Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Hi everyone🙂

I’m only beginning to decipher the dots on the ladder and I keep stumbling upon the + and - signs beside notes. I haven’t come across it on this site but I’ve seen it pop up elsewhere and also on Seamus Egan’s CD Rom Flute Tutorial. The only thing I have managed to figure out is that the wave sign ~ means a roll, so I wonder do the plus and minus signs point to another form of ornamentation that is being suggested, perhaps a cut or something or should one hold the note longer or shorter? I just don’t know. Can anyone help decipher this mystery for a beginner?

Thank you🙂,


Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Some people used to use + to indicate accompanying chords: +Em+ but now the convention is to use double quotation marks: “Em”

Some people also use the + sign t o indicate an augmented chord.

The minus sign is used to tie (or slur) together two notes of the same pitch: |ABc-cde| Simply play the two c’s as one continuous note.

Hope this helps.

Posted .

Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Vanessa - are you talking about staff notation (‘the dots’) or alphabetical notation?

I don’t recall ever seeing these signs in staff notation. perhaps they are used to represent some techniques specific to the flute - perhaps bending notes up or down. I am reasonably well versed in reading and writing music, and I am sure these are not conventional musical symbols. Have a good read of Seamus Egan’s tutorial - he ought to give an explanation of any unconventional notation he uses.

Whoosis - the use of the ‘minus’ sign you refer to is a feature of ABC notation, but I’m not aware of it being used in this way in any other context.

Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Sorry for not having made myself clear, I was talking about staff notation (not abc format). Just to give you an example here’s a link to an example - hope I’m not doing anything wrong to place such a link:

Can you see for example in the fifth bar the first high ‘e’ has a minus sign, then the high ‘d’ has another minus sign and the sixth bar starts with a high ‘e’ that has a plus sign beside it.

Seamus Egan uses those signs too but thus far I’ve looked and don’t seem to find an explanation:(.

It’s mystifying really.

Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

LOL, I do see the little plus. But all of those marks are meant to be just dots, adding length to the notes.

A dotted quarter note is equal to three eighth notes in length.
Similarly, a dotted eighth note equals three sixteenth notes. Some tunes (notably polkas, hornpipes, and strathspeys) are commonly played in a “dotted” rhythm, and the dots show which notes get lengthened, while a short bar added to a note shortens it the equivalent amount.

For example, eighth notes played straight would sound like DAH DAH DAH DAH.
Dotted eighths followed by sixteenths sounds like DAAH-di DAAH-di DAAH-di DAAH-di.

Clear as mud?

I don’t know why the dots show up as - and + signs.

Posted .

Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Vanessa, I’m looking at the file on screen as I’m writing this on a word processor. I think that if you’re seeing the “minus signs” and “plus signs” on screen then what you’re seeing is no more than a visual artefact produced by the screen technology on your computer monitor. To me, those signs after the high ‘e’s and ’d’s are nothing more than the standard dot in staff notation that indicates that the note it follows is to be increased in length by 50%. On a monitor screen such a small dot, if it is the right location, could well appear as a minus sign or a plus sign, due to the lay-out of the pixels on the screen (the “screen technology” I referred to).
That what I believe you are seeing is indeed the standard staff notation dot is also confirmed by reference to the ABC of the tune, where the dotted rhythm in the 5th bar is shown in standard ABC notation by |e>f d>f|, and in the 6th bar by |e3 B|.
The only time I’ve come across a plus sign in music is in the fingering in old piano scores where the plus sign “+” over a note was used to indicate that it was to be played with the thumb, and 1-4 were used for the remaining digits of the hand. Today, we’re more logical and use 1-5 for piano fingering. The minus sign “-” over a note is used quite a lot in classical music to indicate that the note is to played with its full length (a form of emphasis, or to help with smooth phrasing). A small “x” preceding a note is used to mean a double sharp “##”, and you’re unlikely to come across this in Irish music or most other folk music.

Re: Question on + and - signs in written ITM music notation

Ah! Will and I have cross-posted!

