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A Universal Language of Music – The 1,000 Year Quest

Reflections from The Dynamite Dyslexic on a Pilgrimage To Arezzo – Home of ‘Modern’ Music by Guido d’Arezzo and EMOJI-Go Music 1,000 years later!

First a BIG thank you…

Axel, Sandra and Me..The Dynamite Dyslexic in Arezzo

to our awesome guides from Arezzo, Sandra and Axel who made our Pilgrimage to Arezzo and Guido d’Arezzo  very special. Arezzo is the home of Guido Monaco or Guido d’Arezzo and ‘modern music notation’…. that just happens to be 1000 years old: Invented by the Benedictine Monk Guido d’Arezzo (992 -1026 Wikipedia LINK). That’s him in the statue in the main square of Arezzo in Tuscany Italy .

It’s our quest to help EVERYONE and ANYONE of ANY AGE and ANY ABILITY to learn music with what we now know of learning and learning difficulties today; including me with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysmusia; as well as my wife/editor Dizzy Dyspraxia with her own dyslexia and dyspraxia and like MILLIONS OF PEOPLE who say ‘music is just too difficult’.

So we made a Pilgrimage to Arezzo on our Sabbatical trip around Europe.

The day we visited, I had literally just put the whole concept together, after 3 years of development, thousands of drawings, trials, errors and Eureka’s; and with the amazing additions, insights and editing of Dizzy Dyscalculia my lovely wife and amazing help I have been given by our Asperger’s friend Jackie Hobbs D.O.L.L.I.E Dyspraxia the ‘Director Of Over-Learning and Locked-In Exercises’ .

Axel, Sandra, Sally and our Lady the Labrador

I can now reveal it  now the Patent is published and I can talk about the big, huge, critical WHY?

WHY we DESPERATELY need something NEW  – MUCH MUCH MUCH SIMPLER – FUN – EASY – DIFFICULTY & DISABILITY FRIENDLY too. Yet, based on his 1,000 year old system which is too prevalent to change and has great points as well as it’s (major) inherent difficulties.

Even if it’s only for myself who has lost a lifetime of being unable to read or understand music; who had to give up at the age of 12 after 7 years of study with what I now know is my Dyslexia, as well as Dyscalculia, as well as Dysmusia and a big issue of Visual Stress.

The Multi-Sensational 80/20 New RULE! of Learning Music Made Emojical

6 BILLION Emojis sent EVERY DAY!  This truy means something is working for EVERYBODY! WHY???? See the Academic analysis here I LOVE Emoji- LINK

Working with the British Dyslexia Association some time ago I learned a valuable lesson about learning as well as communication – if you make it EASY, READABLE, and above all MULTI-SENSORY for the 20% of people who have Specific Learning Difficulties then you make it EASY TOO for the 80% of people who don’t. That’s why  the New RULE –  Remarkabale Universal Language of Emojis! is not just multi-sensory it’s The Multi-Sensational  80/20 New RULE!

The V6 Powertrain of Multi-Sensational Learning, Playing, Teaching, Memory and Emotional Attachment

Here’s what I call the V6 Powertrain (that’s the word for the V6 engine in a car!) of Multi-Sensational Learning, Playing, Teaching, Memory and Emotional Attachment.

  1. VISUAL – That’s what Emojis are E= Picture MOJI = Character
  2. VISCERAL – That means it affects you emotionally with feeling. That’s what Emojis DO – with Smileys and fun, happy, sad images like broken hearts, kisses, thumbs up and every which way to express yourself in pictures that get your emotional messages across – WITHOUT WORDS!
  3. VERBAL – of course we need words, and words are made up of letters. Yet letters started off as images or GLYPHS (as in Egyptian HyeroGLYPHS). That’s what Emojis are – GLYPHS. For dyslexics and the other 20% of people with SpLD’s words and letters all jumble up. Put that into the Letter based Musical Alphabet ABCDEFG and mix up the Notes and Chords and Extension and Additions to Chords and Eeeeeeeeeek! Emojis are GLYPHS = pictures and characters NOT letters or words! That’s why 6 BILLION are sent EVERY DAY
  4. VOCAL – Singing is musical talking. Playing is creating an emotional language with what and how we play. What better way to learn and make something Multi-Sensational by making it sound great!
  5. VOLUME – Here’s where the power of the amount and timing of learning comes in. Our new understanding of Over-Learning and the on-going power of short bursts of Repeated Learning teach us WHEN and HOW much we need to learn, practice and exercise our minds
  6. VALUED  – If I  LOVE or even LIKE something then guess what!? I will WANT to learn and stick with it. If it’s DULL, BORING, DIFFICULT, TAKES FOREVER, COMPLICATED, CONFUSING, FRUSTRATING – and this is just for the 80%! – and for the 20% it’s – UNREADABLE, UNLEARNABLE, UNPLAYABLE, UPSETTING, UNFRIENDLY then it’s the opposite of being VALUED.

Add up all the MULTI-SENSATIONAL V6 POWERTRAIN and you get the awesome impact that Emojis are used for in everyday language applied to learning – not just music but can be applied to all types of leraning!

So here goes….

Reflections of a Pilgrimage And Conversations With Sandra and Axel

We need to say ‘Yes……And’  To Guido d’Arezzo Not ‘No…..But’!

In my book The Company Culture Cookbook (FT Pitman 2002) I extol the virtues of the language in organisation when innovating and creating new ideas to ALWAYS ADD to what others have done when in conversation; not DETRACT or DISDAIN!


Simply change your language, just as Emojical Music is doing 1,000 years after Guido Monaco (Guido d’Arezzo as he is called today) invented the 4 line Staff and the concept of Do Re Mi. My goal is to ADD to his system not ‘re-invent the wheel’ – although I do re-invent the Circle of 5ths – but that’s not his! Even Guido got ‘No Butted’ by his boss monk and had to move to Arezzo as he upset the traditionalists of Gregorian music in his Benedictine Order.

A Squiggle Staff and Tribute to Solfege

Here’s The YES! What a great job Guido did on ‘The Whole Gamut’ of Music (which I learned in my research is that ‘Gamut’ is the singing range from Bottom G = Gamma to the Top C = Ut; hence Gamut!). Guido changed the world of music learning and notation after he got fed up teaching music as he noted it took SEVEN YEARS of training for young choristers to learn Gregorian Chants off by heart (yet it still takes 7 years to become proficient with the system today!).

