Alternative forms of musical notation have been in use for many years, whether they involve new symbols, graphics, text, or other more experimental approaches. Verbal notation is an approach to scoring that uses the written word, as opposed to symbols, to convey information to whoever chooses to interpret it. The terms ‘verbal notation’ and ‘verbal scores’ describe what have also been called ‘text scores’, ‘prose scores’, ‘word scores’, ‘event scores’, amongst other things. They were fundamental to the development of the experimental tradition from the 1950s, yet receive relatively little coverage in comparison to the more visually interesting graphic scores. Most compositions which employ this medium do so because it is the only way to convey the musical ideas: other notation methods do not have, paradoxically, either the precision or flexibility to cope with some of their requirements. Although the majority of these scores originated in the 1950-70s, there are many more recent examples, and the medium is still vibrant.
Verbal notation is commonly used in experimental music, as well as related areas of arts practice involving performance or object making. Practitioners point to a number of reasons for using it: notation with written words is accessible to a wide range of people, including those who cannot read traditional Western stave notation; it can express temporal relationships between elements of a composition in a flexible way; it makes association with other writing contexts, such as poetry, prose, instructions, recipes, koans and aphorisms; it can express ideas with great precision; it can express generalities; it can determine many different types of relationships between the scorer and reader; it can express ideas and concepts as well as providing prescriptions for action.