User’s Guide, Chapter 13: More Music21Object Attributes and Properties

At this point you know how to find a Music21Object, how to name them and group them (with .id and .groups) and how to position them in Streams (with .offset, .priority, .classSortOrder and the .activeSite). This section gets first into some more advanced things that Music21Objects have, then some more fun things.

Sites and the storing of elements

All Music21Objects (i.e., elements) have a .sites property which is a Sites object which holds information about all the places the Music21Object is stored in. At its simplest, it’s something that can be iterated over:

from music21 import *

n = note.Note()
s1 = stream.Stream(id='s1')
s2 = stream.Stream(id='s2')
s1.insert(10, n)
s2.insert(20, n)

for s in n.sites:
    print(s, s.elementOffset(n))
 < s1> 10.0
 < s2> 20.0

Note that the order of the Streams in .sites is guaranteed to be the order in which the note was inserted into the site.

There’s a lot more that .sites can do, but primarily for developers. We will get back to sites later.


We will talk about derivations more in a future chapter, but we alluded to them in the Example in chapter 10, so let’s say a few words about this advanced feature. A Derivation object is a pointer to an object that this object is derived from in some way. They’ve gone their separate ways to an extent, but may want to talk to each other later. A Music21Object starts out with no useful Derivation:

c = note.Note('C4')
 <Derivation of <music21.note.Note C> from None>

But we can create new notes from it and they’re not totally connected, but show their connection through .derivation:

f = c.transpose('P4')
 <music21.note.Note F>
 <Derivation of <music21.note.Note F> from <music21.note.Note C> via 'transpose'>

Now c has a life of its own from f. We can add a sharp to C and the transpose relationship of F to C does not affect it:

c.pitch.accidental = pitch.Accidental('sharp')
(c, f)
 (<music21.note.Note C#>, <music21.note.Note F>)

But if f wants to do something to c, it can by changing itself and every element of its .derivation.chain():

f.notehead = 'diamond'
for n in f.derivation.chain():
    n.notehead = 'diamond'

(f.notehead, c.notehead)
 ('diamond', 'diamond')

While f can search upwards in its .derivation.chain() and find c, c cannot find f in its derivation; it is a connection that is designed to be one-way only.

Setting derivations can be done manually, but it’s an advanced enough topic that we will get to it later.

Context attributes

Several attributes of Music21Objects only work after the object has been placed inside a Stream that has certain features of their own.

An easy one to understand is .measureNumber which finds the .number value of the measure that an object is placed in:

n = note.Note('C')
m = stream.Measure()
m.number = 7

This works even if a note is inside a voice inside a measure:

v = stream.Voice()
n2 = note.Note('D')
m.insert(0, v)

Without a context, you’ll get None

n3 = note.Note()
n3.measureNumber is None

The second context attribute is, appropriately, called .seconds. It requires a tempo.MetronomeMark() to be placed into the Stream before the object and will calculate how many seconds the object (note, etc.) lasts at that tempo:

m.insert(0, tempo.MetronomeMark('Allegro', 120))
print (n.quarterLength, n.seconds)
 1.0 0.5

Unlike .measureNumber and the rest of the attributes we will see below, you can change .seconds to reflect exact timing you might have from audio or MIDI data.

n.seconds = 0.6

An object with no tempo information in its surrounding context returns the special nan meaning “not a number” for .seconds

n3 = note.Note('E')

So use math.isnan() to catch this:

from math import isnan

for el in (n, n2, n3):
    seconds = el.seconds
    if isnan(seconds):
        seconds = 'No information'
    print(el.step, seconds)
 C 0.6
 D 0.5
 E No information

The last three context attributes, .beat, .beatStr (beat string), and .beatStrength, all require TimeSignature contexts or they return nan or “nan”. Since they’re the topic of our next chapter we’ll put them off until then.

Most Music21Objects such as Notes have many additional attributes, but these are all the ones that are common to every object that can go in a Stream (after all, what would .step mean for a MetronomeMark?)


