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Easy SightReading Edition

Sheet music that is easier to read
  [vote for,

Sheet music has hardly changed in the last 400 years. Some people are amazingly adept at sightreading it and enjoy the traditional notation, but I think it is time to develop a simplified version too which improves the readability of the music.

This is an OPTIONAL version. Both will be available in scores. I mean stores. Not only that, but with computer-generated printouts it will be possible to select and deselect your favorite options from among the following:

1. I want the notes to look like little A's, B's, C's, etc. instead of circles. They will still have stems, and still be placed on the appropriate line or space on the staff. This is especially important to me when there are 5 leger lines and it's hard to tell an E from a G up there. A half-note will use an outlined font. Whole note has an outlined font and no stem.

2. Flat notes will be drawn in red ink; sharps in blue ink. Color printing has been around long enough; it is time to start using it.

3. No more accidentals "carrying over" throughout a measure. If it's A-flat once, the A's for the rest of the measure should *also* be marked with flat signs. Ditto for naturals.

4. If the measure is highly syncopated, I want "beat lines" drawn in light ink down through the staves. I don't want to have to stop to puzzle over rhythms.

5. Tied notes: I don't want to see the note written again if it isn't to be played. At least, draw it smaller the second time, so I know to ignore it.

6. Write the name of a chord above the staff, even if a chord isn't being played. For example, if the left hand in a Lizst rhapsody is an arpeggio or harmony that consists of the notes that make up an A-flat 7th, write "Ab7" in the margin. This will save me the time of deciphering all the notes individually.

7. If there's a clef change or key signature change in the middle of a line, for God's sake make it _B I G_, and also change the color of the printing (e.g. from black to green). I can't tell you how many times I've struggled to accept dissonant notes only to realize that the key changed like 19 measures ago and it was so teeny I didn't notice.

8. If a group of notes is being repeated in a higher octave (e.g. during a scale or arpeggio), there should be a symbol indicating that it's a duplicate. This instantly tells me that I don't have to read those notes and can, if desired, look down at the keyboard now.

9. Sudden hand movements (where you have to suddenly jump your hands down three octaves and, if taken by surprise, will never be able to hit the target note) can be marked in advance with a yellow WARNING sign with an arrow, like on a highway before a sharp turn. This alerts me to get ready to jump downwards someplace even if I don't know exactly where yet. (Pianists often speed up the prior few notes a tiny bit in order to subtly increase the amount of time in which to get to the far-away note, and the advance warning will allow me to do this)

10. In chamber music (where the pianist's score has little staves above the piano's part where one can see what the cellist/violist/clarinettist is doing), I don't want to see any alto or tenor clefs. As a pianist, I am not trained to read them. The pianist's score should be converted to all treble and bass clef, even if the other players have weird clefs in their own personal sheet music.

If I'm accompanying a transposing instrument (e.g. clarinet), the notation should all be converted to the piano's basis. The wind players' own copies can be in their own key signatures but leave me out of it.

11. When a scale appears in the music, it should be specifically marked: e.g. "F major" or "Chromatic", so that I don't have to proofread every note to make sure there is no "exception" in there somewhere. If a scale does have an exception (e.g. a single whole tone within a chromatic scale), mark it with a warning sign or arrow.

Thank you.

phundug, Dec 19 2003


       All good ideas, but I have a suspicious feeling they wouldn’t help me much. When site reading show tunes or Christmas carols at the piano I usually read the guitar chords and the vocal part, fill in some stuff by ear, and completely ignore the written piano part.
AO, Dec 19 2003

       as to point 6. In the Baroque period, the harpsichord player in a group was given a full score with only a base line written in for themselves. They were just expected to fill in based on the sequence of base notes and a quick scan of all the other parts. Helpfully, there were also numbers written underneath to tell you which intervals should be included. Sounds pretty similar to no.6   

       I played Harpsichord in a Baroque group for a while, and while it's very daunting at first, you soon get the hang of it.   

       All your ideas are pretty good and may be of great help, especially to learners but I think the classical purists would get their knickers in a twist (as if we care).
squeak, Dec 19 2003

       Some very good ideas here. I've been reading music for as long as I can remember so it's quite hard for me to imagine some of these being in place - I've got so used to things being the way they are, it feels hard to change, but that's not a reason not to do it! My only question is whether point 1 can still be used with crotchets/minims etc (think you call them quarter/half notes in the US - ie notes represented by filled in or empty circles).   

       Then again, I always used to pick up a lot of marks in exams because my sight reading was so good (only because I never did any practice so I had to rely on quick thinking) and I'm not sure I'd want to lose that edge!
hazel, Dec 19 2003

       I would suggest that you look in a music store for "fake books". Basically music printed with melody, chords, and a few other little cues or counter-melodies if they're important.   

