Introduction

to the argumentation for adopting a single-clef system

It is in many ways pretty foolhardy of me to write about music notation. I have no formal education in music; I am a middling clarinet player, and an even worse leader and conductor for a small music band. In my teenage years I got my first books about music. “Musikklære” by Finn Benestad and “Noe om musikk” by Aage Hansen. Both were interesting books, but mostly unintelligible. The clarinet did not help much in studying harmonies, either. And, of course, life had many more important things to offer, than elementary melody- and form studies.

25 years ago an organ was brought home, and since then I have played it five minutes every day. The first major seventh chord made me confused, could this really be correct? My beloved wife ensured me that it was perfectly right. Eventually I got used to it, among a lot of other exciting chords and combinations. I bought a lot of other books about chords, harmonies, and so on. But all of them were big books and heavy reads, and none of them gave me a shortcut to reading chords, or finding suitable chords to a melody. Therefore, I just made my own system, based on counting semitones.

After some time I came to the point where I wanted to play melodies written in “proper” piano and organ notes. Then I suddenly realized why so many kids stop playing after a few years. The F-clef ruins the joy of learning and playing for most of them. At first, I resigned as well. This was how it was and had always been, and therefore how it should be. After all, playing the bass pedals wasn’t too hard. It was just one note at a time, and after some practice I knew most of the bass track by heart anyway. But my brain worked overtime!

Six years ago some eager souls started a band just for playing on May 17th, our National Day. The primary school band had been disbanded some years earlier, and everyone missed the music. I picked up my clarinet and joined the gang, and it felt nice to play again. Since I was on welfare, it suited me fine to help start a band in our community. I am not a better musician, theoretical or practical, than the others, but I don’t take myself  too seriously, and I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself.

This certainly has something to do with age, but after an episode at primary school where a teacher wanted us to believe that it was the surface tension that made ships float, I realized that authorities and professionals were just as stupid as everyone else, and I lost all respect for them. And since I know my limitations (that’s what I like to believe, anyway), I doubt my fall will be too hard.

When we started the band we had the odds against us, except for the fact that we really wanted to to this. Since we did not have any money, we were unable to hire a conductor full-time, so I took the job. It turned out to be both interesting and a lot of work. I spent many hours sorting the old sheet music archives and studying different scores, and learned more and more. Whenever I had the opportunity, I asked conductors and musicians, and got a lot of help that way.

We usually hire an experienced conductor for the last few rehearsals before a concert, and the concert itself. This works very well, and we have learned a lot from him.   In good periods there are as many as twelve people in our band. We do not have horns in F or E flat, no flutes, and no trombones. And even with flexible arrangements, I sometimes have to rewrite some of the parts in order to balance the sound from the band. This is even worse with older arrangements, with parts for C-instruments written in the F-clef.

I wonder how many hours have been spent by trombonists rewriting their parts from bass clef to treble clef? All this because of an ancient, old fashioned habit.

It is incomprehensible for me that music theorists haven’t modernised the staff a long time ago. Today we have absolutely no excuse for not doing so. Computers can transpose in no time, and printing doesn’t require typesetting. All we have to do is make up our minds and get to it. And this is probably where the dog is buried. No one will decide that it is time to get rid of all these relics in music notation. No one has the courage or the will to do so.

It is not easy to prove that this timidity has a negative impact on the future of music. But we all have to admit that our hectic lifestyle leaves little room for extracurricular studies, especially among kids growing up. They have plenty of interesting leisure activities to choose from. When I implied to a boy that it could take him five years to become a good percussionist, he did not hesitate; “I don’t have time for that”. And a music teacher I know tells me that his pupils are often perplexed by the bass clef. Some of them see that if the notes were moved up just one line, they wouldn’t have to spend time learning it at all. And that’s all there is to it!

The current music notation system is excluding, and we are losing a lot of talented musicians because of it. We are all different in many ways. A musical genius can have great problems reading sheet music at all. And for others, learning both the F- and C-clefs proves impossible. Other students may have no problem reading the different clefs, but lack all musical sense and feeling, and perform accordingly.

When I went to primary school, dyslectic pupils were picked on and labelled as idiots, usually by the teachers. Today, we all know better.

Let us make teaching and learning music and music notation as easy as possible. Then it will become an including pastime for many more than it is today. Many Norwegians like to believe that we are the best country in the world, but by making a new standard for music notation, our contribution to future generations will certainly be invaluable.

Not to mention all the publishers; they have to realize that the more people playing music, the more money they will earn.

(Continue to the argumentation.)