You may find other attributes on your base.Music21Object, especially if you are running an older version of music21. They are all deprecated most have been removed in recent versions; programmers are advised to stick to the safe list of attributes described here.

Before v6.2, .seconds without a TimeSignature in contexts raised an exception.

Methods on Music21Objects

Attributes and properties are aspects of an object that are lightweight and have no configuration options, so they are accessed without (). Methods tend to do more work and have more options, so they will always be called with () signs.

Unlike attributes, where we have documented all of them, only a subset of the methods on Music21Objects are listed below. All of them can be found in the documentation to Music21Object, but many of them have obscure uses and might be moved later to not clutter up what is really important! And those are…

.getOffsetBySite and .setOffsetBySite

These methods work as the .offset attribute but can work on any site where the object is a part of.

n = note.Note()
s1 = stream.Stream(id='s1')
s1.insert(10, n)
s2 = stream.Stream(id='s2')
s2.insert(20, n)
n.setOffsetBySite(s1, 15.0)

There is one extra possible attribute on .getOffsetBySite, “returnSpecial=True” which will say whether or not an element has a shifting offset. Right barlines have one:

s3 = stream.Measure()
n3 = note.Note(type='whole')
rb = bar.Barline()
s3.rightBarline = rb
rb.getOffsetBySite(s3, returnSpecial=True)

And in fact if we change the duration of n3 the position of the barline will shift along with it:

n3.duration.type = 'half'


This is an extremely powerful tool – you might not use it often, but be assured that music21 is using it on your behalf all the time when sophisticated analysis is involved. It finds the active element matching a certain class preceeding the element. Let me demonstrate:

bach = corpus.parse('bwv66.6')
lastNote = bach.recurse().getElementsByClass(note.Note).last()
 <music21.note.Note F#>

What part is it in?

 < Bass>

What was the Key at that moment?

 <music21.key.Key of f# minor>

What is the TimeSignature at that moment?

 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 4/4>

Why is this such a sophisticated method? It knows about the differences in different types of Streams. If the key signature changes in a different part then it doesn’t affect the notes of the current part, but if it changes in a previous measure in the same part, then that matters. Furthermore, the caching mechanism via something called Timespans is amazingly fast, so that running through an entire score getting the context for each object doesn’t take long at all.

We demonstrate here on an early 15th-century Mass piece that uses four different time singatures:

gloria = corpus.parse('luca/gloria')
soprano =[0]

lastTimeSignature = None
for n in soprano.recurse().getElementsByClass(note.Note):
    thisTimeSignature = n.getContextByClass(meter.TimeSignature)
    if thisTimeSignature is not lastTimeSignature:
        lastTimeSignature = thisTimeSignature
        print(thisTimeSignature, n.measureNumber)
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 1
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 2/4> 28
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 80
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 3/4> 110

As you might expect, the .measureNumber routine uses .getContextByClass(stream.Measure) internally. What is also interesting is that .getContextByClass is smart enough to search out derivation chains to find what it is looking for. For instance, this flat stream has only notes, no time signatures. But it can still find each note’s time signature and measure number context.

Here we will use the string ('TimeSignature') form of getContextByClass instead of the class name (meter.TimeSignature)

lastTimeSignature = None
for n in soprano.flatten().notes:
    thisTimeSignature = n.getContextByClass('TimeSignature')
    if thisTimeSignature is not lastTimeSignature:
        lastTimeSignature = thisTimeSignature
        print(thisTimeSignature, n.measureNumber)
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 1
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 2/4> 28
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 80
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 3/4> 110

Internally .getContextByClass uses another Music21Object method called .contextSites() which is a generator that tells the system where to search next:

for cs in lastNote.contextSites():
 ContextTuple(site=< 9 offset=33.0>, offset=2.0, recurseType=<RecursionType.ELEMENTS_FIRST>)
 ContextTuple(site=< Bass>, offset=35.0, recurseType=<RecursionType.FLATTEN>)
 ContextTuple(site=< bach/bwv66.6.mxl>, offset=35.0, recurseType=<RecursionType.ELEMENTS_ONLY>)

.contextSites returns a “ContextTuple” which is a lightweight namedtuple that has three attributes, site, offset, and recurseType.

