The conventions for music engraving and music publishing in use today were settled on at the end of the sixteenth century, with the coding of music in scores that use a two-axis system: discrete vertical distances for the expression of pitch, with horizontal sequencing representing development in time. Since then, numerous composers and pedagogues have added personal inflections or even novel symbols to the system but no set of objective criteria for the efficacy of music notation has ever been developed. Our research aims to systematically evaluate the efficacy of aspects of these conventions by means of alternative notational solutions that are being tested experimentally using a combination of behavioural, neurophysiological, and performative measures.
In a series of behavioural experiments we have shown that music notation can be modified in novel yet simple-to-implement ways that make it easier to read at first sight without preparation or rehearsal. The most effective modification seems to be the segmentation of the musical score by the insertion of blank spaces across the staff systems, separating manageable informational units, which we have found to increase fluency and accuracy in reading musical notation.
We have more recently undertaken exploratory longitudinal studies of the possible impact of these novel notation systems on performative choices. I will be commenting on the results of a study conducted in the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles [CrB] during the academic year 2020–1. Although group sessions and rehearsals were totally suspended due to covid-19 protocols, individual tuition continued throughout the various stages of lockdown and confinement. Four Master's students at the Musique classique et contemporaine department at the CrB worked on new personalised editions of music scores for use in recitals and pedagogical contexts; their editing, design, and publication of the scores was credited by the CrB as their End of Studies Project (Travail de Fin d'Études; TFE).
The process of conducting these case studies has revealed considerable interest within the performing arts community in reflecting upon the conventions that regulate information presentation in a text, and particularly —and this opens a whole new avenue of research— in the conception of a score or a text as a flexible tool, that can be adapted not only to facilitate the decoding of the information, but also to reflect a particular artistic or functional vision.