Wikipedia says ‘He came up with a method for teaching the singers to learn chants in a short time, and quickly became famous throughout north Italy. However, he attracted the hostility of the other monks at the abbey, prompting him to move to Arezzo, a town which had no abbey, but which did have a large group of cathedral singers, whose training Bishop Tedald invited him to conduct.

Enlarge to read the Tribute

As Guido himself states his aim in the opening of the Micrologus: “Desiring therefore to set forth my own so useful method of study for the general benefit, I summarized as briefly as I could. . .certain things that I believed would help singers.” The Prologus in antiphonarium opens in a similar manner, with Guido again describing this goal: “I have determined to notate this antiphoner, so that hereafter through it, any intelligent and diligent person can learn a chant.” N.B. Great treatise here pdf from Cedarville University LINK and see below

And here’s where we need to go YES!  Guido as a Guide to Music that’s great AND here’s a way to make it even better for EVERYBODY and especially those with the 4 D’s of Musical Difficulty and Disability not just ‘any intelligent and diligent person’. Guido’s innovative system was for people already in the music business (so to speak!). His legacy means that learning the complexities of music with its inherent difficulties never mind if you have Specific Learning Difficulties means for example that only 5% of US households have a musical instrument and learning music at school in the US has dropped since the 80’s form 45% to 33%. That’s 66% of people who don’t, can’t, won’t learn music. And we now know that the study of music puts ALL learning into the 95% improvement of learning anything (all this is in the Patent when it comes out!).

If Guido only knew that today how learning difficulties are compounded with his ‘modern music notation system’ he might also welcome a ‘Yes…And’ to his Hexachrome system.

The 4 D’s of Musical Difficulty and Disability – By The Dynamite Dyslexic (ready to explode the way we learn!)

Dyslexia Dyscalculia Dysmusia AND….. Just Too DIFFICULT – For EVERYBODY!!!


Here we go with difficulties with the Alphabet, reading and other associated difficulties like ‘Visual Stress/Meares-Irlens Syndrome’ where the high contrast of black type on white papers makes reading VERY slow and difficult. For example I was tested by Prof. Bruce Evans and went from reading 70 words per minute to 160 wmp with a blue filter – hence the blue glasses. Also see Dysmusia where music is a Right Brain activity also affected by Visual Stress. Amazingly before Guido, Gregorian Music had F on a Red Line and C on a Yellow Line. Color coding then helped too!!!!! And so does colour coding all the lines and spaces to reduce the glare.

Here’s just a few HUGE problems with having Dyslexia;

First the Alphabet Forwards   A B C D E F G – difficult enough but when turned into black dots – eeeeek!

Now try SAYING it Backwards  (Try it first without looking – bet you can’t!!) G F E D C B A never mind SIGHT READING and trying to learn it as music does go back down as much as up.

Now the Chords CEG is C Major; CEGB is CMajor7; CEGBD is C7 /9 Whoaaa!

Or lets INVERT them and make the First Inversion EGC: EGBC: EGBCD etc Help Meeee!

Now let’s try the usual Mnemonics that are supposed to help – but they don’t as there a FOUR of them that chop up the Alphabet into Lines and Spaces that are no longer an Alphabet as you try to play Scales or Tunes using long-winded and difficult to use sentences that you have to remember as you play. SERIOUSLY!!

  1. Treble Clef Lines – Every Good Boy Deserves Fun/Favour/Food – EGBDF
  2. Treble Clef Spaces – FACE – But where’s the D below or the G above??
  3. Base Clef Lines – Good Boys Deserve Fun/Favour/Food Always – GBDFA
  4. Base Clef Spaces – All Cows Eat Grass ACEG – But where’s the B above and the F Below???


Now add to Dyslexia the use of NOT JUST NUMBERS!

  1. Numbers – For the Notes
  2. Firsts – Thirds – Fifths – Sevenths etc. for the positioning of the Notes in Scales/Chords
  3. Roman Numerals for the Notes and the Chord titles Let’s now play a I ii IV iii V vii I Progression!!!
  4. Throw in Flats and Sharps and Augmented 5ths and eeeeek!

And not just Piano players. What about the Guitar System of Tabulature – TABS –  with NUMBERS? Try playing from a system that tells you to play 13 10 8 9 on one string and 7 8 6 9 on another or all together as chords!!!


g-girl-difficulty-logo-copyRecently discovered is Dysmusia and it is VERY different to Dyslexia as music as an ART and that Dysmusia is a RIGHT BRAIN learning and playing activity. Throw in Visual Stress and (like me – why I had to give up at the age of 12) the ‘notes just jiggle up and down on the page’ making it impossible to sight-read music.

Difficulty of the Whole Language and Complexity of Music – 500 Attempts to Change what Guido invented!!!

g-girl-dyscalculia-music-logoIt’s not simply enough to say that it takes SEVEN YEARS to become proficient in music and that so many musicians of any ability simply can’t, don’t or gave up with traditional notation such as guitarists with TABS or simply ‘playing by ear’. How difficult is it? Here’s just some of the difficulties from a website that recognises the difficulties of ‘Traditional Music Notation’. In fact there are OVER 500 attempts and/or full Patents that try to overcome Guido d’Arezzo ‘Traditional i.e. Modern Music Notation. Here’s just one way with different Staff Style http://musicnotation.org/

The 4 Dis’s – Adding To The Issue Of  The 4 D’s –  For Everyone!


No, not in the ‘traditional’ sense of discriminating with colour or creed but in a way that if you just don’t have the ability, or the tenacity or the money to afford a teacher then you are unable to join in the music ‘club’.


How sad, you WANT to be able to learn, to play, to join a band, to be a part of the very exciting music scene where others seem to just be so able to play so easily and often so brilliantly and you just CAN’T!


Like the ‘Have’s and Have Not’s’  in life with money, beauty, talent, personality etc. if you aren’t ‘musical’ then those that are can even reach god like status. People who can play (even a guitar around the campfire) are seen to be ‘above’ those who can’t. They are seen to have the skills, the ability, the adoration and all the things that ‘ordinary mere mortals’ just can’t have. This make the non-musical – especially those who WANT to play but CAN’T  – seem on a HIGHER PLANE. Guess what? That’s what puts you on a LOWER PLANE.