Pixelated ~

Ditto ~ no artifacts show on our system here. As the lads have said, your seeing spots. They are just there to show the swing of it… ‘dotted’ notes…

But, despite the physical meaning, robbing half of the note that follows, making it a sixteenth/semi-quaver, in order to increase the one previous, the one the little thing follows closely ~ when actually playing these, to add a little bit to the above coment, hopefully clarifying ~ a ‘dotted’ 8th/quaver followed by a sixteenth/semi-quaver, as has been said, sounds like:

Daah-di Daah-di ~ etc…

That letter count is a good representation of what actually tends to be played division wise ~ how the beat is divided, in thirds rather than the suggested quarters, or:

2/3 of the beat for the dotted note, and 1/3 for the sixteenth, rather than taking it literally as 3/4 and 1/4 as the notation literally specifies…

This is the ‘swing’ of hornpipes and that family, as they are played by those that choose to swing them. It also is the reason why triplets are so prevalent in those tunes, the division of the beat into three, so lots of, (3ABc, triplet possibilities. It also accounts for those poor folks that write it as they hear it and transcribe swung tunes as being in treble time, such as writing our a swung 4/4 hornpipe as 12/8, or a swung 2/4 march or polka as 6/8. Instead of writing something like
4/4 ~ | D>FD>A (3Bcd (3fgf | (the usual convention…)
it sometimes becomes
12/8 ~ | D2 F D2 F Bcd fgf |

But, I suspect you already know this. Anyway, the lads here have solved your mystery, they are really just dots, one showing on your system as a rectangle, two squares stuck together horizontally, and the other as a cross, one square with appenages to the left and right and up and down, five squares in all ~ damn pixels….

Now you and I can sleep. It did have me puzzled… Thanks for the link to clarify…

.._. ._ .. _ ….!!!

Hey, just had a quick read of your ‘details’… Most of us like the German accent… Don’t disown yourself. Also, don’t hesitate to take lessons on your lovely new black flute. That’s what lessons are for. Having taught, it is a hell of a lot more work to undo bad practices than it is to help a beginner to develop from scratch. For any teacher I know, the latter is the preference, and even to teaching some smart ass who thinks they already know it all and just want to learn multi-part monstrosities and dizzying acrobatics.

So, don’t be shy, you will be amazed at how appreciated you’ll be in any class you take, group or individual. Before long you’ll be helping someone else to confidence and the joy of making this music and sharing it. So, go find a teacher, a class, check your local Comhaltas branch. That black flute must have found its way to you for a reason… Let that relationship grow. About the accent, I like all the different German accents I’ve heard, and I suspect your’s will be even more distinct having mixed it in with some of the Irish from around your home… Back to the music, some of the happiest musicians I know started late. Some of the most miserable started as sprats… I’d rather the joy in the music than technical acrobatics and a nasty competitive edge…

Pixelated ~

Sorry, still pixilated, and it is very late and I’m suffering from pollen too.

Your ‘details’ strike my heart. It is possible your problem with the upper octaves is just a matter of adjusting the headjoint of your flute, something an experienced flute teacher can help you with. But even if it is embochure, they can speed you along there. ‘Beginners’ are a blessing, not a damnation, but some teachers are more patient than others. Find yourself a nice patient one. It is good to learn that in your playing too, the best safety against future RSI… A tense and impatient teacher passes those aspects on to their students too… But there are a load of fine practicioners in Eire, you are in the heart of that rich vein of talent.

Also, for the heart, the blood flow and the muscle of the music, and a teacher will help you there too, the ‘dots’ SUCK! They should never be the first avenue of learning, they are only a clumsy tool, best left to those who have first developed the ear. They can become tyrannical too, and no one should suffer musical notation addiction. So, best avoided, please, please, find that teacher, find several, meet them and choose someone you like, and I promise you, they will work your ears for you so the dots will eventually make more sense…but in the main, the music and your instrument will make more sense, and you will more quickly gain intimacy with both…

Best of luck ~ ‘c’

What county are you in?

This may call for another ‘discussion’, but if you give us the county you are in I’m sure we can drum up a list of flute teachers for you… Please consider that option…


You are in Cork, well, there’s no shortage. Consider opening another discussion, but if others are clued in, they can start adding recommendations here… Actually, I’ve nothing better to do at the moment, except sneeze… So, for you…