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Old Armenian Notation

January 11, 2014

Since ancient times, the Armenian nation has had its own system of notation, which is called “the system of the Armenian khaz.” It is a type of neumatic notation. The khaz system made it possible to put down monovocal melodies and sharakans, as they indicated the voice pitch, its duration, the strength of the voice, hue, the ornamentation of the melodic line, and other elements.

 They say, officially, khaz notation was used from the 8th up to the 18th centuries – in the beginning, only for religious songs, later on also for folk music. I compared with this ancient tablet! Interesting.

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, 26th c. BC, upper half of a huge tablet + fragment of lower part, 20x30x5 cm + 9x18x5 cm, originally ca. 40x30x5 cm, 16+9 and 7+7 columns, 437+ ca. 100 lines remaining in cuneiform script, circular depressions introducing each new entry.

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, 26th c. BC, upper half of a huge tablet + fragment of lower part, 20x30x5 cm + 9x18x5 cm, originally ca. 40x30x5 cm, 16+9 and 7+7 columns, 437+ ca. 100 lines remaining in cuneiform script, circular depressions introducing each new entry.

 However, as it contained a great amount of different symbols and conventional signs, khaz notation was difficult to use on a practical basis, in respect of putting down the melody and reading it. This is why it was gradually put out of use, and in the 18th-19th centuries it was completely forgotten. Starting at the beginning of the first quarter of the 19th century, a new, simpler and easier-to-use system was introduced in Armenian music.

The new system was compiled and developed by the musician and reformer of the Armenian notation, teacher Hampartsoom Limonjian (1768-1839). After thorough and careful study of Armenian spiritual music throughout many years, he created the {Armenian new notation} in the years 1813-15. The reasons for creating this new system are the following:

  1) To make the notation system easier to learn and use
  2) To compile a system which would use some elements of the old khaz notation.

durationAs the new system is also neumatic and as it is not applied to the European 5-line bar system, it gives the chance to write the melody in the space between the lines of the text of the {spiritual} poems, thus facilitating the vocal performance of the texts. On his journeys of studies and recording of folk music, Komitas mostly used this notation system.


This is the example of a “religious” song.


There are many text books teaching this notation system, the most famous of which are those by Nikoghayos Tashjian {Vagharshapat, 1874}, Arshak Broutian {Vagharshapat, 1890}, and Robert Atayan {Yerevan, 1950}. 

 A page from medieval Armenian manuscript illustrating neumatic notation.

A page from medieval Armenian manuscript illustrating neumatic notation.

Nikoghos Tahmizian musicologist – theorist and historian. His professional accomplishments were to decipher neumes (Хазы) of Armenian church music, analyze the musical theory of old Armenia and research the life and works of Armenian composers from medieval times to modern era

Tahmizian’s discoveries in the area of the medieval Armenian notational system open a door to understanding and interpreting the liturgical chants (Шаракан) of the period. His book Modern Neumology (2003) summarizes his forty years of research in the field. Several dozen neumatic symbols have now been revealed, defined, categorized and interpreted as a result of his work.

He also conducted extensive research into the theory of Armenian music from the pagan era to the church music of the 8th Century A.D. In his defining book entitled ‘Theory of Music in Ancient Armenia’ (published in Armenia, 1977, in Russian) he interpreted and classified the modal system used during this period. He also analyzed the metric and rhythmic constructs and their formational significance. He explained the uniqueness of the Armenian oktoechos and shed light upon the conceptual and aesthetical issues of the medieval music of Armenia.

This notation has been used till our days, and it is being taught at the Yerevan State Conservatory, Gevorgian Seminary, and other musical establishments.

Thousands of sharakans, chants, melodies and the Armenian Mass have reached us in the form of this notation.

More information on this subject you can find in this book


From → Uncategorized

  1. I wish to read even more things about it!|

    • I posted sources, u can read the books on line, besides, search for khaz- ancient Armenian notation !!! Of course, it has pre-christian roots

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  1. The Healing Sound of Komitas Music | narinnamkn

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