More Than Notation Software

This year, I think the best new software on the music education scene is PROTÉGÉ , From NOTION Music. This is a program with the emphasis on real music! The range of features and ease of use is quite remarkable for a product in this price range (under £50) and it makes a really useful set of tools available to beginner and expert alike.

PROTÉGÉ  is, first of all, score-writing software. In this respect, it has features one would normally only expect at the top end of the market and shows a real appreciation of composers’ needs. Yet, methods of inputting and playing music are easy to grasp, with the most common requirements conveniently to hand in the initial side-bar setting. Consequently, beginners are not confused by too many options, although these are available to the advanced user. A tutorial is available, designed to enable pupils, including those who have only a minimal aquaintance with standard notation, to learn to use the software when the need arises and they are, consequently, most motivated to do so. It introduces elements of notation, along with the ways in which they are entered into a score, in the order they are most likely to be required.

A big selling point is the set of onboard sounds -instruments played by members of the London Symphony Orchestra and recorded at Abbey Road Studios. For those who don’t have external studio equipment, the package is well worth the purchase price just to have access to sounds of this quality. Dynamics, articulations and performance techniques will play back with the utmost realism.

The NTempo performance feature allows pupils to have real-time control over tempo, including rubato, fermatas and breath marks. This also makes PROTÉGÉ a very useful resource for instrumental teachers, enabling them to provide an accompaniment without distraction from the pupil’s performance.

After my own company’s MIDIgrid and GridPlay software, I consider this to be the most creative music education resource around. Visit to learn more.

Music Technology in the Classroom

Now that the UK Government’s Curriculum Online project has come to an end, most of the easily-located online material giving pointers to good practice in the use of ICT in the classroom, and how to get started, seems to have disappeared with it. Is it considered that the job is done and everyone is now integrating technology with their other resources and confident in its use? If so, it’s a mega case of wishful thinking!


When software products were listed on Curriculum Online’s database, for purchase with the electronic learning credits (making them free to schools) every product had to be tagged to make it clear which aspects of the music curriculum it addressed, so some principles of good usage were implicit in the information about resources made available to teachers. I believe that much of the information about types of resources and how they might be used in the curriculum will eventually be made available in other ways but, in the meantime, many teachers look in vain for appropriate support in terms of pedagogy.


Last year, in my forum, “Music Technology in Education”, I posted a link to a web-page that provided an excellent starting point for those who, for one reason or another, were just getting to grips with music technology. This link now redirects and I haven’t been able to find the information on the new site, even after receiving directions from the QCA helpline. If I, with all my experience of technology and online resources, am unable to locate the appropriate information then there is little hope for the beginner! I have, however, found the following pages on Becta’s site and recommend them to those who wish to consider the principles.


Inspire Me!   (Select “Music” from the left-hand “Curriculum” menu)

 How To Use ICT in Music
(the link is on Page 3 of the “Inspire Me!” examples)

 See also:
Music Technology and Curriculum Access

Get Away, Get Creative!

In  the present economic climate many of you amateur musicians may be thinking twice about booking summer school courses next year. Perhaps you can be tempted, though, by the short courses offered by the Benslow Music Trust. These include weekend and mid-week courses in a wide and extremely imaginative range of musical knowledge and skills. In the 2008-2009 list, three creative music opportunities particularly took my eye:

“Fruit salad with Sambuca: Recorders, flutes, guitars, lutes…
Michael Copley, Peter Martin
9-11 January, 2009

Working with source music ranging from Balkan folk music to baroque sonatas and of various types, including chord symbols, keyboard scores and figured bass, you will go through the process of arranging new music from original score through to performance….”


“Composing for Amateurs
Stephen Montague
27 February -1 March

Composers young or old, interested in exploring the exciting world of contemporary music are invited to participate in this course. The programme will involve developing new skills using traditional notation as well as exploring various contemporary techniques and practices such as graphic notation. The course is open to instrumentalists and vocalists from a moderate standard upwards….”


“Compose a New Musical
Rebecca Applin
12-14 June

Compose a new musical from scratch and learn more about songwriting and composing for the theatre… After group songwriting workshops and individual composition and tutorial time, the course will culminate in a read and sing through of the resulting new musical….”

Each of the above courses costs less than £200. Resident. For further details visit, or telephone 01462 459446.

Jazz Improvisation For Beginners

Many instrumental teachers whose own background is in classical music find
themselves drawn into jazz in response to requests from pupils. The syllabus for most graded music exams now include ‘jazzy’ pieces and a visit to the average music shop will turn up numerous easy anthologies with ‘jazz’ in the title.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would never have touched jazz with a barge-pole – I
didn’t care for it at all! “Boring and cliché-ridden!” was my response to the ‘wallpaper’ jazz to which I had been exposed. As I offered ‘creative music tuition’, way back when this was unusual, I checked out materials that purported to teach jazz improvisation to beginners. My heart would sink as I opened yet another book stuffed with repetitive scale and and arpeggio exercises that engaged the intellect and the fingers but left the heart and imagination cold. It was only when I had the opportunity to ‘dip my toes’ in real improvisation with kindly jazz musicians that I understood how exciting and absorbing it could (should?) be. It’s obvious, really – just as one wouldn’t teach grammar to a child before encouraging them to speak, it makes better sense to engage the beginner improviser in a dialogue before worrying about chord sequences, etc..

