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A practical and multi-sensory aid

towards the
mastery of musical notation

Margaret Hubicki


Ever warm thanks to all my deeply valued friends and colleagues for their
continuing encouragement and requests for Colour-Staff throughout a very great
number of years.
Also, a particular note of gratitude to Andrew Quartermain who has helped very
greatly in the editing of this edition.
Margaret Hubicki April 2005


Mrs Margaret Hubicki

M.B.E., F.R.A.M., F.R.S.A.

Margaret Hubicki was a Professor and Examiner at the Royal Academy of Music,
London, and formerly on the staff of the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music when
it was based in London. She was also an examiner of the Froebel Foundation and
the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
Mrs Hubicki is a Committee member of the Council for Music in Hospitals and
the Music and Dyslexia Committee of the British Dyslexia Association. She has
also contributed recently to the publication Music and Dyslexia (Whurr London
2001). She was awarded the M.B.E. for services to music in 1987.
She created Colour-Staff, after a number of years of research, to meet the needs of
those students whose technical ability to play an instrument far outstripped their
ability to read the notation which would allow them to explore the literature for
their particular instrument.
Colour-Staff has since been validated in many schools and other learning
centres. Teachers of both child and adult beginners have been highly enthusiastic
about the ability of Colour-Staff to help their students over the first difficult steps
to a greater appreciation and love of music.

One of my treasured possessions is a photograph of the very first day of the
Yehudi Menuhin School. I am seven years old, in my new school uniform, with
the buttons done up completely wrongly! Yehudi has his arm around me and
Margaret - Peggy - Hubicki is looking on kindly, wearing the most splendid hat.
It marks, for me, the beginning of a wonderful friendship with a quite
remarkable woman.
Peggy is a very gifted composer as well as teacher of harmony and music theory.
I must have caused her enormous problems over my difficulties with the bass clef.
Her incredible patience, love and commitment to this puzzle sowed the seeds for
her thoughts on Colour-Staff.
Colour-Staff has become an invaluable teaching aid for those learning to read
music and has highlighted the importance of a multi-sensory approach to
learning and teaching methods in general.
The ripple effect in life never ceases to amaze me. Much later on in my life,
Yehudi Menuhin asked me to assist him on a project teaching violin to complete
beginners, which subsequently became the BBC2 documentary called Menuhins
Children. Peggys ideas and words of wisdom were always at the back of my
mind, guiding me through this challenge.
Her approach to teaching made learning music fun and, in turn, benefited the
children in their academic studies, whilst also increasing their general selfesteem. This programme has now developed into an educational project called A
Chance to Play and has enabled some of the children to overcome both mental
and physical disabilities.
I will forever be grateful for my friendship with Peggy which began on that
auspicious day all those years ago - captured on my treasured photograph.
Rosemary Furniss

London 2004


Colour-Staff came into being through helping students in the Yehudi Menuhin
School during its first year in London. One of them was a highly-gifted young
violinist who read the treble clef with ease, but who was puzzled by the bass clef.
The other was a young cellist who was perfectly at home with the bass clef, yet
completely lost when trying to read the treble clef!
I wanted to find something which could help both these students to discover and
understand the relationship between the two clefs. However, as there didnt
appear to be anything on the market, I followed the suggestion of a friend and
decided to create a device myself. I painted a baking tray in seven repeating
colours to make an eleven-lined staff. Having been given some pieces of
magnetic plastic, I made little moveable symbols and painted each one using this
same colour sequence and letter-named them. Through this material the violinist
and cellist began to see for themselves how the treble and bass clefs belonged
to one another, with Middle C floating in between forming the Great Staff.
Following the success of this home-made device, I developed the material further
and called it Colour-Staff.
What lay in the background of Colour-Staff however, had begun many, many
years before. Aged about five years old, I was staying on holiday in my
grandfathers small cottage in Scotland. One night I was dozing in bed when
suddenly I heard something amazing. What was this and where was it coming
from? I must find out at once! Breaking all rules, I leapt out of bed to explore.
Quietly opening a door, I peeped in to find it was Grandpa playing the violin!
What was astonishing was that, though I had often heard him playing before,
and loved the sound he made, tonight, somehow, there seemed to be something
different, something added. Suddenly, I had become aware of the magic which
lies within the sound of music it seemed to glow like the radiance of colour in
a crystal. I was left full of wonder and yearned to learn from this wonderful
When we had returned to London, I begged to have lessons so that I could play
our piano and read the music we had at home. I couldnt wait to begin. I thought
that all I had to do was to find out how the lovely pattern of black or white keys
on the piano fitted the black or white notes on the printed page. Black or white
keys and notes together surely would make the sound of music! I was eager,
longing to learn everything seemed most exciting.
Sadly, it became clear very soon that things werent as simple as I had imagined.
In itself, I found the uniform look of black or white on the keyboard and in
printed music didnt seem able to show me how to play: I simply couldnt see why

