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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A new form of Music Notation that teaches math and music!

A new form of Music Notation that teaches math and music!

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Numbered Notes music notation is a new design on an old idea. Did you know that the music notation that we use today is over 300 years old and was NOT designed for 12 notes? Originally it was designed for only 7 notes and 5 additional notes were added in the Medieval ages. These are the black notes on the Piano. The notation is so hard for kids to learn and read because instead of assigning each of the 12 notes a unique letter name monks just kept the original 7 notes A-G in place and referred to the new notes by their proximity above or below by using sharps or flats. That is why the note above C and below D is referred to as both a C# and a Db. Two names for the same note! Numbered Notes solves this naming problem by assigning each note a number 1-12. Numbers also allow for counting so you can navigate intervals in a logical way. The “12 note staff” assigns notes to consistent positions eliminating the challenge of remembering the Treble and Bass Clefs. Also a new timing system uses the same conventions for Notes and Rests so once you learn one you know the other. The new notation is designed for the task at hand. It was designed by professional musicians and artists so that it would be intuitive and functional. I our opinion, a huge problem with education is not just class sizes and funding but the ACTUAL CONTENT! Numbered Notes is like a software upgrade for an older version. It can do Bach, Mozart and Chopin too. It's time we started redesigning the information systems that we are teaching our kids and let them really succeed! Try Numbered Notes for yourself on our website keyboard and let us know what you think …..good or bad. www.numberednotes.com Our goal is to bring music literacy above 90% using Numbered Notes. See for yourself!

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Randy Dary's picture
Randy Dary
Musician, music teacher

Sure we teach critical thinking, and we are also critical thinkers. That's why I can say this numbered notes thing is useless. We already have a system that works. If these folks think it's too difficult to learn, I have to question whether we can accept anything they say as being intellectually valid. The only use for their idea, as I perceive it, might be to use in some sort of programming application. But numbering all the notes and then playing numbers.... I guess if a person is just too mentally challenged to learn what, for instance, a C is, and which C and where it is on the keyboard (or trombone or flute or tin whistle) then ok, do the numbers. Boy, I'll bet Mozart would have liked that! Oh, wait, he was a genius; that must be why he could read notation!

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
I am Bullyproof Music - Bullyproof Rainbow Resources

Hi Randy..

To be clear, I am not jumping on the band wagon and suggesting everything get changed up in the world of reading music. But I come from a family of classical musicians (my sis was the concertmaster of the St. Louis symphony, my brother is a cellist, my mom is the director of a fancy Music and Arts School.) Ever since I switched my interest from the family religion of Beethoven to writing empowerment material for kids in a contemporary form, all I have ever heard from classroom music teachers is "Why can't you write down the notes for us? We can't just pull music out of the air!" and "We only believe in Kodaly." My own family pretty much disowned me.

Reading down this thread, I sense a lot of that same harsh "How dare you change the system!" thinking. To be honest, the only "critical thinking" I have ever witnessed with other music teachers is exactly what I read in your paragraph; sarcasm. Not "critical thinking" in the common core sense, but " How dare these people!" looking down one's nose at anything new.

And I didn't ever AGREE. Seems like a too much work, if you ask me haha. I was just trying to play devil's advocate on a thread that felt, at least to me, a little antagonistic towards a new idea. Since Edutopia is supposed all about uncovering new ideas, why not just say "Meh.. think not." Why is everyone in such a stew?

Please give me an example of how traditional music teachers encourage CC style critical thinking. I am trained to the hilt, received my entire musical education on full scholarship for the USC gifted children's fund, and have spent decades amidst music teachers of all sorts personlly. I have never witnessed ANY, for one moment, deep thinking encouraged whatsoever around music students. Even my very classically oriented and trained music publisher, a choral teacher in schools for years, said to me "Lessia, they are stuffiest group of people on the planet. It's really sad."

She and I get along beautifully, because we both know how to live and let live, and honor differences. But still, she also says things to me like "Well, if we let kids keep their own vocal tone and experiment, the choir won't blend!"

In my book, in this day and age, kids blending because they all sing the same isn't half as important as inspiring young people to find their own special, very magical and unique voices. There is a message in that attitude. Oops. But that might lead to something close to common core.

Again, please give me ONE example of a music teacher encouraging CC critical thinking. "Too mentally challenged" is very mean spirited. "We already have a system that works" isn't open-minded. It's angry sounding.

