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Jack Swiggett


I will attempt to develop an alternative musical notation, optimized for beginners learning to play the piano. I plan to use a system where time moves vertically from top to bottom, rather than horizontally from left to right, as in Klavarskribo. However, the visual appearance of the notation will more closely mirror that of a piano than Klavarskribo does. I will develop an application that automatically generates this notation from MIDI data, and attempts to teach a new user how to play a piece on the piano by walking them through the process of reading this notation.

Project Progress Presentation

Literature Review

There is very little existing research surrounding the effectiveness of music notation. The only significant study I could find was conducted by the Music Notation Modernization Society (MNMS) and concluded in 1999 (http://musicnotation.org/mnma/research-project/). It examined over 500 notation systems, attempting to find the best system. A first round of elimination narrowed them down to 45 based on a set of 11 screening criteria; for example, "the notation is independent of all musical instruments for intelligibility so that the notation is readily adaptable to all instruments including the human voice," and "the notation can express music of all reasonable degrees of complexity – not only simple music." A second round with 6 additional criteria narrowed the list to 37 systems. The systems were then evaluated by 7 trained musicians using five specific notation exercises, and ranked to find the best system.

This methodology is interesting, but lacking because it uses trained evaluators, who are already used to traditional notation and likely to favor systems that mirror its format. The methodology also focused on the notation's capacity to express music richly and accurately, and much less on the ease of reading, which is the focus of my project.

The MNMS is now known as the Music Notation Project, and provides a detailed catalogue of alternative music notation systems (http://musicnotation.org/systems/more-notation-systems/). These range from vertically and horizontally oriented staves with various spacings to systems where notes are represented by letters rather than noteheads.

While there is little research surrounding Klavarskribo, many websites provide sheet music and instructions for the notation, and seek to promote its use. Here are a few:

There are also two noteworthy software solutions to design scores in Klavarskribo. I was able to download and run both pieces of software.

  • KlavarScript (http://klavar.com/en/) can read MIDI and MusicXML files and convert them to Klavarskribo. It permits fairly advanced editing, and should support playback, although I was unable to get this to work. It was last updated in 2014, and the website frequently goes offline.
  • KLAVAR! (https://sourceforge.net/projects/klavar/) is a simple tool that allows users to edit and playback Klavarskribo notation. It was last updated in 2013, and is marked "abandoned" on SourceForge.

Some research has also been done on adding color to music notation to facilitate learning. George L. Rogers looked at colored music notation as an aid for beginners learning to read traditional notation, with different pitches highlighted in different colors. He found that students who learned using color-coded notation were able to sight read more easily, and strongly preferred the colored notation to black and white notation. However, when those students had to read black and white notation, they were much worse at sight reading than students trained on black and white notation. It seems that they were largely memorizing the colors, and color-coding was therefore not effective at teaching traditional, black and white notation. The study is available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3344609. I have chosen not to explore color as an aid because it is inconvenient to write and print, and because of the difficulty it would pose for individuals with color blindness.

Project Plan

This is an individual project; I will do the implementation and testing.


  • Visualize simple MIDI data as Klavarskribo notation
  • Playback the MIDI data using a piano sound, and simultaneously highlight notes on the Klavarskribo staff
  • Also display and highlight keys in a virtual keyboard aligned with Klavarskribo staff
  • Allow the user to pause the piece and step through note by note

These steps will be complete by November 30.

  • Develop a test methodology to compare this system to a learning method that uses traditional notation
  • Recruit test participants
  • Conduct user testing to evaluate the effectiveness of Klavarskribo as a learning aid

These steps will be complete by December 5.

Final Project


BetterNote - Evaluating Alternative Music Notation


Source Code and Executable

BetterNote source code and installation instructions are available at https://github.com/jackswiggett/BetterNote. Since it is a web application, it is not easily packaged into an executable. However, I have also created a packaged version of the client code, available here. You can navigate into the "build" directory, then run "python -m SimpleHTTPServer", and visit http://localhost:<your port> in your browser. BetterNote will be fully functional, with the caveat that it will be unable to store or load test logs from the database.