Add all this up and it’s really upsetting.I know! I have spent my life desperately wanting, needing, trying again and again and again to learn, to find a new way to make sense of it all. I even bought different guitars hoping it was the instrument not me that was the problem. I tried different (traditional) piano teachers who seemed to get just as frustrated as me that I couldn’t seem to read the music; got bored with the learning the same piece that made no sense. And just like my daughter who gave up after being unable to connect the coloured dots here violin teacher put on the violin with the music on the page. Or like my friend Jackie with Aspergers who could make no sense of any of it. Or my wife Sally (dyslexic too) who reached Grade 5 Piano but got fed up with learning because it was a ‘chore’ and ‘always about the next exam and not about enjoying it’.

So, recognising someor all of the 4D’s or the 4 Dis’s there have been HUNDREDS of attempts to either ADD to Guido d’Arezzo’s system or COMPLETELY CHANGE IT! Here’s just one website who focus on the way to change the lines on the staff. What’s important to note here is what they show up as the BIG PROBLEMS with ‘traditional’ music notation i.e. the basic staff and clefs and lines and spaces and sharps and flats and intervals and keys and ……….you get the idea!

Improving Upon Traditional Music Notation (Just one way to make music EASIER!)

Many people struggle to learn to read and play music, and many give up before they become proficient. Could a better notation system make reading, writing, and playing music more enjoyable and easier to learn? We think so.

The Chromatic Staff Approach

Here is a chromatic scale on a traditional diatonic staff (above) and the same chromatic scale on a chromatic staff with five lines (below). This is just one of many versions of chromatic staff.

Twelve note chromatic scale from C to C with five sharp signs, on a standard diatonic musical staff

Twelve note chromatic scale from C to C on a chromatic musical staff with five lines

On a chromatic staff each note has its own line or space on the staff. On the traditional staff only seven notes have their own line or space, the notes from just one key (C major/A minor, the white keys on the piano). The remaining notes (the black keys) have to be represented by altering these seven notes with sharp signs (#) or flat signs (b), either in the key signature or as an accidental.

The chromatic staff approach can make music easier to read, play, and understand by improving upon aspects of traditional notation such as key signatures, accidentals, clefs, octaves, and intervals. The rest of this page shows how.

Many Different Kinds of Chromatic Staff

There are many variations on this chromatic staff theme, with a number of different line patterns (see Notation Systems). We use a basic five-line version just to introduce the concept, not to suggest that it is the best one. We do not promote a particular alternative notation system, but document a variety of them and teach the general principles on which they are based.

Key Signatures

“The need for a new notation, or a radical improvement of the old, is greater than it seems, and the number of ingenious minds that have tackled the problem is greater than one might think.” — Arnold Schoenberg [1]

A grand staff with bass and treble clefs illustrating all fifteen key signatures one by one in rotation

There are fifteen different key signatures to memorize in traditional notation, and one must always keep the current key signature in mind while playing. With a chromatic staff this is not necessary since a note’s position on the staff directly indicates what note to play. All keys are equally easy to read.


Notes with five different accidental signs: flat, sharp, double flat, double sharp, and natural on a standard five line staff

In traditional notation accidental signs must be used to represent accidentals — notes that are not in the current key signature. On a chromatic staff they are not needed since all notes have their own position on the staff, making it easier to see each note’s pitch and how it relates to other notes.


standard musical staff illustrating the treble, bass, alto, and tenor clefs with notes at the same position on the staff changing pitch for each clef (E, G, F, D)

In traditional notation, staves that look the same may represent different sets of notes, depending on the clef symbol. On a typical chromatic staff the lines and spaces always represents the same notes, and an octave or register symbol simply indicates the staff’s pitch range.


standard musical staff illustrating the treble, bass, alto, and tenor clefs with notes at the same position on the staff changing pitch for each clef (E, G, F, D)

On a traditional staff, two notes an octave apart do not look alike. If a note falls on a line, the note an octave higher or lower will fall on a space (and vice-versa).
A two-octave five-line chromatic staff showing the notes E, G, F, and D and how they appear at the same place on the staff in both octaves

On chromatic staves like the one above, notes an octave apart look the same. Notes are easy to identify since a given note always has the same appearance regardless of its octave.


Standard musical staff showing an ascending major scale with whole steps and half steps labelled

Intervals that look the same in traditional notation may not be the same interval. In this illustration, whole steps and half steps are visually indistinguishable, as are major and minor thirds. What you see does not always correspond with what you hear and must play.
Five-line chromatic staff with a C major scale and whole steps and half steps labelled

Chromatic staves represent intervals more consistently and more accurately. As shown in this illustration of a C major scale, whole steps are always two notes on two neighboring lines or on two neighboring spaces. Half steps are always one note on a line and another on a neighboring space.

Arnold Schoenberg was probably the most influential 20th-century composer of Western “classical music.” It is less commonly known that he also invented a chromatic staff notation system. This quote is from his “A New Twelve-Tone Notation,” written in 1924 (see Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg). Although Schoenberg was a proponent of atonal, non-diatonic music, his statement is relevant for all kinds of music. Most alternative notation systems were invented primarily with traditional tonal music in mind, and we are interested in making all types of music easier to read and play. Though we quote Schoenberg we do not discount the importance of diatonic scales and keys. Chromatic staff notation systems actually represent diatonic scales, tonalities, and their intervals much more faithfully than traditional notation. See Intervals on this page, and our Intervals Tutorial.

[2] Traditional notation was developed over several centuries for use with music and instruments that were different from those of today. Guido d’Arezzo introduced his staff-based system in about 1025 CE, but the five-line staff only became standardized in the 1500s. This staff-based notation was a significant achievement that improved upon the notation systems that preceded it, and it has continued to evolve over time to address new notational needs as they arose.

[3] One of the few disadvantage to chromatic staves is that they typically require more vertical space on the page, since they include five additional notes per octave. Some notation systems solve this problem, for example these notations with more than one notehead shape, Express Stave notation, and Clairnote notation.

And That’s Just The Inherent Difficulties!