Just sayin'. Or rather, asking; why is everyone so riled up?

Randy Dary's picture
Randy Dary
Musician, music teacher

I did a little quick research about critical thinking, and I think you are mostly right about it not being part of what people like me do. I'm not sure it needs to be. Seems to me that, during a person's formative years, they need to get the basics of living. After that you can start thinking more deeply about things.

The actual first example that came to my mind do something I do is when I give a child a drum and ask them to make up something to go along with some piece of music. Sometimes they come up with something, but it usually seems to me that they really don't, at least at younger ages, have the experience, training, "ear" or any other sense of what to do. I have the impression that you would that whatever they do is fine; that would empower them. I am not being sarcastic as I say that! I think we are actually heading in two quite different directions. I can see where yours is valid, but I can also see where it might lead to an individual who thinks they can, but just doesn't really have it.

I present music from other countries and unfamiliar genres to students and encourage them to be open-minded about what may be to them very weird sounds, by talking about what the music may mean to people in other cultural settings. I am not sure that comes under the heading of critical thinking, but I hope they go on and are able to respond to new, different musical things with perhaps more awareness that there can be more to something than they see at first listen.

I see where you do the bully proof thing. That is probably laudable and certainly a current hot topic. I wish you well.

Now for the music system which started all of this. It's nothing new. As I think I said in my first post, it reminds me of the home organs they used to sell with the keys that lit up, and the notes in the book were printed in colors, so you'd play the key that was the color of the note.

I think (critically?) that the traditional music notation system has proven itself. Did you look at the "Jingle Bells" arrangement(?) they showed? It's a whole bunch of numbers, all showing exactly what notes show more concisely. Somebody who reads music transcribed notes into this number system. This number system only works on keyboards, I think. How would you convert to, say, a trombone? The numbering system would need to show the position, the tone's place in the harmonics, the duration, etc. I am not able to comprehend what that would look like.

I think what the system does is try to take most of the responsibility away from the player. In doing that, I think it falls short of being a valid system.

My wide also gets on my case for being sarcastic! I apologize. I have recently been around quite a number of people who have seemed to almost proudly say that they don't read music. Frankly, they bug me. They recognize the value of Me being able to do it, but it almost seems to be their mantra, like an organic refusal. I don't understand, BUT if they can sing and play something and have fun with it, great!

Good enough?

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I taught using the Kodaly method in my classroom and I believe it not only encourages critical thinking, it solves the two-name note confusion that you were talking about. I agree that notation can be confusing in the early years, but I would be hesitant to use the number system because the translation to notation seems like it may be difficult, although I have never used it so I cannot be sure.

What I like about Kodaly, is that it asks students to use their ears before their eyes. They don't have to think it's a half step, whole step, or a fifth because I tell them it is or because they see it on paper. They have to decide for themselves which intervals are which based on what they hear. As far as connecting the dots and applying knowledge, the Kodaly method does a great job with this, and incorporates CC style critical thinking into the music classroom with ease.

A more specific example: instead of presenting a note on paper and saying it's a 3 or a E, you would present it as a hum. You can also provide another note, which they may know as Do, and ask which note is higher, Do or the new sound. Are they next to each other or far apart? How far apart? This asks students to think critically about the sound as opposed to seeing it on paper and producing it based on where it is in the staff.

I have never used the number system so I cannot speak to it, but I am a big fan of the Kodaly method, and do believe music teachers can teach critical thinking in the classroom.

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
I am Bullyproof Music - Bullyproof Rainbow Resources


Thank you for your gently worded response. I have bumped into so many walls trying to bond with other music teachers in facebook groups and other places, I finally gave up. There is such an obvious prejudice towards anything new, it's infuriating. for the record; You're right. The whole "bully" thing is a new catch phrase. I honestly hate it. Disrespect has been around for years. I've been teaching vital life skills with lyrics for years. But the word "bully" emotionally connects with more people these days than "life skills" so I use it as a marketing tool.

This may make you smile; I am currently creating an educational unit on contemporary music production because I so agree with you. I am also annoyed with the lazy approaches today's producers and artists often rely on. As a pro producer and writer myself, I know them all too well :-)

I believe students should be aware that all is not as it seems most times-- they are listening to "stacked" pitch corrected voices and clever mixes. I believe they should be aware that music video faces are airbrushed.. and that Katy didn't write the song "Roar". Five people wrote the song "Roar" and then they tagged Kathy's name to the end of the list. That's how it's mostly done these days. Concur. Sadly, ours has turned in to a lazy musical world presentation-wise. So lazy, in fact, that "I don't read music" can be a silly mantra. Why not learn to read music? Hello. My "bully proof" thing is not a "thing." It is actually an underlining of what you are saying; respect is important. In all areas. I do believe we have lost it as a culture in many ways.

