I can remember how I got turned on to the subject of notation, in 1973, when my sociology professor handed me a book called “Notations” by John Cage.
Inside were scores (literally) of pages illustrating how composers put down their musical ideas onto paper. You mean there was more than one way? More than filling in that daunting sheet of lines and spaces with little black blobs of notes. It was shocking and liberating.

Here, in this book, I was seeing the antithesis to everything I’d learned in music classes. Almost every page displays unconventional ways of getting ideas out of your head and into the external world. Here’s an example of George Cacioppo’s score for his work “Cassiopeia”.

From the top, Miss Smith! Now, doesn’t that look a little more like a mind-map than your conventional 5-line music sheet?

There are some 250 more examples in Cage’s book. Very heady stuff for an 18 year old. And it was a liberating experience in that I now had evidence that there were hundreds of minds out there that thought differently and had found a way to express themselves. Now, I’m upping that to millions.
The book was an answer to the hackneyed question “What were they thinking?!?”. Well, THIS is what they were thinking – and this is how they were writing it down.

When I applied this to my own writing, I felt a lot of kinship with these composers. I often got stuck trying to do a story straight through from “once upon a time” to “the end”. I had all the components – premise, characters, locations, even plot – but getting it all together so someone could follow it, that was the problem. I started looking around to see how others did it. And this will be subject for further posts.

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