not! Feeling lost, confused and shedding many frustrated tears, it was as if I were
banging my head against a brick wall, whilst trying to make sense out of
something which I simply could not understand.
Many years later, my teacher, who became a valued friend, told me that she had
spoken to my mother saying, This child is so stupid it is a waste of your money
and my time in trying to teach her how to read music. However, lessons did
continue. My mother was aware that, although I was beginning to see that there
were differences within the sameness appearances of black or white, I needed
further help towards linking up the look, feel and sound of the various black
or white patterns on the keyboard with their written symbols representing them
in print. Thankfully, her perseverence and experimentation gradually enabled
me to overcome my difficulties with musical notation.
Eventually there came the unforgettable day when I found I could at last both
read music and play it on the piano! It felt rather like the magic I had sensed
that night when I heard my Grandfather playing his violin. Understanding had
indeed unlocked a door which opened out into another world.
Margaret Hubicki April 2005


The first trials of Colour-Staff date back to the late 1970s. Amongst the many
users of the first edition of Colour-Staff were the following:

I think the idea is excellent . . . fixing the symbols in the childs

imagination as it does. It is useful to have clean staves which, like the
blackboard, can be experimented with, and notes put on and taken off. It
is also an excellent way of imprinting the different clefs on the learners
The Lord Menuhin O.M., K.B.E.

The unique importance to the beginner in music of Margaret Hubickis

Colour-Staff is apparent on the most casual acquaintance with it. So
brilliant an idea, brilliantly carried out. It is not, however, only for the
musical beginner but also seen, on closer examination, to be of equal
significance in all stages of music right up to the higher professional
standard. Mrs Hubickis invention fulfils a long felt need one which has
always been neglected in the conventional training of music in this
Clifford Curzon C.B.E., F.R.A.M.

Quite apart from the teaching aspect, the entertainment for the children
is immediate and enormous.
Brian Chapple G.R.S.M., L.R.A.M.
(Watford School of Music)
Original Colour-Staff sets have been in use in many schools and colleges over a
long period. Amongst the many differing teaching applications, from chorus
work to the particular requirements for teaching musical notation to children
with special educational needs, the following comments are particularly
The use of Colour-Staff with special needs children has been as enlightening
as it has been constructive and helpful. I have been using this invaluable
teaching aid with children who have moderate learning difficulties and
behaviour problems for over a year. Its flexibility and diversity has enabled
students to experience a hands-on, vivid and truly exciting approach to
music reading.

The definition of colour on the boards and the way in which this introduces
them to the staff unlocks what would otherwise be a strange and complicated
language for them. The physical aspects of the boards and stickers and the
way in which these can then be applied to the keyboard (also through colour
co-ordination) have proved to be immediately appealing to the children.
The actual process of recognition of notes from the staff can then be
extended through use of keyboards to performance, instrumental and
creative skills. I have therefore combined the use of Colour-Staff with
improvisation and basic composition projects where they are learning to
read, play and create at the same time.
The visual excitement and immediate clarity of Colour-Staff has been central
to my work in this area, and I cannot recommend its use strongly enough. It
is an exciting and extremely valuable teaching tool.
Andrew Quartermain M.A.(Cantab), P.G.D.G.S.M.D.
Pianist, composer and teacher (Clarendon School Hampton)


Colour-Staff is a multi-sensory musical tool-kit designed to help people read
musical notation and to understand how such notation relates to playing an
instrument. It can be used in a number of teaching situations and for a variety
of different instruments, offering exciting opportunities for all age groups and
abilities to explore and create music.
One of the most common frustrations for a beginner starting to learn to play an
instrument is the actual process of reading and understanding the written music
itself. Parents who are not musically trained often feel this frustration most in the
practice time between their childs individual lessons. They witness the barrier
formed, because of the assortment of complicated notes and symbols, between
the enthusiastic student and their ability to express written music. Colour-Staffs
vivid and adaptable techniques help the teacher, the student and the parent to
overcome this barrier and share involvement in the learning process.
Colour-Staff provides the teacher with all the equipment needed for either
classroom or one-to-one teaching, the student with material for practice at home
between lessons, and the parent with an understanding of the learning steps that
their child is undergoing.
Colour-Staff uses the diagram of a keyboard which provides a valuable
background for many aspects of musical theory and is helpful to all learners
whether or not they play a keyboard instrument.