Becky-- thank you for the description of Kodaly. I found it very interesting. And you make a lot of sense. I can't tell by what you've written if, in the end, students come to the conclusion there is an "up" and "down" when singing notes. I am hoping they realize, at least with voices, there is no distance. It's all an illusion.

I am on a facebook page with Kodaly teachers and it does not reflect the open view you have described. When I am told over and over from teachers "I can't just learn your songs by hearing them and singing along, I need everything written down..." it makes me wonder if the method is missing a step. Also, the "Kodaly or nothing" attitude seems very dated as an attitude in general. There is no curiosity towards anything new which breaks my heart.

That being said, the way you describe your experience sounds very sweet. Maybe you are a more open teacher than those I have been having conversations with. Am wondering-- Do you ever teach songs that are not old folk songs?

I don't mean this question sarcastically. I really am just curious. I would guess, my your description of Kodaly, that Kodaly teachers would be open to songs with meaningful lyrics that help kids be brave about exploring... but I have been told over and over and OVER that this is not the case. Please-- prove me wrong!

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I always mix up the content - I don't believe in an "all or nothing" method. I think a more balanced approach is best. For example, when teaching chord progressions, there's no reason not to include a little rock n roll in there. Students love it and it's a great way to keep things modern. Also, I do use a lot of folk songs, but sometimes I have students write their own. Each class usually has their own "theme song" that they write together based on notes we've learned.

I'm sure there are many different takes on how Kodaly should look in the classroom, but my theory is that one size never fits all and it's important to be open to all approaches in order to best fit the needs and interests of your students.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by hearing this: "I can't just learn your songs by hearing them and singing along, I need everything written down..."

I'd love to know more so I can correctly respond based on what I know to be true of the Kodaly method. Also, I have three years of Kodaly training from NYU, just so you know where I'm coming from. Although I'm no longer in the classroom, so these classroom stories are from past years.

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
I am Bullyproof Music - Bullyproof Rainbow Resources

Hi again Becky.

First off, I checked out your bio when I spotted NYU. Wow! You've attended great schools! Small word-- Quite a few of the young singers I teach and produce ended up at NYU. My son went to Berkeley and now lives in NY with his GF who just finished at Yale, so I'm used to brainy company :-) Not meant to imply I am brainy. haha not moi. I'm just a humble music producer and teacher/ songwriter who has been on the planet long enough to form colorful opinions. But I love that you shared your history. Helps me see you better :-)

Okay. Here's pretty much word-for-word what I've recently been told... and told... and told..

"Lessia, you have perfect pitch and were a musical prodigy. That's why you can pull things out of the air. But the rest of us need written music to learn anything new. And also, your piano parts are fun-- but complex. Most classroom music teachers aren't strong enough pianists. You need to simplify the piano parts, also give us chords, and then, to be honest, even then... I am willing to listen to a song but I know most other Kodaly teachers snub their noses at anything new. We like folk songs because they are tried and true-- they have been around forever."

I am on a facebook page with TPT music teachers and have been wondering why I do so well with non music teachers who are always thrilled to discovering meaningful lyrics--that inspire critical thinking-- at their fingertips, yet am totally ignored (to the point of snubbed) by other music teachers-- who you'd think, would be glad to discover anything fresh and positive in the contemporary vain crafted expertly by a fellow trained musician. Just saying... it's been a total non-compute to me.

I believe I may have just repeated what I shared in my last post. If so, I apologize. I tried to be more specific this time. Thanks for being open enough to respond.

Numbered Notes's picture
Numbered Notes
New form of music notation that teaches kids math.

Hi Contributors...

Thank you for your comments and critiques related to the merits of Numbered Notes. Here are some responses...

1. Numbered Notes can write music for all instruments at all levels of complexity.

Here is a user letter regarding playing more advanced content:

I'd like to express my appreciation for your Numbered Notes music notation. A while back, I downloaded the Chopin Nocturne that was available on your website and was able to learn to play it, something which would have been much more difficult for me in traditional notation. Reading numbers comes much more naturally to me than trying to pick out positions of ovals on a staff (not to mind key signature and accidentals).