More On The 4 D’s

First The Professional Association Help –

The BDA British Dyslexia Association

Music Help LINK (of which I was heavily involved at one stage for my Dyslexia and professional communication support)

You’re musical and you’re dyslexic?

Do some people say you’re just thick?

Oh no! Not at all!!

It’s not a downfall

There are things that can help you real quick!

Yes! Dyslexia can affect music. You/your student/your family member or friend may have difficulties with things such as:

  • Sight reading music.
  • Remembering instructions in lessons and/or aural work.
  • De-coding information – in music theory or exams, for example.
  • Organisation of things like attending instrumental or voice lessons, going to rehearsals, having the right stuff, practicing alone…

However, some people don’t have any of these problems, but may react to dyslexia in their own unique ways.

But – there are things that can be done!

For example:

  • Find a teacher who understands dyslexia.
  • Look at alternatives such as different (or no) exams; choice of instrument etc. Is music reading really necessary?
  • If exams are necessary, there are ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can be made to make life easier.
  • Use multi-sensory approaches in as many areas as possible. For example: use colour, pictures, demonstration, listening to explanations, recordings, discussion, written text (yes – some dyslexic people like it!), hands-on exploration and so on. Music is good for this as it involved DOING. Decide what works for you or your student.
  • See whether there may be a problem with seeing music on the page. If text or music seems to swirl around, ‘visual stress’ could be a problem. See our pages on Eyes and Dyslexia.
  • It can be important for some dyslexic musicians to get a whole picture of a piece before working on it in detail.
  • There are various books available e.g. Music, other Performing Arts and Dyslexia LINK published by the B.D.A.

Webinar: ‘Music and dyslexia: definitions, difficulties, strengths and strategies’ – a link to the Incorporated Society of Musician’s website. The webinar can be accessed with sound and slides or as a pdf. LINK

Now the Professional Teachers

Karen Marshall at e-maestro.com LINK

In the year 2000 I started to teach a student with dyslexia.  Unusually his parents brought him to me with a wealth of information on what dyslexia was and how it affected him.  As a teacher I was very lucky to be given information because, the only thing I knew about dyslexia was that it caused spelling difficulties.  After spending time with this student I noticed other students – who had not been assessed as dyslexic – displaying some of the same traits.  Over the next couple of years, some of these students were also assessed with dyslexia or another specific leaning difficulty (spLD).

It became quickly apparent that my usual teaching style was not being particularly effective.  I read as much as I could but found that this information described many of the problems but gave few practical solutions.  I contacted the British Dyslexia Association who referred me to the late Margaret Hubiki (Emeritus Professor from the Royal Academy of Music).  Over the last few years of her life – by telephone – Peggy Hubiki taught me how to multi-sensory music teach.  I will never forget her words.  Try to focus on three questions with a student:  What do you see?  What do you feel?  What do you hear?  The results using this style of teaching for these students and others have been quite extraordinary.


  •     Dyslexia – difficulties with processing words (can be seeing and hearing)
  •     Dyscalculia – difficulties with processing number
  •     Dysgraphia – difficulties with the process of writing
  •     Dyspraxia – difficulties processing movement
  •     ADHD / ADD – difficulty with concentration
  •     Asperger’s Autism – difficulty processing emotion

In addition to these problems, many of these difficulties are also accompanied by memory problems, short term and working memory.


Multi-sensory music teaching is just what it sounds, using all the senses to teach music.  The main three employed are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinaesthetic (doing).  I’d also add in reading and writing (text) as the literate nature of our world shows, many people find this useful (even those with dyslexia).  Multi-sensory music teaching can be seen in some of the most respected music teaching approaches in the world such as Dalcroze, Kodály, Suzuki and Orff.  It can benefit all learners, but especially those with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia.

Sheila Oglethorpe in Instrumental Music for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook (Whurr, 1996) states:  “The foremost advice that is given to teachers of dyslexics in the classroom is to teach in a multi-sensory way.  They are exhorted to employ as many of the child’s senses as possible in the hope that the stronger senses will compensate for the weaker ones and a pathway into the brain and the memory will be found.”


Multi-sensory teaching (MST) is regularly employed when teaching a child to read. My own daughter was shown pictures of the letters (visual), listened to how the letters are pronounced (auditory), and drew the letters in a tray of sand (kinaesthetic).  Learning to play and read music can also be taught using all the senses.  As already mentioned it’s one of the most effective ways to teach a student with learning difficulties.  Here’s an example, teaching C major scale on a piano.

These exercises can be adapted for instruments other than the piano.  If you are teaching the flute let the student see, hear and feel, the fingering on the pads, if the trumpet, the position on the valves, the violin, the fingering on the strings.


•    Sing to ‘la’ the C major scale with the student.

•    Sing the ascending scale again for the student to listen to, using the letter names C D E F G A B C, and then sing them descending while the student follows the progress on the keyboard (or fingering on another instrument).

•    Sing the scale again to the student but this time using the finger numbers 123 12345 etc. as you sing up and down.

•    Play the intervals of a major 2nd and a semi-tone.  Help the student aurally identify these intervals within the scale.


•    Provide the student with a picture of the keyboard with the finger numbers of the scale on it.  Some students do not think in terms of finger numbers: if this is the case, try another way.

•    Show the student the scale written out as notes on the stave.

•    Get the student to look at the keyboard and see the shape of the scale in relation to the white and black notes.

•    I have a student who always remembers the D major scale as the one with Fish and Chips in – the Fish representing F sharp and Chips reminding them of the C sharp.


•    Finger numbers need to be learnt.  This can be done with a simple song (like ‘Once I caught a fish alive), doing the actions of the finger numbers at the same time.

•    Invite the student to use the right hand and depress the first three notes of the scale (notes CDE) together on the keyboard, then place the thumb on F and depress the next four notes with fingers 1234 (notes FGAB) – ascending up the keyboard.

•    Get the student to close their eyes and feel the fingering of the scale.

•    Ask the student using their right hand to put finger 3 on the E and then tuck their thumb under onto the F.

•    Walk the pattern of the tones and semi tones one the floor, a tone (large step), semi-tone (small step).


•    Teach in a multi-sensory way and use colour, pattern and music recordings to aid your teaching if helpful to the student.

