Klavarskribo  - a case study

Given several centuries of clever proposals, why is it that none have caught on?  Well actually, one did, at least in one geographic region.  It’s called Klavarskribo and it solves all three challenges of Traditional Notation.  In addition, it is the only Alternative Notation to be adopted by a wide audience.  So let’s take a deeper look to understand how and why it achieved its success.


From Wikipedia:

“Klavarskribo (sometimes shortened to Klavar) is a music notation system that was introduced in 1931 by the Dutchman Cornelis Pot (1885–1977) [nl]. The name means "keyboard writing" in Esperanto. It differs from conventional music notation in a number of ways and is intended to be easily readable.”  

Klavar solves the three main issues with Traditional notation.  Its staff lines represent the black keys of the keyboard and the spaces in between represent the white keys.  Thus, like the keyboard, every octave is consistent.  Since there are staff positions to explicitly define all twelve degrees of the chromatic scale, there is no need for key signatures to implicitly define sharps and flats.  In stark contrast to Traditional Notation’s horizontal timeline, the Klavar time dimension is vertical.  This permits the sheet music page on the piano stand to line up visually with the keyboard.  Each element of the design is intuitive and easy to read.

The history of Klavar summarized herein is based on Wikipedia and a two-part documentary on YouTube (see weblinks at bottom of this page).  It is a fascinating story of the dedication of Cornelis Pot that led to its success in the Netherlands.  The documentary also provides a nice summary of the history of sheet music notation. 

For Cornelis Pot, getting Klavar into the music mainstream was a lifelong project and dream.  Being a wealthy industrialist in the Netherlands, he had the financial means to fund a project staff to develop correspondence courses to teach students how to play keyboard instruments with Klavar.  The project also set up a printing facility to produce a large Klavar inventory of piano and organ sheet music for sale via the public mail system.

To promote his inventions, he invited the “press” to his facility to view demonstrations of the notation as well various mechanical devices he designed to record and play it back.  He also sponsored concerts by musicians using his sheet music to advertise is efficacy.

Over time, the notation became popular and eventually the Netherlands public schools incorporated it into their musical education curricula.  This established Klavar in the mainstream world of music in the Netherlands.  By the 1970s there were tens of thousands of users throughout Northern Europe.

Today, almost a century since Klavar notation was designed, there are still many users of it as reflected by their project’s active website and Facebook groups.  And one can still purchase sheet music on the website in PDF format. However, Klavar has not reached a significant worldwide audience.   Perhaps had the internet been available during Mr. Pot’s lifetime, it might have more widely spread.  On the other hand, a vertical timeline (as well as other design elements) may be just too radical for most traditional music schools and instructors to accept.  In addition, its focus on keyboards may make it less attractive to players of other instruments (even though it would still simplify note identification, just without the mapping to the instrument).

In any case, the story of Klavar does illustrate the means by which a dedicated and wealthy promotor can overcome the traditional barriers to get a notation into the mainstream.  In addition, this case study demonstrates that there are three essential elements for a new notation to succeed:


Web links

Klavarskribo Documentary – Part 1 (1974)

Klavarskribo Documentary - Part 2 (1974)

Klavarskribo history page on the Klavarskribo website