2. It also offers you the ability to analyze intervals by simply comparing note numbers. For example, the difference between C and G is a perfect 5th. In NN C=1 and G=8, they are 7 notes apart. Likewise the relationship between D and A is also a perfect 5th. In NN D=3 and A=10 and again they are 7 notes apart. By using numbers you have a much better way to count sequentially compared to navigating Letters that have Accidentals. Numbered Notes is easy to learn but the real benefit of it is in advanced music theory analysis. Think about it...you can see numerical relationships between any two Numbers. 5 to 8 is 3, 6 to 11 is 5, 11 to 4 is 4...(like counting on a clock)

3. We tested the system at camps for teenagers and they were literally able to play songs WITHOUT instruction! They intuitively knew how to match the numbers from the sheet music to the keyboard. Timing is shown as fractions or multiples so they also learn math fundamentals. Using abstract dots on lines takes WAY more mental processing and it is not a trivial obstacle! We have yet to meet a person who cannot read and play music in one lesson...the results are truly amazing. Please test it with one of your students and see for yourself.

4. We have updated the app and I would invite you all to try playing Star Spangled Banner to see the notation in its entirety.

Our goal is to revolutionize education by offering updated ways of learning various topics. We keep the best of what works and "upgrade" when possible.

This is the mission of: www.advancedlearningdynamics.com

We upgrade our computer software every year yet we are teaching our kids information systems that are literally hundreds of years old and full of "design bugs". We could improve education by improving the very information we are teaching them. Numbered Notes is our first example showing just how significant that improvement can be.

Please let me know what you all think... good or bad!

Jordan's picture

I may be a little late to this conversation, but....I started teaching myself to play the guitar about two months ago. As part of that, I thought I'd also learn how to to read music. Thought I'd read a book on musical theory and nearly had an aneurysm. Kept asking anyone who'd listen why music had sharps and flats. Why a 12 semi-tone system was being portrayed on a musical staff built for eight note system/octave. And, why they even call it an octave when it's 12 semitones? And, I figure out fairly quickly what Jason discovered. Not that I'm any smarter than anyone else because I figure it out quickly, but I came to music later in life with absolutely no biases...having never been indoctrinated into the current system. I wasn't blinded by history or personal experience because I've never attempted to learn to read music before. But, within a month I built the spreadsheets and came up with the same solutions that Jason did. Why not have a system of 12 semitones that has 12 notes. I'm sorry Randy, but your comments are simply foolish (not calling you foolish, by the way, just your comments). "If it ain't broke, why fix it". That's what underlies your comments. And, please don't tell me that the benefits to music and critical thinking come form wadding through a outdated musical notation system. That's also foolish. but, I'm sympathetic to your comments, even if they really are only arguing in favor of your own relevance. You and other accomplished musicians have gone through the brain damage to understand things as they are. And, it's a badge of honor, a right of passage. What's your incentive to teach or defend anything other than what you know. But, the system is outdated, inefficient and unnecessarily complicated. Period. Any argument otherwise is based on history and not logic. But, Jason, despite my love of numbers, I don't think you've got the right answer either. Not that it's not an elegance solution, but this requires a revolution and you're system, as currently proposed, in the way you've put it forth will never be the spark for that revolution. Would love to discuss that further with anyone open to reasonable discussion.....

Jordan's picture

Sorry, last post could have used a little more editing, but I hope the point is clear. Just want to add something to prevent this conversation, if there is to be one, from going in the wrong direction. Randy may ask why I have the audacity, after studying music theory for less than two months (albeit with great intensity), to challenge him or anyone else with 10, 20, 30 of 50 years of experience as a musician or music teacher. Here's why. If you've spent the last 50 years teaching music or playing it based on the current notation system, you are the last person on the planet with the capacity to see things differently or desire to seek change On the other hand, I've spend my entire adult life in the business of analyzing information both numbers and words, and then building "theses" based on an ever shifting and incomplete mosaic of that information. In my work, I spend my entire day searching for patterns and anomalies and developing opinions, only then to get served nearly daily doses of humble pie when my views are wrong, incomplete or are overtaken by some new information or way of thinking about that information. And then I do it again....analyze, build, rebuild, rinse, repeat. So your skill set is based on understanding the way things are and applying it and mine are all based on analyzing and absorbing new information. I would say, that I'm exactly the type of person who should comment. I have no history or bias when it comes to music. I just analyze the information as it is without investment in anything other than a search for the truth and a desire for efficiency and elegance.

