Toneme System by Pi
sunfish7 | gmail | com

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' musicality must be defined not by the musical pieces one can play,
. . . . . but by the musical ideas one can imagine and express '
Evelyn Fletcher Copp

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Modern music operates over a basis of 12 pitch classes. Currently there doesn't seem to be any convention for uniquely identifying them. So let's give each one a name:


' if you wish to play, you must first learn to sing ' . . . Chopin

Now all well-known music operates over the seven note (diatonic) scale. So I assign a vowel phoneme to each of the seven scale positions thus:
As in...
Leading note

NOTE: if you play a diatonic scale starting on any piano note, there will be five 'gaps'. for example, if you start on C, these gaps will be the five black notes. so I also need a ' relative pitch ' representation for these five gaps; as some languages don't differentiate even up to 7 distinct vowel sounds, I'm using { ai, ɛi, ɔi, ui, œi }


Above is the system in action: It is a 12 tone musical instruments. To play with it, you will need to download the unity player plug-in.
(Note to self: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7532851/html-unity-plugin-not-working-in-wiki )

To use this widget, hit the key and then hit which toneme you wish to be the new tonal centre. Alternatively hit the key twice to bring it back to chromatic mode. (Yes it is buggy, but it is enough to demonstrate the concept -- I will fix the bugs as I'm able)


Exercise 1:
Learn the 12 colours { red, orange, brown, yellow, olive, emerald, teal, cyan, cobalt, purple, grape, pink }
Learn the associated 12 consonant phonemes
Sing a chromatic scale up and down {e.g. da ba ra nga ma va sha za ha la ka ta (da) } starting on an appropriate toneme for your singing range
Pay attention to how your singing range maps onto the wheel; e.g. for my lower register I can just about hit three E's (M on the wheel) -- i.e. get two octaves

Exercise 2:
Practice the generic major scale "a e i o u oe I (a)" up and down

Exercise 3:
Practice The 12 major scales
The first one will be {Da Re Mi Vo Zu Loe Ti (Da)}
The second one will be {Ba Nge Vi Sho Hu Koe Di (Ba)}
Practise these up and down, singing clock position (eg "0 2 4 5 7 9 11 0, 0 11 9 7 5 4 2 0"), colour and phoneme pair
Visualise the wheel. Visualise the colours, clock positions. Visualise the notes that are being skipped over.

Exercise 4:
More advanced exercises in the major scales
Pairs: going up: [Da Mi] [Re Vo] [Mi Zu] ... [TI Re] (Da), and down: [Da Re] [TI Da] ... [Ti Re] (Da)
Triples: [Da Mi Zu] [Re Vo Loe] ... ( down: [Da Loe Vo] [Ti Zu Mi] ... )
Start to perceive each note sung in relationship to the tonal centre.

NOTE: On this last exercise, I have noticed something useful. if I simply hum through the pattern, (eg C E G, D F A, E G B, ...) I realise that my brain seems to be diatonic-scale-fluent. I can complete the exercise without even thinking about it. As a next step I sing the vowel sounds as I'm going (eg a i u, e o oe, i u I, ...). It's very hard to put these seven vowels in a mental circle and then work it out from that circle. so you know the pitch of the note you want, but you want to assign the correct vowel. I have quite quickyl acquired the knack of 'remembering' the keynote as I hum the target note, and feeling the flavour of the target note, it will be one of seven flavours, so this is the most direct way to get the vowel. then I go for the consonant. so it is a three step process. first I find the pitch I want. Then I figure out its vowel from its scale position. Then I figure out which consonant is required mainly by having a decent internal wheel of 12 in my head, together with the fact that I have already spent a couple of months learning all 12 scales, and visualising them light up the appropriate bulb on the wheel as I go through the scale.


The above four exercises have kept me busy for some six months on and off. I've been struggling through the triples for the last couple of weeks. Next I'm going to be going back to developing some pitch training games in Unity.

Everything below here is old stuff that I will update as I am able.

The purpose of my work

The goal is musical fluency.

  1. Toneme System
    To create and develop an intelligent system of musical representation, suitable for a young child whilst capable of expressing the most complex musical ideas.

