toolkit 1

My Image

. . . learn the World's most widely understood music notation system in 10 weeks.

For nearly 4000 years we've used sets of dots and squiggles to represent sounds. As long as we agreed what the dots and squiggles meant, we could share and revive music that would otherwise have been forgotten.

But notation has been much more than a memory aid. It has made it possible to organise the large forms and intricate details of symphonies and operas, film scores, the string and brass arrangements in pop music, the composed parts of jazz . . . all the things that were too complex to learn by ear, too particular to be composed by committee. In Europe, and then throughout the World, what we now call Standard Notation became the most widely used notation system, a data entry, manipulation, storage & retrieval tool that allowed us to think about music in previously unimaginable ways. A huge amount of our music would have been literally inconceivable without it.

Nevertheless, it's probably correct to say that most of the World's musicians have managed perfectly well without it! This course is for exactly those kinds of musicians - people who have experience of playing and composing music without notation, but who now want to add it to their skill-set.

It is entirely practical. It starts with one note and one duration and, in 50 small steps, introduces you to the essential skills and concepts that you'll need for full mastery. It is only for treble clef instruments (most brass and woodwinds, guitars, keyboards, violins etc.) but this is deliberate. See the FAQ section below if you don't play one.

The course is organised in 10 5-day 'weeks'.

Open the navigator with the red button in the top right of the screen. From here, you can choose which week and then which day you want to work on. (The menu also gives you access to the metronome and the resources page).

The weeks/days structure is a way to help you pace yourself, but you don't need to be literal about it. In reality, some people will work through the course more quickly than others and you may need to spend more than one session working on one page.

Start on the Monday of Week 1 and work through to the Friday of Week 10. It's concentrated stuff, so do everything!

. . . so you'll need to get organised.

1Your practice sessions will vary in length but, initially, plan for five 30-40 minute sessions a week and then adjust the timing when you find out how long you actually need.

2Use a tablet or, preferably, a laptop/desktop to view toolkit1. Mobile screens are simply too small for notated music and toolkit hasn't been designed to work properly below tablet size.

3Place your computer so that you can see it well and play your instrument comfortably.

  • Should I Worry That I Don't Already Read?

    No. Most of the World's music is made without notation and many great musicians don't read. Reading music is only one of the skills that a balanced musician should have.

    Nevertheless, as a student of music, you will be limited both academically and creatively if you can't read and write music to a reasonable level.

  • What if I've tried before without success?

    This is a difficult one to answer because your previous lack of success could have resulted from a number of factors. Hopefully, the approach in this course will work for you, so please give it a go - you'll need to work at it a little and often, and you'll have to put up with feeling like a beginner again, but hey . . .

    Some people, of course, have conditions that make reading music difficult. Dyslexia would seem to be the obvious one, but the connection is not inevitable. If you feel that you might fall into this kind of category, just talk to us when you start the course.

  • What's With All The Weird Tunes?

    The course starts with one note and the simplest rhythms and gradually gets more interesting. This isn't a recipe for fun material, certainly not in the earlier weeks, but it gets better. I had to look for material that used specific ranges, keys and rhythms and have leaned on folk material from here and there. There are bits of classical music, Irish jigs, Ragtime pieces, quite a few Klezmer tunes, and so on, all chosen because they encapsulate a particular new feature.

    You won't find any recent rock or pop material here, partly because of copyright issues, but mainly because rock rhythms feel very natural but are usually quite complex to notate and read - you need to work up to that but, by the end of the course, you're pretty much there.

  • I already Read Tab, so . . . ?

    TAB is a useful way for guitarists to communicate with other guitarists, but they need to communicate with the rest of the musical world, too (and vice versa).

    Work through and beyond this course and you'll find that standard notation communicates a lot more information and subtlety than TAB and, when you are over the initial humps, it's actually much more readable and musical. You won't look back.

    Adam Neely goes into some really interesting detail about this . . .

  • What if I Don't Play A 'Treble Clef Instrument'?

    The course works on any 'treble clef instrument'.

    If you play a bass instrument (cello, double bass, electric bass etc.), it's possible that you already read bass clef. If you are a drummer/percussionist, you might already read percussion music. If you are a singer, it's possible that you read treble clef but don't play an instrument.

    Whatever the case, you should learn to read treble clef (and learn to play a pitched instrument if necessary) so that you can communicate with the rest of the musical world.

    How? I strongly suggest that you get access to a keyboard of any kind, and work through the course on that. The keyboard is a working diagram of music. It will give you a chance to handle harmony in the future, and an advantage when using Music Technology.

    There is special help built into the course for beginner keyboard players. Look out for the piano icon beside many of the pieces.