•    Be aware that dyslexic students may confuse left and right.  Avoid using these terms: find other ways.

•    Sensitively encourage students to say things out loud what they need to learn.  This is a good way to check their understanding.

•    Produce well-structured lessons.  It helps to use a regular format so that the student knows in what order you do things.

•    Watch the body language to see if “Yes I understand” really means “No I don’t but I don’t want to say”.  Test the understanding without challenging the student and then teach the concept in another way.

•    Always OVER-TEACH information.  Poor short-term memory is a particular weakness for dyslexic students.  Use mnemonics if they help.

•    Beware of sequencing problems.  Many dyslexic students can find it difficult to sequence note names backwards.

•    Build the student’s self-esteem: focus on strengths.

•    Do not speak too much or too fast, and try to use short sentences.

•    If the dyslexic student complains about the notes dancing, produce enlarged or simplified copies of the music, try covering the music with coloured acetate, or copy the music onto coloured paper.

•    Set realistic goals and ensure all results are rewarded.

•    Help with personal organisation.  Try highlighting things to be practised by putting a small bookmark in the music, with no more than three things to practise listed on it.  Even better, use pictures.

•    Work in partnership with the parent.

•    Be flexible and persistent.  If something isn’t successful, keep on trying new things.


The British Dyslexia Association run a course LINK, Music learning and dyslexia, delivered by Karen Marshall.  Contact the British Dyslexia Association’s training department.  The course runs yearly in the Easter Holidays. The British Dyslexia Association – visit their website, call their helpline or contact BDA Music (see below). Look out for Kodaly and Dalcroze courses too.

BDA Music – a committee of the British Dyslexia Association dealing specifically with music.  Their e-mail address is http://www.bdamusicdyslexia@gmail.com


Music Teacher & British Dyslexic Association (2012), Teacher Guide to Music and Dyslexia. Available: http://www.rhinegold.co.uk/downloads/magazines/music_teacher/music_teacher_guide_music_and_dyslexia.pdfDaunt, S. (ed.) (2012), Music, Other Performing Arts and Dyslexia. Bracknell: B.D.A.Oglethorpe, S. (2002), Instrumental music for dyslexics, a teaching handbook. (2nd ed.) Londo

How the brain reads music: the evidence for musical dyslexia ( or Dysmusia)

Jennifer Mishra Associate Professor, Music Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis LINK

Music education in the western world often emphasizes musical literacy, the ability to read musical notation fluently. But this is not always an easy task – even for professional musicians. Which raises the question: Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that occurs when the brain is unable to process written words, even when the person has had proper training in reading. Researchers debate the underlying causes and treatments, but the predominant theory is that people with dyslexia have a problem with phonological processing – the ability to see a symbol (a letter or a phoneme) and relate it to speech sounds. Dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, but it is thought to occur in up to 10% of the population.

In 2000, Neil Gordon, a retired pediatric neurologist, proposed the idea of musical dyslexia (dysmusia), based on growing evidence that the areas of the brain involved in reading music and text differed.

The idea that dyslexia could affect the reading of non-language symbols is not new. For instance, dyscalculia is the difficulty reading and understanding mathematical symbols. Recent research supports dyslexia and dyscalculia as separate conditions with unique causes (dyscalculia is thought to be caused by a deficit in spatial processing in the parietal lobe). If the brain processes words and mathematical symbols differently, why not musical symbols too?

Music’s written system

Western music, like language, has a highly evolved coding system. This allows it to be written down and transmitted from composer to performer. But music, unlike language, uses a spatial arrangement for pitch. The page is divided into staffs of five lines each. Basically, the higher a symbol is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch.

Unlike letters in text, pitches can be stacked, indicating simultaneous performance (chords). Music also uses a system of symbols to indicate how pitches should be played. Symbols can indicate duration (rhythm), volume (dynamics) and other performance cues. Music also utilizes written words to indicate both the expressive features of the music and the lyrics in vocal music. Lyrics may be in languages not spoken by the performer.

Due to differences in the physical features of the written systems, it makes sense that the brain would read music and text differently. This appears to be the case – at least to some extent.Reading music and reading text use different systems in the brain.

Text and music reading in the brain

In the brain, reading music is a widespread, multi-modal activity, meaning that many different areas of the brain are involved at the same time. It includes motor, visual, auditory, audiovisual, somatosensory, parietal and frontal areas in both hemispheres and the cerebellum – making music reading truly a whole brain activity. With training, the neural network strengthens. Even reading a single pitch activates this widespread network in musicians. While text and music reading share some networks, they are largely independent. The pattern of activation for reading musical symbols and letters is different across the brain.

Composer Maurice Ravel. Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia Commons. Brain damage, especially if it is widespread, as was the case with the composer Maurice Ravel, (perhaps best known for Boléro), will likely impair both text and music reading abilities. Ravel had a form of frontotemporal lobe dementia. However, there have been cases where a more limited brain injury impaired reading of one coding system and spared the other.

Ian McDonald, a neurologist and amateur pianist, documented the loss and recovery of his own ability to read music after a stroke, though his ability to read text was unaffected. Oliver Sacks described the case of a professional pianist who, through a degenerative brain disease (Posterior Cortical Atrophy), first lost her ability to read music while retaining her text reading for many years. In another case, showing the opposite pattern, a musician lost his ability to read text, but retained his ability to read music.

Cases where music and language seem to be differently affected by brain damage have fascinated researchers for centuries. The earliest reported case of someone who was unable to speak, but retained his ability to sing, was in the 1745 article, On a Mute who Can Sing.

More recently, the Russian composer, Vissarion Shebalin, lost his language abilities after a severe stroke, but retained his ability to compose. Maintaining the ability to sing in the absence of language has led to the creation of a therapeutic treatment called Melodic Intonation Therapy that essentially replaces speech with song. This allows the patient to communicate verbally. These cases and many others demonstrate that music and language are to some extent separate neurological processes.

Differences in reading ability can occur even within musical notation. Cases have been reported where musicians have lost their ability to read pitch, but retained their ability to read rhythm, and vice versa. fMRI studies have confirmed that the brain processes pitch (spatial information) and rhythm (symbol recognition) differently.

