A new system for reading music

Every Good Boy Deserves Failure.   And All Cows End Gorily - or is it Eat Grass? Generations of children have struggled over mnemonics designed to help them translate five black lines and a series of dots into music. Some accomplish this feat; some - like me - remember little except these disjointed sentences. But that could soon be history, according to a charity that's introducing a music notation system to the UK from Finland that is accessible enough for the youngest children to understand. "A revolution in music education is under way," says Brian Cope, of Drake Music Scotland.

The system, Figurenotes, was developed by Resinaari Music School in Helsinki, which teaches children and adults with learning difficulties. “We have always believed that adults and children with learning difficulties were capable of learning music, but we didn’t understand how to teach them,” says Cope. “The teachers at Resinaari have overcome disability. This system is so easy to understand and to use. Our youngest user is two and was taught by a four-year-old.”

In Figurenotes, every note has its own coloured shape. Middle C is a red circle, an octave above C is represented by a red triangle and below it is a red square. Two red circles, two black circles, two yellow circles and a black circle with a little tail says “Twinkle twinkle little star”. A three-stage process then takes the learner into conventional notation when they are ready for it.

Drake Music Scotland is waiting to hear if it has been awarded funding by the Arts Council Scotland for a project working in primary, secondary and special schools across Scotland using Figurenotes. After evaluation, Cope hopes that it will become standard in Scottish schools across the music curriculum. “I see this being used in music the way that phonics is used in reading. In a music class in first year you may have children who have studied notation since the age of four and others who have never encountered it. This system means that they can all learn to play together, working at different levels.”

According to Cope, including special needs children in mainstream school can pose particular problems for music departments. “You need physical ability to play the instruments and cognitive ability to read notation. It is not enough just to put the child in the classroom, you have to develop teaching methods that allow him or her to engage with the curriculum, and this does that. This is very exciting for us.”

The Guardian
Tuesday December 9, 2008