Plaine & Easie Code

The Plaine & Easie Code is a library standard that enables entering music incipits in modern or mensural notation.

This version of the code is maintained by the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) and the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) for use as an exchange format in the library environment. Observations or queries may be addressed to Massimo Gentili-Tedeschi or Balázs Mikusi.

Last update to the code: 28 June 2019 Also available in PDF format.

Adapted from the RISM guidelines. Corresponds to UNIMARC 036 and MARC21 031 fields.

Music incipits help identify works and facilitate the comparison of historical musical sources.

Which music incipits to enter depends on the kind of music. Best practice for instrumental music is to enter incipits for the violin or the highest part. For vocal music, enter the highest voice plus the first violin or the highest instrumental part.
The incipit should be neither too long nor too short, and make as much musical sense as possible. It should contain at least 3 bars or 10 non-repeated notes.

The code should be written on a single line. When using MARC-format subfields, omit the special characters that precede the encoded notes.

1. Clef

UNIMARC field 036 $m — MARC21 field 031 $g

The clef code is preceded by '%' and is three characters long.
The first character specifies the clef shape.


The second character is '-' to indicate modern notation or '+' to indicate mensural notation.
The third character (numerals 1-5) indicates the position of the clef on the staff, starting from the bottom line.
If the music is written for a transposing instrument, notate the incipit at sounding pitch.

G-2 G-clef on the second line: treble (violin) clef
g-2 G-clef in the bass octave: octave treble clef
C-3 C-clef on the third line: alto (viola) clef
C+3 C-clef on the third line: alto clef in mensural notation
F-4 F-clef on the fourth line: bass clef

2. Key signature

UNIMARC field 036 $n  MARC21 field 031 $n

Begin this field with the character '$'; if there are no sharps or flats in the key signature, the '$' is omitted.
The symbol 'x' indicates sharp keys and 'b' flat keys. The symbol is followed by the capital letters that indicate the altered notes.

$xFC F and C sharp [key is D major or B minor]
$bBEA B, E, A flat [key is E-flat major or C minor]

3. Time signature

UNIMARC field 036 $o  MARC21 field 031 $o

The time signature is preceded by '@' and indicates the time value or the mensuration sign of the incipit. If the incipit has no time signature, the '@' is omitted.
Fractional or numeric values are transcribed as fractions and mensuration signs are transcribed with a lowercase letter, if necessary followed by '/' or '.':

c (= common time)
c/ (= alla breve, ¢)
o. (= 'perfect' time)
3/4 4/4 (constant change between 3/4 and 4/4)

4. Musical notation

UNIMARC field 036 $p  MARC21 field 031 $p

The music incipit is transcribed in coded form. The beginning of the content in this field is preceded by a space.

The symbols in 4.1-4.3 should precede the notes (4.4) and should not be repeated until a different value occurs.

4.1. Octave symbol

Apostrophes are used for the octaves c' and above, while commas are used for the octaves c, and below.

' octave c'-b'
'' octave c''-b''
''' octave c'''-b'''
'''' octave c''''-b''''
, octave c,-b,
,, octave c,,-b,,
,,, octave c,,,-b,,,

4.2. Rhythmic values

0 longa
9 breve
1 whole note / semibreve /
2 half note / minim   /
4 quarter note / crotchet / semiminim   / 
8 eighth note / quaver / fusa /
6 16th note / semiquaver / semifusa /
3 32nd note / demisemiquaver
5 64th note / hemidemisemiquaver
7 128th note


Periods are used for dotted notes. Multiple periods can be added to a note.

4. dotted quarter-note  
8.. double-dotted eighth-note
7. neumatic notation  

4.3. Accidentals

x sharp
xx double sharp
b flat
bb double flat
n natural

4.4. Note names

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

4.5. Grace notes

g acciaccatura (without rhythmic value, precedes the note name)
q appoggiatura (with rhythmic value, precedes the note name)
qq...r double appoggiatura, slide, or multiple appoggiatura (with rhythmic value)

4.6. Rests

Rests for single notes are indicated by '-' (a minus sign).

- single-note rest (preceded by rhythmic value like note names)
= measure rest (followed by number of measures and a bar line)
8- eighth-note rest
2- half-note rest
= or =1 One measure rest
=35 35 measures rest

4.7. Bar (measure) lines

/ bar line
// double bar line
//: double bar line with repeat sign on the right
:// double bar line with repeat sign on the left
://: double bar line with repeat sign on the left and on the right

4.8. Other symbols

t trill (immediately follows the note)
+ tie (immediately follows the note; only for notes of the same pitch, not for slurs)
( ) fermata (include only one note or rest; accidentals or octave symbols must be outside the parentheses. See also "Special rhythmic groupings" below.)

4.9. Beaming

{ beginning of beaming
} end of beaming

4.10. Special rhythmic groupings

( beginning of special group
) end of special group

Before '(' you must indicate the total value of the group.
After '(' you must indicate the rhythmic value of the first note, even if it is equal to that of the group.
Before ')' you must indicate the number of notes of the group, preceded by ';'.

4('6DEFGA;5) Quintuplet, 5 16th notes, in the space of a quarter note
8({'3DEFGA};5) Quintuplet, 5 32nd notes, in the space of an eighth note, with beamed notes
The triplet is a special case; strictly speaking, it should be coded as follows:
8(6ABC;3) or 8({6ABC};3)
Instead, the following shortcut is permitted:
(6ABC) or ({6ABC})
The rhythmic value inside the parentheses is required.

4.11. Shortcuts

4.11.1 Repeated figures

! beginning and end of passage
f repetition indication of the notes that appear within !...!

The group will be repeated as many times as the 'f' appears after the second '!'. Repetition is possible only within the same measure.

!{'8ABAG}!ff repeat twice


4.11.2 Repeated measures

i repeat last measure

The symbol 'i' repeats the last measure. It must always be included within bar lines.

'4ABAG/i/i/ repeat measure twice


4.11.3 Rhythmic sequence

When the same rhythmic sequence is repeated, the sequence of rhythmic values can be stated once before the note names.

instead of {'8.A6B''8C}{8.D6E8F}
the code can be '8.68{AB''C}{DEF}

The rhythmic sequence ends when a new rhythmic value appears.

4.12. Change of clef, key signature, time signature

Use '%' to change the clef, '$' to change the key, and '@' to change the time signature. Follow this with the new indication (clef, key, or time), followed by a space.
The introductory characters are mandatory.

%C-1$bBEA@c'2A-//$xFC 8B-4-2-/@3/2 1C2-//

4.13. Abbreviations

Notation abbreviations, such as tremolo, slash, etc., must be written out in full using the actual notation.

{''8CCCC} tremolo on C =

4.14. Chords

Enter chords from the highest to the lowest note, each one separated by '^'.


5. Coded validity note

UNIMARC field 036 $r  MARC21 field 031 $s

A one-character coded validity note can be introduced by a '~' at the end of the code.

Accepted characters are:

? a mistake in the incipit has not been corrected
+ a mistake in the incipit has been corrected
t incipit has been transcribed into modern notation

These characters may be explained in a note (UNIMARC 036 $q — MARC21 031 $q).


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