Shape note heads

In shape note head notation, the shape of the note head corresponds to the harmonic function of a note in the scale. This notation was popular in nineteenth-century American song books. Shape note heads can be produced in Sacred Harp, Southern Harmony, Funk (Harmonia Sacra), Walker, and Aiken (Christian Harmony) styles:

\relative c'' {
  \aikenHeads
  c, d e f g2 a b1 c \break
  \aikenThinHeads
  c,4 d e f g2 a b1 c \break
  \sacredHarpHeads
  c,4 d e f g2 a b1 c \break
  \southernHarmonyHeads
  c,4 d e f g2 a b1 c \break
  \funkHeads
  c,4 d e f g2 a b1 c \break
  \walkerHeads
  c,4 d e f g2 a b1 c \break
}

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Shapes are typeset according to the step in the scale, where the base of the scale is determined by the \key command. When writing in a minor key, the scale step can be determined from the relative major:

\relative c'' {
  \key a \minor
  \aikenHeads
  a b c d e2 f g1 a \break
  \aikenHeadsMinor
  a,4 b c d e2 f g1 a \break
  \aikenThinHeadsMinor
  a,4 b c d e2 f g1 a \break
  \sacredHarpHeadsMinor
  a,2 b c d \break
  \southernHarmonyHeadsMinor
  a2 b c d \break
  \funkHeadsMinor
  a2 b c d \break
  \walkerHeadsMinor
  a2 b c d \break
}

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Predefined commands

\aikenHeads, \aikenHeadsMinor, \aikenThinHeads, \aikenThinHeadsMinor, \funkHeads, \funkHeadsMinor, \sacredHarpHeads, \sacredHarpHeadsMinor, \southernHarmonyHeads, \southernHarmonyHeadsMinor, \walkerHeads, \walkerHeadsMinor.

Selected Snippets

Aiken head thin variant noteheads

Aiken head white notes get harder to read at smaller staff sizes, especially with ledger lines. Losing interior white space makes them appear as quarter notes.

\score {
  {
    \aikenHeads
    c''2 a' c' a

    % Switch to thin-variant noteheads
    \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(doThin reThin miThin
                              faThin sol laThin tiThin)
    c'' a' c' a
  }
}

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Direction of merged ’fa’ shape note heads

Using property NoteCollision.fa-merge-direction, the direction of “fa” shape note heads (“fa”, “faThin”, etc.) can be controlled independently of the stem direction if two voices with the same pitch and different stem directions are merged. If this property is not set, the “down” glyph variant is used.

{
  \clef bass

  << { \aikenHeads
       f2
       \override Staff.NoteCollision.fa-merge-direction = #UP
       f2 }
  \\ { \aikenHeads
       f2
       f2 }
  >>
}

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Applying note head styles depending on the step of the scale

The shapeNoteStyles property can be used to define various note head styles for each step of the scale (as set by the key signature or the tonic property).

This property requires a set of symbols, which can be purely arbitrary (geometrical expressions such as triangle, cross, and xcircle are allowed) or based on old American engraving tradition (some latin note names are also allowed).

That said, to imitate old American song books, there are several predefined note head styles available through shortcut commands such as \aikenHeads or \sacredHarpHeads.

This example shows different ways to obtain shape note heads, and demonstrates the ability to transpose a melody without losing the correspondence between harmonic functions and note head styles.

fragment = {
  \key c \major
  c2 d
  e2 f
  g2 a
  b2 c
}

\new Staff {
  \transpose c d
  \relative c' {
    \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(do re mi fa
                               #f la ti)
    \fragment
  }

  \break

  \relative c' {
    \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(cross triangle fa #f
                               mensural xcircle diamond)
    \fragment
  }
}

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To see all note head styles, see Note head styles.

See also

Snippets: Pitches.

Notation Reference: Note head styles.

Internals Reference: note-event, Note_heads_engraver, NoteHead, note-head-interface.


LilyPond Notation Reference v2.25.17 (development-branch).