The Colour-Staff keyboard.

The use of a colour panel and colour symbols in the Colour-Staff kit enable
keyboard players to respond visually, aurally and through feel on the keyboard
to patterns of notes in written music. In other words the young musician finds
their way into an understanding of musical notation kinaesthetically, or on a
multi-sensory basis.
The use of colour, however, simply links the position of a sound on an instrument
to its written symbol on the page or for other identification purposes. It is

important to remember that this does not imply a relationship between any
particular colour and any particular sound.
Throughout the centuries, visible colour has been used in musical notation. For
example, in some early manuscripts, the note C was represented by a red line.
Instrumentally, music for the harp still uses red for its C-string and black or dark
blue for its F-string.
The colour sequence adopted by Colour-Staff today is that of natures rainbow.
This wonderful spectrum is used simply because of its familiarity to students.
(Astute users may note, however, a slight shift in the sequence of rainbow colours!
This enables Colour-Staff to maintain the historical relationship in musical
notation between the colour red and the note C.)
Colour-Staff provides a variety of differently shaped mobile symbols which are for
placing on the staff boards and dummy keyboards included. The very act of
putting these pieces in place is, in itself, a useful exercise for finger-work and
sensory perception, as well as being part of the learning experience. The multisensory approach of Colour-Staff is based on seeing and feeling these shapes and
patterns and their relationships and repetitions.
Colour-Staff enables the student to acquire a strong link between the visual, aural
and tactile shapes implicit in playing an instrument and the visual shapes and
pattern of notes and symbols in written music. The student learns to match what
the eyes see on a score with what the ears hear and the fingers feel as they play.


A Guide for Teachers and Parents

Colour-Staff allows patterns of black lines or white spaces on the staff to be
clearly observed and linked to each instrumental position. The fingers learn to
play what the eyes see without having to remember the name and order of each
note. This system means that those who have a poor short term working
memory no longer have to rely on intellectual memory processes. You play what
you see.
Written music uses black, or black and white, symbols to represent what has to
be played the actual sound of all the individual notes and the relationship
through time between them. Sound or pitch is represented vertically by notes
placed on the lines or spaces of the staff, whilst time the different length
required for each sound or rest (that is silence in time) is represented horizontally
along the staff. When reading music, therefore, the eye has to move in two
directions up or down for pitch and left to right to follow time symbols.
A particular feature of Colour-Staff is the picture it reveals of the Great Staffs
eleven lines and spaces. This encompass the normal range of the human
voice. The five highest lines and spaces, called the treble staff, represent high
treble sounds, the five lowest lines and spaces, the bass staff, represent low bass
sounds. The line representing Middle C floats in between. When used on its own
it is shown as a short black leger line.
As Colour-Staff is a multi-sensory tool, it would also be a good idea to encourage
students to sing while placing colours and recognising notes. This adds a further
valuable dimension to the learning experience. Students should also be
encouraged to express their visual and aural reactions while working with
The full Colour-Staff kit is described in the next few pages, followed by the
process the teacher should take with students. Finally, a brief section on the
various symbols used in musical notation is included to assist parents as



A number of essential elements are used to make up a complete Colour-Staff
kit. Different situations may require differing combinations of these elements.
Thus, a music teacher working with a whole class may use additional boards,
whereas a teacher working on a one-to-one basis may find the basic Staff Board
and keyboard sufficient.

Main Colour-Staff Boards

Single Staff Board.

2005 Margaret Hubicki

Basic Great Staff Board.

The basic Great Staff Board shows in
heavy type the arrangement of black
lines and white spaces used for printed
two-stave music.

2005 Margaret Hubicki

Great Staff Board with Middle C Line.

This Great Staff Board shows in heavy
type the arrangement of black lines and
white spaces used for printed two-stave
music, with a feint line in between
depicting Middle C line.
2005 Margaret Hubicki

Dummy Keyboards.
Dummy keyboards are provided in sets of
three to form nearly six octaves.