    NOTE: Every note sung reinforces (approximately) the absolute position of the note on a piano, whilst correctly depicting its musical relationship to the tonal centre.
    ( NOTE: Eat your heart out Freddie Mercury, and yes I am going to teach myself how to sing =], this is a good place to start )

  • Dojo Method
    To construct and develop a complete teaching method for the attainment of musical fluency. I am developing a set of iPad applications to teach core musical skills as a component of this work.


I am struggling out here and I really want to finish this work! Donations box on this page.

(24 Sep 2011)

IRC Channel

I have created an IRC channel for discussion: you can point your browser to webchat.freenode.net and join #toneme
I am on there at least a few hours every day.

Musical fluency test

    • Can you hear a tone and find it's nearest approximate note on the piano or guitar instantly without hesitation?
    • If I wake you up and ask you to sing a middle C, can you do it?
    • Can you play ' happy birthday with one finger in any key '?
    • Now can you harmonize it as you go?
    • Now can you play it in the style of Beethoven, or Pink Floyd?
    • And can you express your own musical ideas? Can you improvise a simple song?

Very few musicians will be able to answer yes to these questions. Yet these skills are at the core of musicality. They are essential skills for musical fluency, and they can be acquired.

' Musicality is a measure, not of the musical pieces one can play, but of the musical ideas on is capable of expressing ' ... Evelyn Fletcher Copp

Here are three examples of musical fluency:
Victor Borge
Yoo Ee Yun (5 years old)
Richard Grayson

I challenge anyone to do what these people do without possessing all of the above skills. (all but the last one, and I would be interested in any links to spontaneous improvisation).

The little blind girl gives it away. For both of the other links, you can think -- these men maybe are cheating somehow, are showmen, maybe they have spent 30 years to construct this illusion. But this girl is too young. She cannot be cheating.

With an archaic musical system, and wretched teaching methods wherein the tonally-blind lead the tonally-blind, it is little wonder that very few individuals attain to musical fluency.

Music can reach a place within us that otherwise is rarely found. Music offers a gateway, allowing us to express. And through this expression, we set ourselves free, the mind opens, dissolves, the spirit dances, celebrates. Music is a pinnacle of evolution. What better vehicle for expressing and communicating that which really matters in this life?

If the rose is to bloom, the roots must be nourished.

And I see around me little evidence of such nourishment.

Hence my work

I am working to develop a methodology for acquiring, expressing and transmitting musical fluency, complete with a set of training games made for iPad ( later to be ported to web interface, so as to be accessible for all ). These games will be enjoyable and accessible to a three-year-old child, as well as an adult, and teach of full spectrum of necessary musical and pre-musical skills, including positive (perfect) pitch (both production and identification).

As part of this method, I'm creating a radical musical system based on the 12 pitch classes found on a modern piano. This is because the current musical system is outdated and unsuitable for consumption especially by children. It will cast a shadow over their introduction to music. It does not promote musical fluency. It provides every possible obstacle to musical fluency.

You may instantly assume that I don't understand the existing musical system, and I am blaming the system because I do not understand it. But if you follow my reasoning, if you have the patience, you will realise that I have also had the patience to get to the very root of the issue. Everything I state I will be happy to explain from the ground up.

It has been my observation that those few individuals that acquire musical fluency do so not through the system of representation and the accepted system of musical education, but in spite of these, or even forging their own unique path ( example ). Observe how this three-year-old girl effortlessly finds the notes she needs, just because she has actually learned the notes on the piano, and for which ever sound she wants, she can find a note that will give a good approximation. She has not been to music school, nor has she learned musical theory or notation.


A quick note on my motivation; music has a transcendent quality, it can touch us deeply, connect us spiritually. I should not need to write anything here... if music does not reach you, why are you here? If you are here to support me without seeking to understand, I'm very grateful to you, but this whole work will be completely beyond you. But is there anyone completely unmoved by music?

Very few people attain to complete musical fluency. this is hardly surprising, when you look at musical teaching techniques -- everywhere the blind leading the blind. And the musical system is retarded ( in the true sense of the word, held back from its natural growth ). I myself was sent to a special musical school; the school that provided the choirboys for Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford for the Sunday service. I have played on some of the worst football teams ever assembled. This experience (the school, not the football) was enough to turn me against music (and football), but the beauty of song again seduced me, and I have started to learn from scratch, using my own methods.

22 July '11