So I think I’m done with my thesis. It compared the relative effectiveness of traditional notation versus MIDI grid notation. Here’s what I found out.

I gave a simple 10-question test to my classes. I randomly chose whether to give the MIDI quiz or the Trad. quiz. Each question consisted of an audio example with two possible notations- the correct one and a decoy; students were prompted to choose the correct one.

Questions were broken into two criteria for the decoys; they were either decoys that exploited a problem I anticipated with horizontal grouping (i.e. dotted eighth sixteenths) or with vertical spacing (chords, bass/treble clef).

MIDI won by a longshot. I’ll post the full statistics later, but the overall result was that in the MIDI group, about half of students scored 90% or better, and in the Trad. group, about 20% of students scored 90% or better. Why the big difference?

The 20% that did well on the Trad. test made sense to me – that number correlates to the percentage of student who take my class that are in Band or Choir. The number is possibly related, because to do that well on the test, a student would probably have prior experience with that notation style.

Does this mean that half of my students are secret studio engineers and producers though? Why did MIDI do so well? The answer may lie in video games.

According to a recent study, about 97% (read: all) of teens play video games. Of that group, about half report playing rhythm games. Rhythm games include things like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Taiko Drum Master, and other games of that ilk. But these games aren’t DAW software – they’re simplified, right?

Wrong. Picture the MIDI editing window of your favorite DAW, played at a brisk pace (maybe you’re zoomed in a whole lot). The notes are flying by.

Now turn your head sideways to the left, stand at the far right edge of your computer screen so you can just see them at an extreme perspective. Recognize Guitar Hero now? It’s MIDI turned on its side.

Go ahead an look at the vocal view for Rock Band – it’s basically a MIDI view, with an analog pitch detector laid on top of it.

Picture all the kids you know in band/choir. Now picture all the other kids (in addition to the ones in band/choir) playing rhythm games *for fun* and in their *spare time*. Which notation style do you think the largest number of kids will identify with? Which could be used to easily draw in a new demographic to school performance groups? Which one is basically being ignored by the publishing industry and many music educators?

You got it. Now start redrawing those note games sitting in your closets, everyone. Buy a set of Cuisinaire rods. We’ve got some MIDI’ing to do.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.