This Tiny Startup Is Trying To Reinvent How We Learn And Read Music

blake westBlake West, co-founder at Hummingbird

How we learn and read music hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. 

Until now. 

Hummingbird co-founder and music teacher Blake West was inspired to create an entirely new music notation when he saw a lot of his students struggling with how to read music, West tells Business Insider. 

“I felt like they weren’t doing as well as they should be,” West says. “As a teacher, I felt like I was spending too much time trying to teach people how to read music.” 

Generally speaking, it could take someone anywhere from three to nine months in order to gain some level of confidence reading traditional sheet music, West says. But with Hummingbird, that time is measured in minutes. 

“We see it as something that can be beneficial for anyone,” West says. “Beginners get the most value out of it now. It’s designed to speed of the process of learning music.”

hummingbird notation

With Hummingbird notation, aspiring musicians don’t need to count lines. And every note has its own symbol. 

The idea isn’t to change the meaning of music, West says, but rather make learning music more accessible to people.

When developing Hummingbird notation, West and his co-founder Mike Sail tried just about everything. They experimented with colours, shapes, lines, squiggles, and other symbols. 

Sail says that they weren’t satisfied with any aspect of the notation until students were able to guess what the notation meant without needing any explanation. 

Down the road, Hummingbird will release a tablet app that replicates the experience of having a teacher right in front of you. In terms of monetization, Hummingbird plans to open up a sheet music store, and licence the music to other content creators and publishers. 

Since launching last month, Hummingbird has seen 80,000 unique visitors download 25,000 pieces of sheet music.

But Hummingbird is already receiving some backlash from traditional musicians. West says some highly-trained musicians have called the idea terrible.

Though, West says he can understand where the critics are coming from. 

“When I started teaching, I underestimated the difficulty of learning traditional notation,” West says. “Once you know it well, it’s very easy to forget that it was hard to learn in the first place.”

As much backlash Hummingbird has received from professional musicians, Sail says they’re still receiving tons of emails and comments from people who believe in the platform.

One man, who has always had trouble learning music because of his dyslexia, told Sail how Hummingbird is much easier for him.

“It’s been polarising in both directions,” Sail says.

The ultimate goal for Hummingbird is to provide a legitimate alternative to reading traditional sheet music.

“We want it to be the type of thing where no one feels the need to switch to traditional,” West says. “We’re not saying professionals need to switch over or trying to convert people already great at learning music.” 

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