Color notation/Translations

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Color notation, Ups and Downs notation, and Pergens notation can all be translated into other languages. Just like conventional notation, staff notation must be universal, and not vary by language. Many terms can be translated, but a few terms can't be. Just as one must learn a few Italian words like allegro and andante to read conventional staff notation, one must learn a few English words to read color notation. Fortunately, the full word needn't be learned, just the first letter.

The color accidentals w, y, g, z and r must not vary. For example, Spanish speakers shouldn't translate yellow into amarillo, and then shorten it to amo. In order for terms such as 1o, 3u, 17a, etc. to be universal, -o, -u and -a for over, under and all must not vary. Thus wa, yo, gu, zo and ru are also invariant. Po and qu and p and q are invariant.

Not only staff notation but also written chord names must not vary. Ch7 and Cs7 are invariant, thus h and s are also invariant. The words harmonic and subharmonic can vary, and are generally abbreviated to make a concise chord name.

All colors for primes 11 and higher can vary. In many European languages, tho/thu/tha becomes tro/tru/tra. Spanish for 11 is once, and lo/lu/la might become onco/oncu/onca. Italian for 11 is undici, suggesting uno/unu/una. But if 1o is uno, an "uno chord" would also be a "one chord", i.e the tonic chord. Thus 1o becomes either undo/undu/unda or perhaps unó/unu/una, with the accent distinguishing unó from uno.

The short form of temperament names and subgroup names must not vary, because they are likely to be written at the top of the score. In such names, primes 11 and higher must be written in their numeric form. Thus on the score the thulu temperament is written 3u1uT, and the yalatha subgroup is written ya1a3a. Bi-, tri- etc. can vary, because they have an invariant short form that can be used on scores: Layobi = Ly#2 and Triyo temperament = y³T.

The disambiguation prefix i- is usually invariant, and is used as needed in all languages. (Korean is an exception.) Disambiguation is only necessary if the other word needs to be used in a musical context. The note C sounds like sea, but there's no problem, because noone ever needs to discuss a "sea chord". But "no" as in no5 and nowa is invariant, therefore 19o must be ino in most European languages. In combination with other colors, the prefix is not needed: 19/15 is nogu, not inogu. Disambiguation is also needed if the other word is extremely common, like "the" or "and".

Sometimes one color needs disambiguation from another. In Latin American Spanish, z and s sound the same, and distinguishing spoken zo vs. so is a problem. The rule is to add i- to the higher prime's color. Zo is pronounced "so", and 17o is pronounced and written "iso". Unlike ino, i- is used even when 17o is not alone, thus 17/15 is isogu. Sa becomes isa, to differentiate it from za. Su needn't change to isu, but might for consistency.

Another example: the Dutch word for 17 begins with z, so Dutch might use zo/ru/za for 7 and izo/(i)zu/iza for 17. Or Dutch might borrow from nearby English (seventeen) and German (siebzehn), and use so/su/sa for 17.

Two colors might possibly sound alike and also sound like some musical term. If so, use i- for the higher prime as before, and reuse the final vowel to prefix the lower prime. If z and s were to sound the same, and the solfege syllable were to be So, 17o becomes iso and zo becomes ozo.

Another use for i- is for when thick accents make communication difficult. In Castillian Spanish, zo sounds like "tho". A Spaniard pronounces 3o as "tro", so there's no conflict among Spaniards. But a Spaniard might be confused talking to an American who says 3o as "tho". Therefore the American says zo and itho, and the Spaniard says tho and itro.

For primes above 19, the final digit is abbreviated similarly to English's -wo/-tho/-so/-no. The tens digit is abbreviated similarly to English's twe-/thi-/fo-/fi-/si-. Abbreviating seventy is impossible because sa- se- si- so- and su- are taken. Si- means sixty, and the others mean 17-all/-exponent/-over/-under. 17 will crowd out 70 in most Western languages. There are two ways to resolve this conflict. Either the tens digit is spelled out, as in seventy-wo for 71o. Or 70 can be renamed "fifty-twenty", and 71o becomes fitwewo.

In many Western European languages, tri- means tripled or cubed, as in triyo for 250/243. And tra-/tre-/tro-/tru- means 13-all/-exponent/-over/-under. Thus thirty often can't be abbreviated. Italian for 31 is trentuno, and 31u is trentunu. But 31o needs to be distinct from 31, so 31o can't be trentuno. The solution is to accent the final syllable, so that 31o = trentunò or trentunó.

L and s are invariant, as are la and sa. But the general terms large and small can be translated. This is analogous to an English speaker seeing "f" or "p" on a score and thinking loud/soft, not forte/piano. The translated words must not have any musical connotations such as major/minor or augmented/diminished or largo (slow tempo).

Roman numerals are invariant, for chord progressions. P, M, m, a (aug) and d (dim) are invariant, for chord names and pergens. The spoken terms are of course translated into the usual terms for perfect, major, minor, etc. Many countries have adopted jazz chord names such as CM7, even if their word for major is dur. Pergens are never written on the score as quarter-fifth, but as (P8, P5/4). A pergen's enharmonic interval is written as C^^ = C♯. Edos can be indicated as ^1 = 1\31.

