The pitch for Alternative Notations Research

There has been and there still are audiences that are receptive to an easier way to read music.  The two important examples that demonstrate this are Klavarskribo (AKA Klavar) and Synthesia

The Klavar project has been around now for almost a century.  It began by selling correspondence courses and paper sheet music by mail.  Today it has a huge catalog of scores available for sale in PDF format on their website.  Their catalog includes scores for all musician skill levels, which demonstrates that there are longtime players (and from their Facebook group I know there are lifelong players).  But even though there exists this large inventory of Klavar sheet music, the project recognizes the importance of technology and so now it also offers an app to display virtual sheet music on electronic devices (currently only available on Windows however).  App users can enter and edit their own scores or they can convert MusicXML and MIDI files obtained from other internet music sources.  In addition, the Klavar user community communicates via two Facebook groups.  Thus, it would appear this Alternative Notation continues to have an active audience and one that uses social media to support the user community.


Another example of musicians wanting a simpler way to read music is Synthesia.  While Synthesia is not sheet music notation, it does work like an animated Klavar.  The most important lessons taught by Synthesia for this conversation are:


Today on YouTube, there is an enormous list of pieces of music as well as instruction on learning to play the piano with Synthesia. The YouTube view counts are often in the range of tens of thousands to millions.  (Admittedly, it’s likely that a lot of these views are a result of people who are just mesmerized by the falling bombs and aren’t using them to play the keyboard.)   

But does Synthesia replace the need for an easy-to-read Alternative Notation?  I don’t think so because it is tied too closely to the app and an electronic keyboard.  Thus, it only addresses keyboard instruments and does not provide a universal solution for all instruments.  And if one uses it just to memorize individual tunes from YouTube videos, it really does remove any to connection to music theory.  Having said that, there are surely those who are happy with this capability to learn to play a tune quickly.  However, more “serious” musicians may prefer to stick with a more conventional notational approach.  (I’m trying to imagine a concert at Carnegie Hall where the pianist has Snythesia on the music stand.)

My philosophy is that the goal of research should not be to find the "best" replacement for Traditional Notation. Because I believe that there is not a “one size fits all” solution. Advanced musicians, composers, and musicologists may prefer the more analytic format of chromatic designs (as shown here).  At the opposite end of the skill spectrum are beginners who may prefer more graphic and visually intuitive designs and tablatures like Klavarskribo. There is no reason why a player should not be able to select a notation that suits the score, the genre, and the player's skill level.   

There are lots of candidate Alternative Notations that make reading music easier, but the only fully developed one that is ready for use today is Klavar.  And I suspect Klavar is not for everyone's taste. So the sooner new ones can be implemented the better.  I predict that younger musicians who have grown up with technology and are open to non-traditional approaches are going to start adopting them as soon as they are aware of them.  Thus, the time is right for Alternative Notation research and development.  Music instructors who themselves have invested their music careers on Traditional Notation need to be convinced of the value of these notations before they will ever use them.  Otherwise, they are likely to view Traditional Notation as sacrosanct and new notations and techniques as just fads and gimmicks.

So doing research on Alternative Notations and perhaps even helping to guide their direction (more on this in the "top-down path" topic later) is a way of being in the forefront of a movement to revolutionize music instruction.  This movement opens up the world of music to a wider audience with fewer dropouts which then leads to lifelong playing and enjoyment.