If you’ve been exploring the ETUDES music library for any length of time, you may have noticed lots of strange numbers lurking around in various places… and you may have even wondered what they were for.

Well today I’m going to solve that mystery for you.

You see, every ETUDE in our library contains 2 values: a “Difficulty Score” and a “Readability Score”.

And, before I tell you how you can benefit from these 2 little numbers, let me first tell you a little back story (cue harp music)…

In the Beginning

When Tim and I started building our grading rubric for etudes back in 2017, we knew we wanted to do 2 things:

  1. Create a new way of categorizing and searching for music, &
  2. Create an easy and objective way to compare and analyze music across collections, eras, composers, etc.

We quickly realized that, in order to do these two things (especially the 2nd), we’d have to create our own method for comparing music that didn’t depend on what existed elsewhere in the music education world.

No More Levels

Right off the bat, we knew we couldn’t use “levels” to compare music. Levels, as you see in many curriculums, lock you into a particular pedagogy. Which, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, simply means it comes down to one person’s prescribed method of learning an instrument. This becomes highly subjective, and leads to contradictions when applied at the scale of an entire library of music.

Instead, we wanted a “sliding scale, progressive grading methodology” that could automatically calculate the relative difficulty of a piece, without depending on humans drawing subjective lines in the sand.

Doing away with levels also meant we were free from any particular pedagogy. Thus, anyone using our library should be able to benefit from our scoring system, regardless of how you teach.

The Algorithm

Once we had our grading rubric established, the next step was to create an algorithm which could automatically assign difficulty and readability scores to each piece.

We gave each technique a relative score, then factored in things like:

  • Melodic Content
  • Rhythm
  • Tonality, &
  • Form

The result was, dare I say, pure magic. We now had 2 simple scores for each piece we analyzed. Clean, clear, concise and (most importantly) effective.

How to Use Each Score

And that leads us back to how you can use these scores, today.

Simply put: You can use both the difficulty and readability scores as your guide through the entire ETUDES library.

Now that you know these scores aren’t random or subjective, you can use them as we do: as a way of quickly assessing any piece’s relative difficulty – irrespective of style, era, genre, or exact techniques employed.

So there you have it.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on our scoring system as you start to use it in our Library, and if you have any further questions or want to discuss it further with us, shoot us an email.

About the author: Ross Phillips
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