And, I can say, unequivocally, based on my 30+ years of doing that exact kind of analysis, that there are only a handful of arguments in favor of the current system, and none of them are based on the logic of it "working" or being the "right" one. You might argue, as my sister has, that the current system is the way it is and that one's time might be better spent learning how to play an instrument (or play it better) than in trying to change the current system. That's an argument I'm extremely sympathetic to. But, the cognitive dissonance for me, based on my history (discussed above) and nature (which led me to do what I do), made that a difficult choice. History, tradition, and the fact that virtually all music available today is built on the current system are the other main arguments in favor. But, as a representational system it badly accommodates/portrays the information which it intends to convey. And, further, I would bet that if Pythagoras had lived after J.S. Bach and the adoption of the 12 semitone, equal temperament system, he would not have wasted his time developing the circle of fifths. Rather, he'd have vigorously argued in favor of a new system, even one like numbered notes (not the sticker side, but naming the notes with numbers part).

To Randy's point about critical thinking. Just want to return to that. If you arguing in favor of reading music and it's importance I couldn't agree more. If you are suggesting that to gain the benefits of music (in terms of critical thinking) that we have to retain the current system of representing notes, then I'd argue you are off track. Music is, by its nature, ruthlessly logical. Not because of the names we use for the notes but because of the "nature" of sound. The fact that a C major chord, for example, is an enjoyable sound has nothing to do with the fact that you describe the notes in that triad as C, E, and G. Or that you of those notes as a root, third and fifth. A numbered system with C as a 1 would call that a 1,5,8 chord. And, that's a better way to describe the notes anyway, since -- as you know -- a major chord is built on the root note with the second note four semitones higher and the third note 3 semitones above that. But, the chord sounds good only if you get the frequency of the pitches correct, not if you know the names. And, yes, a numbered note system (representation, not stickers), is much more elegant and efficient in trying to understand and build chords and scales. And, that system would be even better if its built on a staff with six lines, so that each note can have its own line or space. Then, the "quality" and "quantity" would be the same and you wouldn't have to say absolutely retarded things like "a third is four semitones higher than the root" and "a fifth is three semitones higher than a third". Please take a step back and think about that language for a second....it's just wrong. The second note of a major triad would simply be four semitones higher and separated by four lines and spaces on the staff. What could be more elegant than that?

But, fhe point is this: If it's the sound that matters, if it's the music that matters -- shouldn't I argue in favor of a representational system that is accurate and efficient. One that makes music more accessible. What could be more of an impediment to learning music that saying or trying to wrap ones mind around "a fifth is three semitones higher than a third in a major triad". That hurts just to write it. And, it doesn't take critical thinking to understand that statement. It takes the suspension of critical thinking to accept such an awkward description. It takes the suspension of critical thinking to accept a "system" that uses the terminology "accidental" for sharp and flat notes that are equally legitimate in that system.

And the point above should also address your point about "critical thinking". It's not the system of notes that causes/creates critical thinking, it's the nature of music that does. And, perhaps learning to read music, however it's represented on a page. So, I agree with your point about the need to learn to read music and I'd argue against the idea of "playing by numbers". That makes things easier to get started, but ultimately leads down a very dangerous pathway as well. But numbered notes on a 6-line musical staff is much better for a 12-semitone system. And that system (not the stickers) works equally well for instruments like a piano as they do for a trombone.

My last comment is this. Even if we all agree that reading music is important that's only an argument against placing numbers on a piano or guitar. It's not an argument in favor of keeping the current notational system. Someday there may be a revolution. Someday someone may come along with the right vision, energy and approach to change our current system from a what its outdated form today. There have to be more elegant, easier to use,more intuitive and more accurate ways to do it. A system like numbered notes (as a representational method, not a sticker system) may prove to be the right one. It's elegant, even if it lacks romance. And, it must be fairly obvious, I would add. After all, it took me less than a month of thinking about it to figure it out and others have also come up with that as well (just search the internet, as I did). Or it may be a different one, I don't know. But, Randy, when and if that revolution comes I hope you will cheer it on. Yes, argue against simplistic solutions that short-circuit the learning process. But argue in favor of elegant representational systems that make music more accessible.

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