Musical dyslexia

The research starts to imply how a specifically musical dyslexia could occur. This deficit may be centered on pitch or musical symbols or both. No conclusive case of musical dyslexia has yet been reported (though Hébert and colleagues have come close) and efforts to determine the effects of dyslexia on reading musical notation have been inconclusive.

Children in western cultures are taught to read text, but not always taught to read music. Even when they are, inabilities to read music are not generally treated as a serious concern. Many gifted musicians are able to function at a professional level purely learning music by ear. Among musicians, there is a wide range of music reading proficiencies. This is especially apparent with sight reading (the first performance of a notated piece). Identifying musical dyslexia could help explain why some musicians read well and others don’t.

Developmental dysmusia Letter To The Editor By Neil Gordon

(Dysmusia – Who ever thought? Not me – but I have it!)

‘Developmental dysmusia (developmental musical dyslexia)’ SIR–The term amusia, denoting an impaired capacity for musical activity, was introduced by Knoblauch in 1881. This letter will be mainly concerned with an aspect of this which appears to be a definite entity; an inability to read a musical score. This may be acquired as a result of cerebral lesions, but there is some evidence that it can occur as a developmental disorder. Language function, and that of music, have many similarities, displaying receptive and expressive features, as well as those of composition or invention, and comprehension; although there are obvious differences. Although the skills of learning to read words and music do overlap, they appear to involve different areas of the brain. Reports of developmental musical dyslexia are rare. This is not surprising, considering that relatively few children learn to play a musical instrument, and if they find it difficult, are likely to abandon the task. However, a child who is eager to learn may feel very frustrated to find it so problematic, and unhappiness and loss of self-confidence may ensue. If a specific disorder can be identified, then the child can be reassured that their difficulties are not due to lack of effort or to stupidity. See full article LINK

More (a LOT more) About Guido d’Arezzo  (Worth the read though!)

Cedarville University PDF LINK

Imagine for a moment, that you are a young choirboy in an Italian monastery. It is the year AD 900, and your choirmaster has just announced the performance of a new chant for an upcoming feast day. You watch with anticipation as he takes out the monochord, a single-stringed wooden instrument, and listen eagerly as he performs the new chant he is about to teach you. As you begin the process of learning the chant, you carefully imitate each interval of the melody as you hear it played on the monochord, relying only on your ear to guide you. The days pass slowly as you painstakingly learn the new music, continually reviewing the intervals learned on the previous day and attempting to match exactly the pitches of new notes as they are played on the monochord. After weeks of this time-consuming and arduous process, you and your fellow singers are finally ready to perform the chant on the feast day. As you sing at the mass, you wonder if you will remember the chant when called upon to perform it in another year or two. You question if the scant notation in the tonary will sufficiently remind you of the tune, or if you will need to relearn the chant in a few years’ time. You ask yourself if all the hard work and time of the past few weeks will have been wasted, and, vaguely, you wonder if there is a better way to teach and learn music.

