02 Note and note encodings

Music is a field of activity that many cachers seem to use to relax during breaks from searching for cans. At least that’s how I explain the perceived frequency of mysteries that contain any kind of music. For me, this has always been a little horror, as I hated these round “bubbles” even in my school days and successfully punished them with contempt. Apart from the pedagogical incompetence of the teaching staff, this was probably also due to the fact that I am about as musical as a refrigerator. In the end, however, that’s no excuse; I had to painstakingly patch up the gaps in my knowledge that arose back then, now that I’ve finally found a useful purpose for it (deciphering mysteries 😉 ).

Most note mysteries are pretty simplistic. Somehow, you have to compare numbers with the nub of a note, so someone once started just counting through. The first note is a 1, the next highest a 2 and so on. Conveniently, this is a notation that even I could see through at first go. Stupidly, this counting method is not necessarily “standardised”, so you might have to juggle the numbers back and forth a bit. You could also start counting at 0 and musical laymen like me would also rather start writing and counting on the staves instead of somehow in the nothingness below 😉

Slightly more difficult are the cases where the encoding is based on the note name. Johann Sebastian Bach liked to put his name, i.e. the notes B-A-C-H in his pieces. Other artists did likewise, but only very few had a name that was as suitable in terms of letters or notes.

If one now takes the semitones for such word formations:

  • is for notes raised by half a tone, for example c sharp, marked with a small double cross
  • es for notes lowered by half a tone, for example des, marked by a small b before the note

you can almost form meaningful words. Or possibly at least provide pretty templates for further letter value calculations. Really nasty natures mix in the Italian note designations (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si). This then requires a lot of reading comprehension or love of notes to decipher.

In addition to the note names and the height on the staves, the notes also differ in appearance. There are the black notes shown here with stems on them, which are quarter notes. If they have a stem but are not filled in black, they are half notes. If the note is completely black but still has a little flag (or if several are connected with a line at the top), these belong to the genre of eighth notes, and if the stem is completely missing, it is a whole note. Sometimes notes are connected with a bow at the bottom, in which case they are played contiguously in music. For the mystery calculation, it could mean that you might have to add these together. From the different types of notes, you can now come up with all sorts of funny things to torment the mystery solver. For example, only the whole notes could be used to calculate coordinates, and then their number place value as described above. You could also bring mathematics into play, after all the fractions (half note, eighth note) offer a pleasing template for this (count the note genres individually and divide by their “fraction”?). Surely it helps here once again if one tries to look at the sheet of music as logically as possible, juxtaposing the number of notes with the usual number of coordinate digits. 52° 12.345 and 009° 12.345 are seven and eight digits, i.e. 15. If I conveniently have 15 notes (or individual note types), I already know where the solution is and only have to think about the “how”.

For those for whom this is still not enough to decipher, the alphabet can be replaced by notes. Francis Poulenc and Giovanni della Porta did this in the 16th century (Hidden Messages by Klaus Schmeh, pages 27 and 28). Known as “French note encoding” is a similar variant in which the upper line is the usual note designations (the B is the note H in German) and these can have various equivalents. Cleverly composed, for example garnished with different pitches, one can thus bring funny note stories into the listings.

Also possible would be a simple note frequency, which is then juxtaposed with the alphabet. The most frequent note could then correspond to A, the second most frequent to B. Alternatively, one could contrast the note frequency with the usual letter frequency in the German language. Someone even did this on a grand scale once: Christiane Licht studied 40,000 music titles accordingly and I’m sure someone has already used her research result in a mystery, right?

The Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (*1872 – 1915) linked certain keys or tones with special colours, creating the Scriabin Code.

Since the fingerings for the various instruments are usually standardised (i.e. where which finger has to lie in which key), this could also be a good approach if a specific instrument is named in the listing.

And should any of you want to craft another of these fun note encoding caches, with on Scorio.com you (and even I! 😉 ) can get excellent easy note painting. Addendum: Another variation, using notes and the corresponding lyrics to encode coordinates: take the notes and put them over the lyrics – and take the letters that were “hit” by a note.

In the symbol tables of the GC Wizard you will find numerous tables for a wide variety of note values, clefs and rests.