disclaimer: i don't actually go around punching people in the face. in fact i cannot remember ever having done so since kindergarten, if even then.
i mean, not only is it painfully piano-centric, it's also completely and utterly fucked up. sure, it works great for one set of musical modes, but this totally cripples it for pretty much everything else. like my teacher in distributed computer systems once said, "if you're an expert of everything, you're an expert of nothing". (this pretty much sums up everything i remember from that course, but that's somewhat beside the point.)
what's the first thing you want to know when looking at a piece of sheet music? i honestly don't know. truth be told i never properly learned to read notes. sure, i understand the basic theory behind modern musical notation, and can count myself to what notes the little dots correspond to given a bit of time, but i still have to learn everything i play by heart. and apart from struggling a bit with "vi spelar piano" when i was eight what little knowledge i have of musical theory i've figured out myself with a bit of help from a comfy couch and any of an increasing number of guitars, and (to some extent) verified to be correct afterwards. thus, if i seem a bit off my tits at times or flagrantly abuse fundamental musical terms it's probably out of ignorance.
disclaimer: in other words, i don't know the first thing about what i'm talking about here.
anyways, i'll make an uneducated guess: key and mode. maybe this is overly biased from playing a sane instrument (where key and mode are largely independent of each other), but i bet i'm on to something here. otherwise, why'd they slap just that piece information onto all those symphonies? so, can you in any easy way find out key and mode from music expressed using modern musical notation? well, sortof...
getting the set of "valid" notes is as easy as looking at the key signatures. and if you also know your circle of fifths you can correlate the number of flats or sharps to a key-mode combination. (this is actually really cool, will have to ponder why this works some night when i cannot sleep.) but you still need to know either key or mode to know both. unless you're being a highly theoretical dick and claim that they're all the same ofc, in which case i guess you've won. no, really. now piss off, go bug someone else.
on the topic of accidentals... what the hell is the deal with the 'natural'? its purpose is to restore a note to it's natural state. this can be done for two reasons: the note was modified earlier on in the bar (because for some reason any modification by default lives throughout the bar - while sometimes convenient it's also completely bonkers), or the note is restored to its natural form from a modification in the key signatures. wtf, seriously? the absoluteness of modern musical notation override the mode - the heart of the fucking piece - and that's "natural"? give me a break.
i remember my music teacher telling me once, must've been in 8th grade, that you can tell what key a song is in by looking at its last note. this is awesome, but surely not ubiquitous. in fact, i'm certain - certain - that if this was the case always, frank zappa would've written a song for which it didn't hold. (seriously, he probably did.)
now, what's the deal with making the notes in modern musical notation absolute to an arbitrary clef that most of the time doesn't even relate to the key of the piece? don't look at me, i have no idea - not a fucking clue. i guess it would be sortof neat to make it C-major centric *if the notes were actually placed with C at some sort of start point* but it isn't - with the standard g clef it's left hanging 2 whole steps below the bottom-most staff line, or between the second and third stave line. logical? i think not.
if you think this is weird, imagine playing the trumpet. i did, for over a year when i was ten. with sheet music written in modern music notation. in order to allow his pupils to keep some fragment of sanity our teacher called the first note in the most commonly used major scale our trumpets produced a C though it wasn't. which - given the fucked-upness of modern musical notation - was probably a smart move.
apart from the position of the root being dependent of the key (because the notation is absolute to a mostly fixed clef), the size of the staff is more than just a little weird as well - right? it's got five lines and four spaces, which leaves room for nine notes. yes, that's two more than there are notes in a diatonic sequence. unless you count the octave of course - it'd be pretty neato to get it in there so as not to have notes altering between being on a line and a space between lines every other octave.
so what am i getting at? improved musical notation (TM), bitches. it's something i dreamed up about a week back. it started while i was awake, trying to convert 'the royal theme' (from 'gödel, escher, bach', which i'm currently reading with great interest) from a bunch of dots on lines into a melody on salma (my steel-string ibanez). in my sleep that night i managed to scrutinize the different approaches i had thought of while awake and came up with a solution that, while not perfect, surely makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than the above mess. that's right, there was a time when i was dreaming about naked women, now it's all musical notation baby.
so what's the difference? first off, the staff: the new and improved staff has four staff lines. first note in the mode of the tune is located on the bottom-most staff line. this means the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th are on lines while the 2nd, 4th and 6th are between - always. what about octaves then? a new staff is put above, or below. yes, this means two lines with no gap in-between - not perfect, but at least the position of the notes are the same even when breaching octaves.
second, accidentals: they're always explicit - nothing ever lingers - and show modifications from the *current mode*. this renders the 'natural' accidental useless. way to go!
what about key signatures? there aren't any. well-formed improved musical notation (TM) MUST provide the mode of the piece. the specification leaves the decision of how to do this up to the author, but recommends either stating it verbatim - eg "mixolydian" - or providing numbers with intervals in semitones - eg "(0) 2 2 1 2 2 1" (relative) or (0) 2 4 5 7 9 10 (absolute) - to the left of the first bar. if the author wants to stipulate a key that's also totally ok. authors are encouraged to specify either the frequency of the root (in Hz) or name the key. UAs are, however, free to ignore the key, as it is seen as a recommendation only. i can hear my trumpet teacher cheering already.
anyways, here's a rendering of 'the royal theme' in improved musical notation (TM). everything is rendered in opera using html, but i've moved some stuff around in gimp because i don't always see eye to eye with the box model. the font face used in this rendering is FreeSerif. it's GPL:d. as should be obvious to anyone this rendering is far from perfect. note, for example, how i'm using regular parenthesis instead of the proper notation for the tie between bars five and six. that's partly because FreeSerif doesn't contain the glyphs for tie start and end (or rather, the glyphs don't contain outlines), but it'd probably not have been possible to get good results using those glyphs anyways without some sort of musical notation-savvy text shaper. also note that the bar lines are made for five-line staffs and thus don't fit the four-line staff in the font. i don't see that there's a good workaround, and i couldn't be bothered to make a bad one.
disclaimer: i don't hold a trademark for the term improved musical notation. if someone else does: sorry, this is just a bit of fun, no offense.