Music notation reform

Tonight I read this article, by James Wierzbicki, about the Music Notation Modernization Association (MNMA). It eloquently reviews several common reasons that some people wish to update/reform/replace (or simply add alternatives to) traditional music notation. It includes mention of Klavarskribo. It also reviews the 1000-year-old history in which music notation evolved in ad hoc ways, leading to the complex, baroque notation that we have today. I was totally with him until I reached the last several paragraphs, in which he accuses reformers of being naive and also claims that new notation systems, “while they correct a particular problem or two, at the same time…create a thousand more problems that their champions apparently find unimportant.”

Up until that point, the article seemed to be leading to the conclusion that alternative notations should be welcome, given all the trouble that beginners and advanced musicians alike have had with traditional notation. So his conclusion caught me off guard. And it underscores why I’m not interested in trying to shove Klavarskribo or a Klavarskribo video game down the throats of music teachers. Even when the problems with traditional notation are acknowledged and the logic behind new notation proposals is clearly understood, the conclusion is often to dismiss, ignore, or even decry such proposals as naive, dangerous, etc.

His last paragraph summarizes his position well:

Speaking for the establishment, I think our opposition to sweeping reforms is quite innocent. Most of us, because we have spent our lives with traditional music notation and because we are aware not just of its limitations but of its possibilities, are satisfied with the status quo. The existing means of notating music is not perfect, and we know this. Still, Guido’s system ain’t exactly broke, so why fix it?

I’m not concerned with throwing away 1000 years of notation history. I’m just interested in promoting an alternative which would allow a greater number and variety of people to make music from reading a score without having to first study theory (which is what traditional notation effectively requires). You won’t have to be part of the “establishment” to start reading music. And the establishment won’t have to worry about you either, since you’re not reforming anything. You’re just playing the piano. Peaceful coexistence is possible.

That’s what I’m choosing to pay attention to for now: enabling people to have fun, play another engaging rhythm game, and learn some piano in the process. If this leads to music education reform, then it won’t be because that’s what I set out to do. It will be because people demand it, having experienced another way.

Leave a Comment