in the time to learn it (requires coding as far as I understand it). I’ve never used it but from what I have seen about it, you can do things like this.

Thanks for the tips. I’m definitely not looking to go really deep into something to do this. I have illustrator. I’ll see how well it bends existing dorico pdf export.

African drummers do count bars, at least my tutors from Ghana did, but they count 1 at the end of the first bar not at the beginning, which takes some getting used to.

And Cuban percussionists start their patterns on 4, which also takes some getting used to.

Mbira music is different. One person plays at least four independent melodies, each with a distinct “one”. The music is played with at least one other person that is also playing multiple melodies with distinct “ones”. Each melody could usually be thought of in its own time signature as well. The underlying pulse is 12/8 which obviously lends itself to many different divisions of meter.

Then there are the resultant melodies that arise from all the other explicit melodies that people are playing that are essentially a surprise to all involved.

So it’s not accurate to say there is no “one” in mbira music but rather there are 48 (four phrases of 12/8) potential “ones” for each independent melody and there are endless possibilities for the number of melodies all happening at once. They call it trance music for a reason. :wink:


As a very experienced lilypond user, I can assert that it cannot. You can make circles for circle of fifths diagrams but not circular staves with notes. Sorry.

See my post in this topic re lilypond.

OK, I stand corrected, but perhaps some clever programmer could use the “mother language” (TeX) that Lilypond is built on and its many ‘packages’;

As I understand it Lilypond can be accessed from TeX and since TeX is a ‘complete’ language it has no limitations in its output.

(I tried various ‘warp functions’ in Illustrator but it does not work well for music.)

That sounds fascinating. Are there any Mbira artists I could listen to ? - possibly yourself!

I was totally incorrect. Lilypond can do it without too much complexity. Here’s an example:


That’s totally programmatic and no InkScape or graphics manipulation requried.

Since this is OT for a Dorico forum, please PM me for more information and details.

[The number of staff lines is trivially adjusted, This just happens to have six.]

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