In the UK, improvisation is now an established part of the curriculum and, in order to service the demand arising from this, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools  of Music, the biggest of the UK graded music examinations boards, introduced grade exams in Jazz Piano and, a couple of years later, exams for Flute, Clarinet, Sax, Trumpet and Trombone. For many, there’s something a bit distasteful about a jazz exam and the ABRSM acknowledges that many students using their resources will not be at all interested in doing an exam – each anthology is wisely described as being for “Grade/Level” 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. There are fifteen pieces at each level and each piece includes an improvised section. There are 5 “Blues”, 5 “Standards” and 5 “Contemporary” pieces in each anthology. All have been arranged by leading jazz educators. For each book, there is a CD of performances and, in the case of melody instruments, ‘minus-one’ backing tracks played by a small ensemble. It’s great to have a choice of fifteen pieces, all carefully graded at the same standard. Better still, there’s not a cliché in sight!  This repertoire is varied and fresh. A teachers’ manual, “Jazz Piano From Scratch”, is designed to help the classically-trained teacher get to grips with the jazz syllabus.

“Jazz Piano From Scratch” suggests several ways of approaching the solo sections but, because of the  way in which pitches are suggested in the right hand of solo bars, the focus is mainly on melody. Although chord symbols appear throughout, exam candidates at grades 1-3 are not expected to analyse chords. A melodic approach had already been adopted for graded jazz exams of the Guildhall School of Music, which board has since amalgamated with that of Trinity College London to form the Trinity Guildhall examination board. Jeffery Wilson’s “Progressive Guide To Melodic Jazz Improvisation” is still available and this book, with its accompanying CD, is an excellent resource, although it has only three pieces at each grade/level. Each of the improvisations is based on one of the scales set for the grade.

Over the years,  I have accumulated many beginner jazz improvisation resources but these are the ones I and my pupils enjoy most and we strongly recommend them to other beginners.

Functional Forums

I have long wanted to improve two-way communication with visitors to my sites and have been frustrated by the lack of feedback and by the very small amount of real communication that seems to take place online. That’s one reason why I set up this blog and I have been delighted to create new connections through it. I also wanted to further The Full Pitcher’s mission of helping those whose musical interests are not well-served in the, mainly commercially-focussed, music scene to locate the information and resources they require and to share their ideas.

I have been nervous of setting up the forums I wanted The Full Pitcher to provide because of the technical, financial and labour implications. I’m pleased to say that, after much thought and research, I have now found a, modestly-priced, hosted solution that seems to provide the features I require. I have set up my bulletin-board with several forums, matching the special interests identified by my visitors.

The forums will, of course, enable members to provide mutual support but I intend them also to be bulletin-boards in the traditional sense of a place where members can publicise their events and courses, etc. and where The Full Pitcher can post links to the specialist resources it makes available online. At present, forums are set up so that anyone can read them but only registered members of the board can post. Posts will be rigorously moderated, on a daily basis.

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Music Technology in Education

Rethinking Music Notation

When Jim Plamondon left a comment on my posting, “Sol-fa, So Good!”, suggesting a visit to his site describing a new instrument he is developing, I clicked through for a quick visit. It was getting late, so I didn’t intend to stay long. Next thing I knew, though, it was well into the next day and I still hadn’t got round to reading about the new instrument!

What Jim presents on is not just a musical instrument but a whole new system of music notation, simpler than Common Western Musical Notation and one which sweeps away the inconsistencies and consequent stumbling blocks to musical literacy.

A few years ago this would have been an alarming prospect for music educators: how could a parallel system, however pupil-friendly, be integrated into the present musical scene and with the existing mass of repertoire in standard notation? Today, developments in computer notation make it possible to transpose easily between various systems based on equal temperament. In my current score-writing software, Sibelius 4, I can present a score in standard notation, solfa pitch symbols, solfa and rhythmic notation, guitar tablature and graphic score. Perhaps, in a few years time, ThumMusic will be added to the list.

The ThumMusic system combines tonic solfa with a visual representation that is consistent across clefs and octaves. It is totally compatible with CWMN, underlining the patterns of relationships between intervals. The ‘Thummer’ is the first instrument in which the layout conforms to the pattern of intervals – the layout and fingering are the same in any key or octave. You can see how it works with an onscreen layout linked to the computer keyboard. I think this, in itself, is a great little tool for learning major and modal scales – once the pupil has learnt the fingering for C major/A minor, they can play the scale from any tonic and read off the note names. There is constant aural, visual and tactile reinforcement of pitch concepts.

Just as harpsichord, clavichord, church organ, piano, celesta and synthesizer all share the same keyboard layout but each have their own characteristic sounds, appearance, playing styles and repertoire, ThumBoards could take many forms. Although the Thummer promises to be a really simple and highly motivating instrument for the beginner, the video demonstrations show it will have considerable expressive potential in the hands of a fine musician, and bear in mind that this is a prototype instrument.

Check out this project, which could conceivably be the biggest thing to hit the musical world in a long time! I’m sure Jim Plamondon would really appreciate your feedback.