Throw Away the Keys

Every good boy does fine? Not according to this Denver music teacher's new system of music notation.

However, at the Havern Center, a private school for learning-disabled children in Littleton, teachers say their children are having success with Meloz. Fifty-one children are enrolled in classes that have been meeting twice a week for thirty minutes since last November. No one has quit the class, they say.

During a recent visit, one could see five children, nine and ten years old, playing on their keyboards in a small storage room that's been converted into a music lab. Their learning disabilities range from difficulty in paying attention to more serious reading, writing and motor-skill problems. Today they're playing the opening of the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in three-part harmony, which they've been working on for a few weeks.

One boy, Carl, says that he thinks Beethoven "wrote lots of cool music," and some of the kids have even composed their own songs. "I like composing music," Carl says, "because I can write it well."

All the teachers are familiar with standard notation, and they think Meloz works. "I'm very impressed with their focus," says teacher Betty Ney, speaking of her students. "Under the old system, my guess is they would be frustrated as anything."

Even old hands can feel comfortable with Meloz. Lepinski's assistant Jennifer Long, who is a flutist by training, says it took about a month to get comfortable with Lepinski's system. Now, she says, using both systems "isn't a problem at all." In fact, she thinks Meloz has helped improve her sight reading. "It's like being a writer and messing around with a crossword puzzle," she says. "It frees everything up."

The students are enthusiastic; Carl, for instance, says the system is easy to learn. But the catch in making comparisons between the systems is that Carl has no experience with standard notation.

Lepinski wasn't required by federal officials to set up a control group to compare the systems. He says he wouldn't have had the funding, anyway, and he didn't want to create a sense of competition between the two systems. But even though Lepinski says "we can use all of history" as a control group, it's impossible to know which system these kids, or any kids, would best respond to. The Meloz kids play Beethoven, but so do children at Timberline Elementary. Candace Hansen, an elementary teacher at Timberline, says her kids can play a simplified version of the "Ode to Joy" chorus in Beethoven's Ninth on recorders. Bill Stevens says most kids pick up simple melodies by ear, regardless of notation.

Lepinski is confident that, at the very least, Meloz will co-exist with the current system and "inevitably, eventually" supplant it. "But there's nothing to fear," he says, describing what he hopes is a peaceful transformation rather than a revolution. Students, he believes, will either use Meloz or use both systems together.

"One way or the other," Lepinski says, "people are going to look back and say, 'Lepinski really solved a problem for the world.


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