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 www.thumtronics.com 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.