The Interface I Wish Noteflight Had Is Here: aQWERTYon

I’m extremely excited about the potential for students to use the groundbreaking musical instrument aQWERTYon as an interface with Noteflight.Matt McLean

Participating students in YCIW as well as my own students at LREI have been using Noteflight for over 6 years to compose music for chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, jazz ensembles, movie soundtracks, video game music, school band and more – hundreds of compositions. I’m extremely excited about the potential for students to use the ground breaking musical instrument aQWERTYon as an interface with Noteflight. Created by Alex Ruthmann and his team at NYU’s MusEdLab, it is an instrument that transforms a web browser into a powerful creative tool for students of any experience level.

Notating Ideas Through Performance

For the first time there is a viable way for every student to generate and notate her ideas in a tactile manner with an instrument that can be played by all. We founded Young Composers & Improvisors Workshop so that every student can have the experience of composing original music. Much of my time has been spent exploring ways to emphasize the “experiencing” part of this endeavor. Students had previously learned parts of their composition on instruments after their piece was completed. Also, students with piano or guitar skills could work out their ideas prior to notating them. But efforts to incorporate MIDI keyboards or other interfaces with Noteflight in order to give students a way to perform their ideas into notation always fell short.

Musical Alphabet

Because aQWERTYon is laid out by the musical alphabet it fits perfectly with how the YCIW curriculum engages students of all experience levels. We build harmonies and melodies based on the relationship between each letter in the musical alphabet. As students play aQWERTYon and notate their ideas on the Noteflight staff they are building a connection between the alphabet and notation. When pressing the keys on their computer keyboard they are viewing the musical alphabet laid out on each keyboard row as shown in the picture below.

Incorporating Into YCIW Classroom

After initial experiments with students this spring we are beginning to reimagine how our YCIW Classroom curriculum can utilize the aQWERTYon instrument with Noteflight. In addition to performing chords and melodies in realtime students can also de-select the Noteflight score and simple try out ideas before creating the notation. Student feedback suggests that kids like being able to play along to previously notated parts as a way to find new parts to add to their composition. As a teacher I am curious to measure the effect of students being able to practice their ideas at home using aQWERTYon and then sharing their performances before using their idea in their composition. It is likely that this will create a stronger connection between the composer and her musical idea than if she had only notated it first.

Here is an example of one of my 6th grader’s work from one class period. This is on the first day he used aQWERTYon.

Simple But Important Settings

When using AQWERTYon with Noteflight I recommend a couple of optional settings to be changed in Noteflight and there is one required setting to be made on the computer.


Noteflight Settings

1. First Select the Transcribe feature in Noteflight


2. Go to the MIDI Transcription Settings menu and select Minimum note duration. Change this option to 8th notes by clicking the plus symbol once. This will help the student capture rhythms no shorter than 8th notes. We find this is helpful for students just getting started as it creates rhythms that can be more easily edited. For the same reason we recommend deselecting the detect triplets option.

Computer Settings

On a Mac you must turn on the IAC Driver. To do this you can open an application called Audio/Midi Setup that comes with all Macs.

1. After you open Audio/Midi Setup go to the Windo menu and choose “Show Midi Studio.”


2. Double click the IAC Driver icon and then select “Device is online.”