The first ContextTuple says that first the elements of site: Measure 9 should be searched, beginning at offset 2.0 and (because recurseType is RecursionType.ELEMENTS_FIRST) working backwards to the beginning of the measure, then if the matching context isn’t found, the measure will be flattened (in case there are other voices in the measure) and anything from before offset 2.0 of that flattened stream will be searched.

If that fails, then the Bass part as a whole will be searched, with all elements flattened, beginning at offset 35 and working backwards. That way if the context is in another measure it will be found.

Then if that fails, it will look at the score as a whole, beginning at offset 35 and working backwards, but only looking at things that are at the score level, not looking at elements within other parts. There may be scores where for instance, expressive markings appear at the Score level. This will find them.

Related to .getContextByClass() is .getAllContextsByClass() which is a generator that returns each preceeding context.


Two known bugs that we hope to get fixed soon: if there are two or more contexts at the same offset, .getAllContextsByClass() will skip over all but one of them. Using Music21Object as a class list can create infinite loops.

lastGloriaNote = soprano.recurse().notes.last()

for ts in lastGloriaNote.getAllContextsByClass(meter.TimeSignature):
    print(ts, ts.measureNumber)
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 3/4> 110
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 80
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 2/4> 28
 <music21.meter.TimeSignature 6/8> 1

Similar to .getContextByClass() are the .next(class) and .previous(class) methods which move to the next or previous element of the same class at the same (or a higher) hierarchical level. They’re designed to be really easy to use, but so far, I’ve failed at achieving that. Hopefully in the next few versions I’ll be able to demonstrate in practice how these commands were designed to work. For now, I’d suggest avoiding them.

Splitting methods

Music21 has three methods on Music21Objects for splitting them. Eventually the plan is to unite them into a single .split() method, but we’re not there yet.

The three methods are:

  • .splitAtQuarterLength – splits an object into two objects at the given quarter length

  • .splitByQuarterLengths – splits an object into two or more objects according to a list of quarter lengths

  • .splitAtDurations – takes an object with a complex duration (such as 5.0 quarters) and splits it into notatable units.

These all work rather similarly. Behind their seeming simplicity are a host of complex musical decisions that are being made. Take this rather complex note (we’re introducing expressions and articulations softly here, so that you don’t need to wait for Chapter 32 to encounter them):

n = note.Note('C#5')
n.duration.type = 'whole'
n.articulations = [articulations.Staccato(), articulations.Accent()]
n.lyric = 'hi!'
n.expressions = [expressions.Mordent(), expressions.Trill(), expressions.Fermata()]

Now let’s split this note just before beat 4:

splitTuple = n.splitAtQuarterLength(3.0)
s = stream.Stream()

Notice the choices that music21 made – the two notes are tied, the lyrics are sung at the beginning, the accent and mordent appear at the beginning of the note while the staccato and fermata(!) appear on the second note, while trill mark gets put onto the first note only. This is part of the “batteries included” music21 approach – try to do something musically smart in most cases. In fact, it’s even a bit smarter – the splitTuple knows that there’s something called a TrillExtension spanner in it which should be put into the Stream:

 [<music21.expressions.TrillExtension <music21.note.Note C#><music21.note.Note C#>>]
for thisSpanner in splitTuple.spannerList:
    s.insert(0, thisSpanner)

Showing and Writing

The two last methods are almost certainly the most important: .show() and .write(). We’ve been using .show() throughout the User’s Guide, so it’s familiar. It usually takes a single argument which is the format (default is 'musicxml' except on IPython where it is 'musicxml.png'. .write() by contrast writes out the file to disk. The first argument is again the format. The second argument, optional, is the filename with path. If omitted then a temporary file is written (and the filename is returned).

We’ll see enough about .show() and .write() later, so that’s enough for now on this long chapter. Let’s return to the .beat related function in Chapter 14, Time Signatures.