This better method of teaching and learning music became established through the work of medieval music scholar and teacher Guido of Arezzo. As one of the most influential music theorists and pedagogues of the Middle Ages, Guido revolutionized the music education methods of his time. Through his developments in the hexachord system, solmization syllables, and music notation, his work set the course for our modern system of music. By building upon the theories of those before him, Guido expanded and reshaped the existing musical system, transforming the way music was taught and, ultimately, establishing his ideas as an essential part of our modern musical heritage. Born in the late 990s in Italy, Guido began his education and musical career as a Benedictine monk in the abbey of Pomposa near Ferrara, Italy. Although many details of his life are lost to history, it is known that, by the first part of the eleventh century, he had “attained a high reputation for his musical learning.”1 Guido moved to the city of Arezzo around the year 1025, where he was given the task of training the singers in the city’s cathedral, during which time he developed his innovative teaching methods. As his reputation as an educator and theorist grew, he was invited by Pope John XIX to visit Rome and present his new teaching method shortly after the completion of his Micrologus treatise. Although his visit seems to have been met with great approval, his poor health forced him to leave Rome and return to a monastery near Arezzo. The later events of his life are relatively unknown; however, it is presumed that he died around the year 1050. Although the details of Guido’s personal life have been lost to history, his innovations and musical ideas have been preserved in his various writings. The major works positively attributed to him are Prologus in antiphonarium, Regule rithmice (also known as Regulae rhythmicae), Epistola ad michahelem, and the treatise Micrologus. The latter, written around 1024, was Guido’s most famous work, becoming one of the most widely circulated music treatises of the medieval period after Boethius’s De institutione musica. With the widespread dissemination of his various ideas and teaching methods, Guido garnered a high reputation as a pedagogue, eventually leading to an invitation to visit Rome. His methods had a favorable effect upon the Pope, whom Guido describes in the Epistola as being much impressed, stating that Pope John XIX “recognized quickly in himself what he scarcely believed in others.”2 Guido’s reputation lasted well after his death as theorists throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance built upon his innovations in their own developments of the musical system. Writers such as Middle Ages theorist Johannes Cotto described Guido as “the Master, whom we consider the greatest in our field since Boethius,”3 and modern writers also state that his “writings continue to be considered novel and far-reaching in their implications.”4 Although many musical writers, both past and modern, hold Guido’s work in high regard, his theories have also been the subject of criticism and dispute. In his Epistola to Brother Michael, Guido describes himself as “dejected and burdened by many obstacles,” stating that both he and Brother Michael have been the subject of criticism and disdain due to the innovative teaching methods he had proposed.5 Throughout history the originality and extent of Guido’s developments have been a matter of much dispute, with critics downplaying his role in music history as “more of a codifier and improver of a system already in a high stage of development”6 and stating that Guido neglected to explain “how far the improvements he described were the result of his own inventive genius or telling us how many of them were in general use at the time.”7 Despite the controversies that may surround Guido’s work, it is certain that his primary desire and goal in developing his methods was to aid students in the learning of chant. This objective was unique in his time, as previous theorists, such as Boethius, chose to focus their writings on the philosophical and mathematical implications of music rather than on the education of their readers. Guido states his aim in the opening of the Micrologus: “Desiring therefore to set forth my own so useful method of study for the general benefit, I summarized as briefly as I could. . .certain things that I believed would help singers.”8 The Prologus in antiphonarium opens in a similar manner, with Guido again describing this goal: “I have determined to notate this antiphoner, so that hereafter through it, any intelligent and diligent person can learn a chant.”9 As a closer examination of his work will reveal, Guido’s innovations in the hexachord system, solmization syllables, and music notation are all directed towards the goal of improving the music learning process of his day. As a result of his passion and devotion to this goal, his developments had a profound impact not only upon the way music was taught but also upon the entire course of music history. The first of Guido’s major developments in the realm of music theory and education was his codification of the hexachord system. In his system, the notes of the musical gamut were described in interlocking six-note segments, known as hexachords, all of which shared the same interval pattern. This system, built on the existing modal system and similar in a sense to our modern concepts of scales and tonality, allowed singers to group the chants according to the particular hexachord to which each chant belonged. Guido’s system also gave singers the ability to learn the intervals of a chant within the context of a specific hexachord rather than by merely listening and repeating patterns as heard on the monochord, an ability which would be furthered by his development of solmization. Finally, the hexachord system allowed singers to change between hexachords if the chant were to exceed the proper range of its original hexachord in a process known as mutation or transposition. As the hexachord system became codified in a manner that was more easily understandable, it “would quickly become an important tool for teaching the system itself and for teaching the important technique of transposition.”10 Although Guido was the first theorist to describe the hexachord system, the overall concept of modes, or the grouping of notes into specific interval patterns, dates back to ancient Greece. Working from a sixteen-note gamut that encompassed all the natural notes from B2 to D4 and included B-flat as well as B natural, the Greeks organized the notes into groups of four to create a system of five distinct tetrachords. This system, known as the Immutable System, allowed theorists to explore the mathematic relationships in the intervals between notes. Boethius, a scholar and theorist of the late fifth century, further developed the Immutable System in his work De institutione musica, which “offered the most comprehensive and detailed treatment of [the modes] available to the Middle Ages” and became one of the most widely circulated music treatises of the medieval period.11 In De institutione musica, Boethius outlined his modal system, basing it on the Greek system by organizing the notes of the gamut into three types of tetrachords, each with a different interval pattern. The diatonic tetrachord, with an interval pattern of Semitone-Tone-Tone, “was the one taken over from Boethius into the medieval theoretical tradition” and was used by pre-Guidonian theorists such as Hucbald, St. Odo of Cluny, and the writers of the Enchiriadis treatises.12 Building on this concept of tetrachords, Boethius also described a system of seven modes or scales, which he described as “an entire collection of pitches, brought together within the framework of a consonance.”13 The modes, spanning the range of an octave, each began on a different note of the gamut and possessed a unique interval pattern. These intervals and patterns were the outcome of specific mathematical ratios which further served to indicate consonance or dissonance between pitches. For Boethius, the tetrachords and modes were a means of describing the philosophical and mathematical nature of music, relating the music of instruments to that of humanity and the cosmos: But to what purpose is all this? So that there can be no doubt that the order of our soul and body seems to be related somehow through those same ratios by which subsequent argument will demonstrate sets of pitches, suitable for melody, are joined together and united.14 As the Middle Ages progressed, Boethius’s ideas were utilized by other writers and theorists. Hucbald, St. Odo of Cluny, and the anonymous author of Musica enchiriadis, all writing around the late ninth and early tenth centuries, built upon Boethius’s ideas as they further developed the concepts of the tetrachord and modes that would lay the foundation for Guido’s theories. In the Musica enchiriadis treatise, the author describes a tetrachord system in which tones are “joined together, ascending and descending in a natural way, so that they follow one another, always in similarly constituted groups of four,” organizing the gamut into a system of four consecutive, non-overlapping tetrachords.15 While still retaining the mathematical and philosophical focus of Boethius’s writings, Musica enchiriadis also provides additional information for students of music regarding the structure of the modes and melodies. According to the author, melodies may only end on particular notes, known as finals, which in modern nomenclature are D, E, F, and G. Each final serves as the focus of a particular mode, and the four types of modes can be further divided into two subtypes, “maior” or “authentic” and “minor” or “plagal,” based on their range around the final. In the authentic modes, the final was the beginning note of the scale, while in the plagal modes the final was placed towards the center of the scale. Hucbald, a Frankish theorist and Benedictine monk, further elaborated upon the developments of the Musica enchiriadis treatise. His work “represents the first attempt to fuse Boethian theory with chant theory” and provided a basis for Guido’s innovations in the hexachord system.16 In his writings, Hucbald used the same Greek gamut as Boethius, expanding it slightly to cover a span of two octaves from A2 to A4 . He, like the author of the Enchiriadis treatise, organized this gamut into tetrachords to create the system which he presents as a basis for chant theory. Closely paralleling the work of Hucbald, St. Odo of Cluny, whose writings also had a significant influence on Guido, further described the system presented in Musica enchiriadis. Defining a mode as “a rule which classifies every chant by its final,” Odo confirmed the use of D, E, F, or G as suitable finals to be used in a chant.17 In addition, Odo established new names for the four main types of modes, referring to them as Protus, Deuterus, Tritus, and Tetrardus, titles which Guido later used in his writings on the modes and hexachords. By classifying chants according to their mode, Odo paved the way for Guido’s hexachord system, which uses this classification as a way to teach new chants rather than presenting it merely as a theoretical or compositional tool. As Guido developed his hexachord system, he used the ideas of Boethius, Odo, and others to provide the foundation for his innovations. Basing his system on the gamut of Γ (gamma or G2 ) to D4 as described by Hucbald and Odo, Guido used the first seven letters of the alphabet to indicate pitches, repeating them at the octave as in our modern scale system rather than at the fifth as in the Greek system. This was a significant move from the four Greek letters used to indicate pitch in the scales of Boethius and the Enchiriadis treatise, which Guido criticizes in his Regule rithmice: “I am astonished that some have made four symbols for the pitches, as if they are the same at the fifth, of which some differ. Some, however much they are related, do not agree perfectly.”18 In addition to emphasizing the consonance of the octave, using seven letters allowed the notes to “be plain to little boys,” giving even young students the ability to learn and understand the gamut.19 As he developed his hexachord system, Guido also reaffirmed the modal system outlined by Odo and the author of Musica enchiriadis. In Micrologus, Guido describes four modes entitled Protus, Deuterus, Tritus, and Tetrardus, similar to those outlined by Odo, which “are so differentiated from one another by their inherent dissimilarity, that none of them will grant another a place in its domain.”20 Each of these modes is associated with a particular final, D, E, F, or G, which in turn allows singers to determine the mode of a chant “according to which kind of property it sounds, whether at the beginning or at the end.”21 Further, Guido, like the author of Musica enchiriadis, divides each of the four modes into “high” and “low” subtypes known as authentic and plagal, respectively, based on their range and deviation from the final. Although Guido did use the previously existing gamut and modal system as the basis for his innovations, his hexachord system was a unique development. Based on the six intervals he believed were foundational to music, Guido divided the gamut into six-note groups known as hexachords to create “a system of seven overlapping hexachords on G, C, and F,” as shown in Figure 1 below.22 Figure 1: Diagram of Hexachord System

