Looking at some guitar music in Chinese, I noticed that a notation system called 简谱 jiǎnpǔ "simple (numbered) tablature" is quite widespread. Is there any particular reason why this way of representing music is so common? It is virtually unseen in the West from my (not so deep) experience with music.

As Chinese only (fairly) recently began using the Latin alphabet for things (C, D, E...) I am curious if this preference for numbered representation reflects a tendency to reject alphabetic characters when possible (e.g. when transcribing names).

  • 简谱 is easier to read than staff(五线谱), where you have to count the lines to identify each note. 简谱 is a good notation system for simple music, which is suitable for most amateur musical learners. But when it comes to a music with multiple parts, the staff is better than 简谱 because of a good alignment for parts provided.
    – dan
    Aug 13, 2017 at 0:10
  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbered_musical_notation Off-topic, It's about music, not language
    – sfy
    Aug 13, 2017 at 2:53
  • Although Chinese avoid using latin alphbet when possible. But this is not related to Jianpu vs latin letter notes (C,D,E,F,G,A,B). They are totally different systems, based on different musical culture. Using Jianpu, musicians can ease the notation when only cares about a single track and relative pitch of notes, while sheet music is more flexible in composing multi-track music (e.g. symphony), and absolute pitch of notes. Aug 14, 2017 at 11:00
  • Note: it may be widespread in some area/instruments, but when it comes to piano it's definitely using modern staff notation, even in China.
    – zypA13510
    Mar 15, 2018 at 13:20
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question is about music, not Chinese language. FAQ: What is On topic and Off topic on this site? Culture: This site is about the Chinese language, not its culture. Questions about culture will be closed as Off Topic.
    – zypA13510
    Apr 1, 2018 at 5:32

3 Answers 3


There are three points why 简谱 prevails in China.

  1. Tonality. Most music pieces are tonal music. And 简谱 is essentially a "movable" do notation system, which makes it easier for reader, esp. amateur, to grasp the melody.
  2. History reason. In Chinese traditional music, 工尺谱 is the main notation system, which is comparable to 简谱. 工尺谱 is also a "movable" do notation system.
  3. Culture. (Why 1, 2, 3 not C, D, E) Chinese is more familiar which the order of number than the English alphabets. Using Arabic number makes it easier for beginners in China to establish mapping from 1, 2, 3 to do, re, mi and easy to spread and learn. I don't think it has anything to do with the rejection of alphabetic characters.

The use of 简谱 was common in Chinese traditional instrument performance. But now conservatories in China use staff more. Now 简谱 is more common in music score for amateurs (esp. guitar scores, or chorus scores).


The original idea behind 简谱 jiánpǔ was to make music scores accessible to "the masses". If one has never laid one's hands on a musical instrument and has had no other exposure to music aside from listening to it, 简谱 jiánpǔ (consisting of Arabic numbers 1 to 7) may be indeed more accessible. After all, who can't read the Arabic numbers 1 to 7? But even in the 60s in China, musicians who played an instrument used the Western style music score. Ironically, not knowing the Western style music score was a real impediment to learning Western music instruments.


Agree with Moods and YCode. But I think there is also a technical reason, printing staff(五线谱) is much harder before modern printing technology developed.

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