Animated Sheet Music by Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen takes existing sheet music and animates it to the songs. The concept bears out the cliche that the best ideas are often the simplest. Not only does animating music in this manner hold great potential as an educational tool, it also helps the listener–musically-inclined or otherwise–to appreciate the artistry of musicians. The best thing that Cohen does is to display each individual note as it is played, which really allows the listener to visualize the melodies and rhythms of a composition. It’s an especially striking effect for some of the songs, like Charlie Parker’s “Bloomdido.”

Oh, and because someone will inevitably mention High Note, yes, it’s true that Chuck Jones once made an animated short that used sheet music as a setting, and frankly it’s not nearly as interesting or entertaining as the musical visualizations that Dan Cohen has created.

(via Kottke)


  • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    Amid, are you just baiting us to create another controversy or do you really feel this boring, repetitive, unimaginative piece is better than Jones’ work of genius?

    • Conor

      Chuck Jones had several works of genius, but I wouldn’t call “High Note” one of them. The idea of animating musical notes offers a lot of opportunity for characterizing and animating music, and Jones pretty much ignored all that potential in favor of characterizing the notation itself, with the result being some of the least expressive characters he’s ever animated, all for the sake of a single gag stretched out over six minutes.

      “High Note” is an interesting idea that never really goes anywhere. This piece does an excellent job of visually conveying the feel of the music in the simplest way possible.

  • Jonah

    I love it, but not because it’s “entertaining”. It’s more of an appreciation kind of thing.

    But when I watch High Note, I’m entertained. Both are interesting, but I don’t really think you can compare the two.

  • Joe March

    That’s AMAZING ! I wish he’d do that with the Theme from “FAMILY GUY”.

  • Caresse

    So I’m guessing you never heard of Guitar Pro or Tab Tool Kit (just to name two of the many programs) that have been helping musicians for years already. Not only do they contain tabs, but also sheet music that plays along with midi versions of the song, perfect for on-the-train studying. You can turn off other tracks, stripping the music down to the relevant instrument and even slow down the tempo to examine the rhythm closer.

    • amid

      As far as I know, those programs show a cursor/line moving over a static piece of sheet music. None of them animate the music by showing individual notes appear onscreen as they are played. The effect is completely different: one is a mundane technical representation and another uses the power of animation to enliven musical notation.

      • Caresse

        Why don’t you check out Tab Tool Kit? It’s actually not static, the sheet moves with the music to the beat. Mundane or not I’ve learnt lots of songs using it. And having one note at a time is actually not the best way to learn, you need to know what’s ahead and after to successfully string together the melody; without it is like driving a car without peripheral vision.

        So is what he made cool? Sure. Innovative educational tool? Not really.

      • David Cuny

        In addition to a moving cursor, most music notation programs also highlight the note(s) currently being played by changing the color, so it’s not as ‘static’ as you suggest.

        They can also change between a ‘page layout’ view and a ‘scroll’ view which is very much like what Dan’s done here.

        The main difference is that Dan’s chosen not to present the upcoming notes, so they are presented as they are played. This represents the music as heard by the listener, where each new note is (to some extent) a surprise.

        But that’s not a musician’s perspective. The performers have already been through the music, and learned how the notes are connected together into phrases. What’s important for them isn’t playing the notes by themselves, but how they relate to each other, and present them in a coherent form. In order to do this, a musician needs to know where each note is leading, not where it’s been. That’s the opposite of what Dan’s shown.

        What I found most striking about the presentation was how much in the interpretation was absent from the notation, and how the very ‘straight’ notation clashed with the jazzy triplet feeling Miles gave the music.

      • nss

        “…This represents the music as heard by the listener, where each new note is (to some extent) a surprise. But that’s not a musician’s perspective…”

        I disagree. This is jazz. The solos are improvised. Even to the musician, it’s a bit of a surprise as it comes out on the spot.

        “What I found most striking about the presentation was how much in the interpretation was absent from the notation, and how the very ’straight’ notation clashed with the jazzy triplet feeling Miles gave the music.”

        That’s pretty basic jazz. Two half-notes written are generally played as a long-short triplet. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swung_note#Swung_note)

  • Mike

    I can appreciate that this helps to punctuate the rhythm and musicality of the piece, but I agree that it was mundane and repetitive–not exactly what I’d call clever or interesting animation, which is what I come to this site for.

  • http://www.dancohenwastaken.com Dan Cohen

    Thanks guys! I’m really glad you like it/honored to inspire such vitriol.

  • http://MrFun'sBlog Floyd Norman

    Actually, I enjoyed this. My music instructor, Henry Brubeck (brother of the famous, Dave) used to make his students sight read. I really got into this and began music sight reading again.

    I don’t know if you’d call this brilliant animation, but it sure brought sweet memories for this old frustrated jazz musician.

  • http://www.bigfott.com Galen

    I’m curious about the technique…I suppose you can print the music both with and without the notes, and then just mask away one to reveal the other? Must be extremely tedious, but it was executed quite precisely.

  • Sunday

    I was always partial to this well executed little spot. http://youtu.be/7AUVkyBlL44

  • The Gee

    I can only one reason I’d seek to be entertained by a music notation software program.
    I doubt I’d bother though.

    As it goes, it is a great song and it is interesting to see this. But, not for the length of the song.

    Here’s the one he did for Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kotK9FNEYU

    This one is more interesting to watch, from the opening forward.

    I applaud the effort. But, it would be cool to see more to these but after a while it would all likely seem like the same stuff, regardless of how great the music is.

    Like Amid has, others have mentioned the educational possibilities of this. In their defense, I’ll state this:
    use your imagination and don’t limit what you “see” to moving notes on sheet music.
    There’s possible uses that go way beyond the Follow the Bouncing Ball aspect of Cohen’s pieces.

  • http://[email protected] Oscar Grillo

    Not ifs, whys or becauses…Absolutely wonderful!

  • http://www.taberanimation.com Taber Dunipace

    I’m seriously confused. I love Brubeck but this is just sheet music moving along with notes being played… where exactly is the visual interest?

    I’ll agree that this presentation makes it easier to envision each instrumental component of the song (just like Guitar Hero does) but I think plainly showing the sheet music is missing a big opportunity to create an interesting stylistic visual experience. The kind of experience created in Ratatouille’s food tasting sequences or Michel Gagne’s Sensology.

  • Brian

    I like Miles Davis.

  • Michael

    but how is it done? Which program offers this feature to animate music?

  • Skid Marx

    Are you joking? You not only mention the classic High Note, you have the nerve to suggest this vomiting out of notes superior to High Note? This animation is fine on it’s own, perhaps, but not in the same league by any stretch of the imagination!