The symbols ^ v / \ ~ ◇ are invariant, but the terms up, down, lift, drop, mid and plain can vary. Up and down may possibly be translated as above/below or top/bottom. Lift/drop may be translated as raise/lower. Lift and drop should be translated into verbs, since ^ is high, but / starts low and goes high. Preferably transitive verbs, drop not fall, since a melody can fall. Plain must be distinct from natural and clear, and may be translated as simple. All six terms should be words not usually applied to notes or clefs or melodies or intervals, e.g. not high/low or treble/bass or rising/falling or neutral. In temperament names, both "and" and "plus" should have distinct names.

Clear, ca and noca are never used in interval names or chord names. They are never used on staff notation without a lengthy explanation, since staff notation assumes octaves. Thus they can be translated freely. Clear means transparent or colorless, not "easily understood". The words compound, central, double, triple, quadruple etc. can also be translated freely. Central must be distinct from mid and neutral.

Invariant terms Meanings
-o, -u, -a, -e over, under, all, exponent
w, y, g, z, r white, yellow, green, azure/azul, red
wa, yo, gu, zo, ru (the long forms of the above)
ya, za, no, nowa yellow-all, azure-all, no (as in omit), no-white
p, q, po, qu pythagorean-over, pythagorean-under
L, s, la, sa large, small
h, s harmonic series, subharmonic series
T, i- temperament, disambiguation prefix

Languages that use non-Roman alphabets may write these terms in their own alphabets in text, but not on the score. Such languages have two columns in the table, one for each alphabet, and they have rows for the invariant terms.

See also

Western European languages

English German French Spanish Portuguese Italian Swedish
11 l- l- onz- onc- onz- un-? und-? l-
13 th- dr- tr- tr- tr- tr- tr-
17 s- s- s- s- s- s- sj-
19 n- n- n- n- n- n- n-
20 twe- zwa-? vingt-?
30 thi- tren-?
40 fo- vie-?
50 fi- fün-?
60 si- sech-?
-1 -w- ein- -un- -un- -um- -un- -ett-?
-3 -th- dr- -tr- -tr- -tr- -tr- -tr-
-7 -s- s- -s- -s- -s- -s- -sj-
-9 -n- n- -n- -n- -n- -n- -n-
L large groß grand grande grande grande
s small klein petit pequeña pequena piccolo
central zentral central
h har natur armo
s sub sub sub
^ up oben haut? arriba cima? su
v down unten bas? abajo baixo? giù
/ lift hebe levante
\ drop senk soltando
~ mid mitt- /mittel- milieu medio meio medio
plain einfach, schlicht sencillo
& and und y
+ plus plus mas
c co-
ca clear klar claro
2 bi-
3 tri- dreifach? tri-?
4 quad- vierfach? cuad-?
5 quint- fünffach? quint-?
7 sep-
4thwd quartwärts a cuarta
5thwd quintwärts a quinta

Disambiguations: (1o refers to 11-over, and -1o refers to -1-over, e.g. -wo in thiwo and fowo)

English: 1o = ilo ("low C"), 1a = ila (La solfege), 17o = iso (So solfege), 19o = ino ("no 3rd"), 19u = inu ("new key")

German: 19o = ino

French: 13a = itra (tra vs. trois), -3a = -itra-, 19o = ino

Spanish: -1o = -unó (31 vs. 31o), 19o = ino, Latin American Spanish only: 17 = iso / isu / isa (z and s sound the same)

Portuguese: 19o = ino

Italian: 17u = isu (su means ^), 19o = ino, -1o = -unò or -unó (31 vs. 31o)


In Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland (and Sweden before about 1990s), B natural is called H and B flat is called B. In German, "Ha sieben" = H7 = H D♯ F♯ A, and "NaturSieben" = h7 = w1 y3 w5 z7.

Spanish: the "c" in onco / oncu / onca is pronounced "s", as in once. (Should it be onzo / onzu / onza? onso / onsu / onsa?) 17o is so, not iso, because so and Sol sound distinctly different.

Eastern European languages

English Finnish Polish Hungarian Russian
11 l- yks-
13 th- kolm-
17 s- se-? s-?
19 n- ?
20 twe-
30 thi-
40 fo-
50 fi-
60 si-
-1 -w- -yks-
-3 -th- -k-
-7 -s- -s-
-9 -n- ?
L large
s small
h har
s sub
^ up
v down
/ lift
\ drop
~ mid
& and
+ plus
co- compound
ca clear
2 bi-
3 tri-
4 quad-
5 quint-
7 sep-



Finnish: G is not a native sound, and could possibly be confused with k. Thus qu could possibly become iqu, but it probably wouldn't.

The -o suffix may change to -ö after yks-, thus 1o, 31o etc., may use yksö. The -u suffix may change to -y after yks- in 1u, 31u, etc.

