New Notation

My wife and I tried teaching ourselves the recorder — she tried the soprano, I tried the alto — in our late twenties. We tried teaching ourselves music notation at the same time. The next thing you knew I had obtained a “Real” book, the jazz fake book, and was trying to read Brubeck / Desmond stuff: Take Five, written in 5/4 time, with 7 flats! Or Monk stuff, similarly in Db, in Gb … Ridiculous. I was convinced from the start, as I’ve always been with so many things: There has to be a better way.

grand staff
pic credit: Susan Paradis

There’s the grand staff. The little line between the G clef and the F clef locates middle C.

It struck me that the grand staff is dandy if you’re playing in C, using the seven note major scale. And that’s what it was designed for, wasn’t it? Start adding accidentals, start making the rhythm notation complicated, and it’s Byzantine. It struck me, that each of the twelve tones should have a name, that each should have an unambiguous location on a staff, that duration should have a separate clear set of symbols … Music could be written without regard to key.
Transposition would be easy, just slide the notation up or down the staff: the 12 note system would be so many intervals away: for all notes!
Maybe I’ll scan my staff and show it as a graphic.

I now see things in my system that need addressing. (I see a sense in “keys” that I hadn’t then, for example.) I think though it’s pretty good considering I was just learning music in any notation! I didn’t push it for a simple reason: which I’ll express in two parts:
1) No one ever paid any attention whatsoever to it. Musicians would say, Oh, that’s different, and shut their eyes.
2) My old roommate, Tapley, told me that he had invented a simpler staff and notation: he submitted it to some music mag: they sent it back, telling him that they got a dozen new proposals a month, had been for decades. No one cares: all invest in the cranky old inefficient system. Shut up, and suffer with the rest of us.

I’ll be adding more comments and stories.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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