With an interval structure of Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone, the center of each hexachord was the semitone. By determining the location of the semitone in a chant, the singer could determine in which hexachord he was singing and could therefore know the exact location of all the intervals in the chant. Essentially, the hexachord gave the singer a reference point for the chant, allowing him to place each note and interval exactly where it should belong and enabling “any piece in any mode [to] be understood and sung in terms of only one six-note pattern.”23 These three hexachords, beginning on C, G, and F, were known as “natural,” “hard,” and “soft,” respectively, with the F hexachord including a B-flat instead of a B-natural. Although in Micrologus Guido does describe the use of B-flat “mostly in that chant in which F. . .recurs rather extensively, either low or high,” he discourages its use in his later writings.24 In the Epistola ad michahelem, he states that if B-flat were to be used to avoid the tritone interval when ascending a fourth from F, F-sharp would similarly have to be accepted to allow an ascent from B-natural, a practice which had not been popularly accepted: “but because no one has done the latter, no one ought to do the former.”25 In addition to providing a method of learning and organizing the intervals of a chant, Guido’s hexachord system also allowed singers to change between hexachords in a process known as mutation. If a melody went beyond the range of one hexachord, the singer would change into another hexachord by finding a common tone between the two. This process, similar to our modern concept of modulation, was further facilitated by Guido’s later development of solmization syllables. Although the hexachord system shares similarities with the modal system of Guido’s day, it is important to recognize that the two concepts are not identical. While the hexachord system is built upon the preexisting modal system and gamut, it was designed “to facilitate the teaching and learning of plainchant melodies”26 and does not “reflect the scalar patterns, or modes, in which these melodies were written.”27 In short, the hexachord system provided a means of learning chant by giving a frame of reference for the intervals between notes, while the modal system allowed chants to be classified according to their finals, much in the way the modern scale system organizes music by the tonic scale degree. As music theory progressed through the late Middle Ages, Guido’s hexachord system became foundational to the development of tonality. The modal system and the hexachord continued to exist side-by-side, with the modal system becoming firmly entrenched in the church music of the day and leading to our modern church modes. However, with the development of polyphony during and after Guido’s time, particularly in secular music, the limits of the hexachord and modal systems began to be tested. The necessity for consonance in polyphony, particularly at intervals of a fourth and fifth, led to the addition of chromatic notes in a practice known as musica ficta. The musica ficta notes were those outside the traditional gamut and hexachord system, or, in other words, the placement of a semitone where none had previously existed. This led to the development of additional hexachords, known as ficta hexachords, beyond those on C, G, and F in order to accommodate these new notes: “we know, however, that at some point musicians began to go beyond these limits and that eventually it became possible to flatten and sharpen all the seven uninflected notes within an octave.”28 As the hexachord system began to disintegrate during the fifteenth century, “the entire rationale of medieval solmisation, namely to identify the semitone. . .and give surrounding context to it, was eroded.”29 Theorists throughout the Renaissance continued to propose solutions to this problem while at the same time shifting from the monochord to the keyboard as the basis of music theory. Writers such as Prosdocimus de Beldemandus, Johannes Hothby, and Pietro Aaron devised new gamuts in which “every step could receive both a flat and a sharp,” leading to the modern chromatic scale.30 In the sixteenth century, Gioseffe Zarlino gave the “first recognition of the fact that there were only two types of modes, those which had a tonic major third and were cheerful, and those which had a minor third and were sad.”31 His organization of the chromatic gamut into these two types “forced a dichotomization of modal theory which closely paralleled actual practice and pointed the way toward the major and minor tonalities.”32 Although it is uncertain when exactly the transition from the modal and hexachord systems to our modern system of tonality occurred, it would seem that, as chromatic notes were added to the scale with the development of polyphony and counterpoint during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the tonal limitations of Guido’s hexachord system led to its eventual obsolescence. The second of Guido’s major innovations in music theory and education was his creation of a system of solmization syllables. Closely related to his previous development of hexachords, the solmization syllables allowed the hexachord system to be used as a practical tool in the learning of chants. Prior to Guido’s time, students would learn new chants by imitating pitches as played on the monochord in a time-consuming, painstaking process which Guido himself describes as “childish–good for beginners, but very bad for those who continue further.”33 As the disadvantages of this method became apparent, “Guido’s new system, in many ways the beginning of modern sight-singing technique, was badly needed as a method of learning the chant.”34 With the solmization syllables, singers could become familiar “with the intervallic context surrounding each syllable” within the hexachord, enabling them to determine the exact placement of pitches and, ultimately, to learn chants without the aid of the monochord.35 Although Guido’s developments in the hexachord system built upon the theories of scholars before him, his solmization system is uniquely his own invention. While some writers have suggested that ancient Greek and Arabic music included the use of solmization syllables, there is little to no evidence to support this claim, and scholars generally recognize Guido’s innovation as exclusively his. The solmization system is detailed in his work Epistola ad michahelem, in which he describes the discovery of “a most excellent method for finding an unknown melody, recently given to us by God, and proven most useful.”36 Because the syllables are discussed only in the Epistola, it is reasonable to assume that they were developed towards the end of Guido’s life as a culmination of his earlier innovations in the hexachord system and in music notation.

There is a LOT more, including is Solmization Do Re Mi etc.

Did you get to the end?

This is just the beginning!!

More – a LOT! – From me soon – The Dynamite Dyslexic