GOOD

We Redesigned Musical Notation So It's Actually Easy to Read

"It's much more easier!" exclaimed Anna.
Anna’s six years old and I teach her piano lessons in Austin, where I live. She had just tried a new music notation I invented with a friend. And she understood it—no; she loved it. Her mom came into the room to see how Anna was doing.
“Look,” Anna said, pointing at the paper, “these, this is full! And empty! And this one is long!” She began explaining it all back to her mom. The whole system, after a thirty-minute lesson. I was amazed.
Learning to play an instrument is hard, but sheet music makes it even harder. I’ve taught dozens of students, ages 4 to 60, and traditional music notation never comes easily. It can often take months (or longer) to pick up. Worse yet, those frustrations often lead to thoughts like, “I’m bad at music.” It’s tough to hear; as their teacher, I know that’s not true. The sheet music just isn’t intuitive. And that shouldn’t be the hard part—when you read a great book, you think about the *meaning*, not which letter is which.
Last year, I set out to fix it. I recruited my old college roommate, Mike Sall, who works in data visualization, and together we started hacking ideas. Over the past year, we’ve tried everything —colors and shapes, lines and squiggles, flipping and squashing—putting it all in front of my students as we went. We ended up with Hummingbird, a new music notation.


Hummingbird does a few things differently. We realized students often can’t see when one note is higher than another, spending a lot of time counting lines between notes. So we gave each note its own symbol with a “helper” word that’s simple to memorize. No more counting lines, and both hands use the same symbols. We also noticed it can be difficult to remember which rhythm and rest symbols are which, so we made them follow a natural progression that actually shows what they mean: long notes are longer, short notes are shorter, and they each still have a unique symbol.
Hummingbird’s strength is in its reinforcement. Everything has both a symbol and a spatial element so you can read it and perceive it at the same time. Plus, it does all this without sacrificing the important things—it can show anything that traditional notation can, and you can still write it out by hand.
We’ve been trying out Hummingbird with my students over the past few months, and it has gone better than we could have imagined. Elle, age 8, asked if she could learn every song this way. Chris, 24, needed the whole folder because he was blowing through songs faster than I could share them. Alejandro, 6, started reading music without having to write out the letters. Anisha, 7, felt comfortable playing with both hands for the first time. Jack, 8, calls it the “magic system.”
And on and on. It’s a teacher’s dream.
Now we want to share it with the world. We put together a website—HummingbirdNotation.com—with a full explanation of how it works and lots of songs to practice. If you’ve ever felt discouraged out of learning to play, try it again with Hummingbird. Print out a song and give it a shot. Honestly, it will be fun this time.
A few weeks ago, I was teaching another student, Dominic. He’s 5. His mom came in at the tail end of one of his first lessons, and she was ecstatic that with only one lesson using Hummingbird, he could already read and play Twinkle, Twinkle perfectly. She insisted we keep using Hummingbird, telling me it was the first time she had seen him make real progress musically. But it wasn’t just that, she said. Her son had a sense of accomplishment she had never witnessed in him before.
Images courtesy of Blake West and Mike Sall\n
Articles
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less
Health