Middle Eastern languages

English Arabic Turkish Persian Hebrew
w wa وا waa wa wa wa
y yo يو yoo yo yo yo
g gu غو ghuu gu gu gu
z zo زو zoo zo zo izo
r ru رو ruu ru ru ru
p po بو boo po po ipo
q qu كو kuu ku ku ku
11 l- إيل- iil- ilo, lu
13 th- ث- th- (but they might say t-) t-
17 s- س- s- s-
19 n- ن n- ino, inu
20 twe-
30 thi-
40 fo-
50 fi-
60 si-
-1 -w- -w-
-3 -th- -th- (but they might say -t-)
-7 -s- -s-
-9 -n- -n-
L large كبير kabiir גדול gadol
s small صغير Saghiir קטן katan
central מרכזי merkazi
h har har
s sub sub
^ up up
v down down
/ lift lift
\ drop drop
~ mid בינוני benoni
plain פשוט pashut
& and "and"/wa- ו- ve-
+ plus פלוס plus
co- compound רחב? rakhav?
ca clear שקוף shakuf
2 bi- דו- du-
3 tri- תלת- tlat-
4 quad- quad-
5 quint- quint-
7 sep- sep-? hepta-?


Hebrew: may use izo, ilo, ipo since zo, lo, po are common function words in Hebrew. "th" may be pronounced "t". Israelis tend to be good at English so perhaps there's no real need for a full Hebrew translation.

Hebrew always places modifiers after nouns, so e.g. a yo third would "properly" be called "tertzat yo". If for some reason a modifier has to come before a noun, the English name should be used.

Arabic: Use long ī for the disambiguation vowel. Every vowel may be pronounced long.


South Asian languages

English Hindi
w wa wa
y yo yo
g gu gu
z zo zo
r ru ru
p po po
q qu qu
11 l- gy-
13 th- t-
17 s- s-
19 n- n-
20, 30, 40, 50, 60 (see below)
-1, -3, -7, -9 (see below)
L large baRaa
s small chhoTaa
central mukhya
h har bhu
s sub anu
^ up upar
v down neeche
/ lift uThaa
\ drop giraa
~ mid madhya
plain saadaa
& and aur
+ plus plus
co- compound chauRaa?
ca clear berang
2 bi- dvi
3 tri- tri
4 quad- chatur
5 quint- pancha
7 sep-
4thwd ma ki or
5thwd pa ki or


Hindi: ina (na means not), isa (Sa means Do)


Hindi bhu for har comes from svayambhu, a Sanskrit term for overtone that is often used in Carnatic music. Anu for sub is a Sanskrit prepositional prefix corresponding to under- and sub-.

Hindi has a separate word for each number, not formed by combining the tens digit and the ones digit.

English Hindi
23- tweth- te'ees-
29- twen- untees-
31- thiw- iktees-
37- this- saintees-
41- fow- iktaalees-
43- foth- taintaalees-
47- fos- saintaalees-
53- fith- tirepan-
59- fin- unsaTh-
61- siw- iksaTh-

Southeast Asian languages

East Asian languages

English Mandarin Japanese Korean Vietnamese
w wa wa wa
y yo yo yo
g gu gu gyu
z zo zuō zo zo
r ru ru ryu
p po po po
q qu ku qyu
11 l- 一哦 yīō イチョ ich- il-
一嗚 yīwū イチュ
13 th- 三哦 sān'ō s- sam-
三嗚 sānwū
17 s- 七哦 qīō ショ sh- chil-
七嗚 qīwū シュ
19 n- 九哦 jiǒuō キョ ky- gu-
九嗚 jiǒuwū キュ
20 twe-
30 thi-
40 fo-
50 fi-
60 si-
-1 -w- ich- -il-
-3 -th- s- -sam-
-7 -s- sh- -chil-
-9 -n- ky- -gu-
L large dae
s small so
central 가운데 gaunde
h har 에이치 "aitch"
s sub 에스 "ess"
^ up sang
v down ha
/ lift seung
\ drop nak
~ mid jung
& and 앤드 "and"
+ plus 플러스 "plus"
co- compound 큰? keun?
ca clear 투명 透明 tumyeong
2 bi- 두번? -番
3 tri- 세번? -番
4 quad- 네번? -番
5 quint- 다섯번? -番
7 sep-
4thwd 사도쪽 -度- sadojjok
5thwd 오도쪽 -度- odojjok


Since Chinese characters can't vary by phonemes, two characters are needed for 11th prime and above. Transliteration is probably one solution, but that results in poor translingual recognizability. The Zhuyinfuhao may be used too.


Japanese: kyu means 9, so C19u would sound like C9. Thus 19-under is written (in katakana) and spoken as ikyu. (9 is written in kanji.)

Korean: wa is written and spoken as awa (wa means "and" and i means 2)


Korean: -u for -under is -유 -yu. Thus g is gyu, r is ryu, and 19u is guyu.