       As for your notational suggestions, I can't say I really agree with them. Piano-roll notation (with marked guidelines for beat and pitch) might be workable. I certainly find it convenient enough to use in a sequencer, though I'm not sure I'd want to try to sight-read music in that form.   

       Although there are certainly some instances where color printing could make music easier to work with, in general it wouldn't. While the eye and brain can very easily filter based on color (which renders highlighters useful) they have difficulty simultaneously processing color and shape information.   

       About 15 years or so ago someone at the 1979 Engineering Expo at UW Madison had a little 'experiment'. I don't remember the exact details, but he had written out on a posterboard two sets of about 50 words: "red green blue black yellow organge" in random order, colored randomly using those six colors. He would time how long it took people to do the following for each sets (doing #1 for both sets, then #2 for both sets, etc.). If the subject made a mistake, he would be asked to correct it before proceeding.:   

       -1- Read the words, ignoring the color in which it was written. Most people could do this with little difficulty.   

       -2- Identify the colors, ignoring the words. Most people had difficulty at first, but got 'into the groove'. The second set of words went faster than the first, and about as fast as reading the color names.   

       -3- Read all of the red words. Most people had no trouble with this at all, and took about as much time per word to read just the red words as to read all of them.   

       -4- For each word in order, read the word and then name the color in which it was written. This was hard, and the "practice" of doing the first 50 didn't help with the other 50.   

       If I knew how to do stuff with Java I'd write a little program to test this sort of thing out. It'd be a fun experiment to try.
supercat, Dec 19 2003

       Good idea. I play guitar to a reasonable standard and I can read Tab without any problems. I found a shareware music package called melody which works well for me. As I put in the markers for tab in it also puts musical notation on a staff as I go along.
sufc, Dec 20 2003

       I can't read music.   

       Even if you throw a few colours in, I doubt it is going to make it any easier. I do strum the guitar, a few chords if written down: C// - F// - G7// - C//
neelandan, Dec 20 2003

       I wholeheartedly concur, [phundug]. Sight reading has gotten away with murder for far too long. +
k_sra, Dec 22 2003

       I like the rhythm deciphering, but as a violinist i don't see very many huge daunting chords. The most useful to me would be a greater abundance of fingerings and markings for whole/half steps.
cheesinglee, Dec 22 2003

       For a violinist, you might be interested in a "running out of bow" warning mark at the beginning of long phrases.
phundug, Dec 22 2003

       Back in my school days, when I took up the trombone (because it coincided with maths lessons) I recall my trombone teacher giving me some sight reading to do. Upon completion she asked me if I had ever been tested for dyslexia! Needless to say, my career as a trombone soloist never really took off (but I'm sure my arms got longer from carrying the damn thing all over). I like this idea.
dobtabulous, Dec 23 2003

       [supercat] "Identify the colors, ignoring the words. Most people had difficulty at first"   

       This is called the Stroop effect, after the guy who discovered it. It's because we can't turn off automatic processing, reading is automatic (because of many years of practice), and so the words we're automatically reading interfere with the color names we're trying to report.
berg, Feb 20 2004

       What would be nice is to read music from a good quality flat screen monitor that changes pages at a slight inclination of the head to the right to change page right and to the left to change page left. And it's not as though musicians are supposed to sit ramrod straight when they perform, do they?
teh_ice, Mar 29 2004

       Hi everyone. I'm bumping this because it occurred to me that with computer-generated printouts of music (a technology which is rapidly advancing), it will soon be possible to select and deselect any, none, or all of the options listed in this idea. They simply have to be programmed in, is all. Who's going to do it?
phundug, Mar 12 2011

       I'm fairly sure I've seen 1 and 2 in beginners' books. 3 and 5 were standard practice in the Rennaissance. As [squeak] mentioned, 6 was done in the Baroque, as figured bass (but you were generally only told which chord to play if it wasn't obvious, i.e. the root position triad).   

       There are four elements to this:
1. The layout of keys on the piano.
2. The note names (A, C#, etc).
3. The particular set of pitches associated with those names.
4. The way the notes are represented on a staff.

       For fascinating and often perverse historical reasons, none of these relates to any of the others in a straightforward manner! So you are entirely right to think that playing piano from a standard score is unnecessarily arcane and difficult.   

       However, I think your suggestions might be putting new patches on old rags - adding even more complexity, rather than getting to the root of the problem. If your goal is simply to be able to play the piano from a score with less pain, I seriously suggest you look into keyboard tablature. If anyone tells you it's not proper, either ignore the pretentious twat, or inform them that keyboard tablature has a noble heritage, and even predates the piano.
spidermother, Feb 04 2012


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