Colour-Staff Colour Sheets

In addition to the Colour Panel, a further sheet contains rectangles and squares:





















Colour-Staff Panels

Step Three
Take the two wide and one narrow indigo rectangles marked A. Place them on the
Great Staff board next to the corresponding indigo strips of the Colour Panel.

The rectangular sound-name A strips positioned on the Great Staff board.

Step Four
Point out to the student that the shape of the rectangle alternates between wide
and narrow A notes an octave apart. Also, explain that the A on the middle line
of the Great Staff board is referred to as Middle A.

Step Five
To begin to translate colour into the notation of printed music, place a black oval
beside each of the three added indigo rectangles.

Ovals added to the Great Staff board commencing the transition to printed musical notation.


Step Six
This step marks the transition into black and white notation on its own. The
student should work through the earlier steps using black ovals alone in the
same way that coloured symbols were used to show where A is found on both
the dummy keyboard and Great Staff board.

Black ovals replace indigo symbols on both the dummy keyboard...

... and on the Great Staff board.

Step Seven
Teachers and parents may, at this
point, encourage students to translate
what they have learnt on the boards
to manuscript paper.

By drawing As on manuscript, and

by finding an A on a piece of printed
music, the student is starting to
complete this cycle of the learning

(It is left to the discretion of the

teacher whether or not to rule a faint
Middle C line on the students
manuscript paper.)

Beginning to apply notation


Step Eight
To find which A sound on a keyboard (or on the dummy keyboard) belongs to
which A line or space of the staff, stand the Great Staff board on the music desk
of the piano or electronic keyboard, centrally above the dummy keyboard, with
the same amount of the Staff Board extending on either side of the keyboards
most central point.
Play Middle A which will, of course, sound on the keyboard but be silent on the
dummy keyboard. Immediately above it, place the narrow indigo A rectangle on
the Middle A line of the staff board. This line will always belong to the sound
of Middle A.
Next, play A below Middle A and immediately above this place a wide indigo A
rectangle on the first space upon the staff board as shown below. This space will
always belong to the Sound of A below Middle A.
Finally, play A above Middle A and vertically above this place a wide indigo
rectangle on the third space down from the top. This space will always belong to
the Sound of A above Middle A.



Middle A

Relating keyboard A sounds to space and line locations of A on the Great Staff board.


Step Nine
It is helpful for the student again to draw on to manuscript paper, this time
placing the three positions for A.
By playing or singing the student can also now observe that, where two or
more notes are written above one another they form a single sound when played
Similarly, the student will be able to see that, where notes are written one after
the other, they are played one after the other, forming a progression of sounds.


Stage Two - Sound-Names B C D E F and G

The student can now understand the relationships between keyboard positions
for the sound-name A and its notation and locations on the Great Staff board. It
is therefore feasible to cover the full octave range of notes.
Step One
Each of the sound-names B C D E F G belongs, in sequence, to a white note of the
keyboard to the right of A. Take each note in sequence, using the same series of
steps as for sound-name A (pages 19 to 23), for learning their respective keyboard
and Great Staff positions. For each note, ensure that the student can name it, see
it with the eye, feel it in the finger, sing it and, finally, write it on manuscript
When learning sound-name C, the students attention should be drawn to the
fact that C on the line immediately above the Bass (lower) Staff and C on the line
immediately below the Treble (higher) Staff is always one and the same. It is
always known as Middle C, belonging to the most central C on the keyboard. This
important aspect of Colour-Staff is shown below, with the Middle C line equidistant between bass and treble.
The interval between the treble and bass clefs can be clearly seen as a thin line.
In printed music, this space is larger than on Colour-Staffs board which can be
a source of great confusion even to practised musicians!



Middle C

Noting the relationship of Middle C to the Bass and Treble staffs.


Step Two
The student must work thoroughly upon one sound-name until the relative
positions on both keyboard and Great Staff are clearly pictured in mind and felt
with the fingers. Only then should the student learn a further sound-name.
As each sound-name is learnt, it is helpful to remind the student that the colour
of the sound-name symbol repeats at every octave, although the same size
rectangle - that is, wide or narrow - repeats only every second octave.

Step Three
Whilst it is important to ensure complete familiarisation with each sound-name
in sequence, the student can be encouraged to identify patterns which help to
relate one sound-name to another.
For example, words can be selected from the letters A B C D E F or G. A typical
word might be ACE. As with single sound-names, the word ACE can appear three
times on the Great Staff board, either as a set of three spaces at the bottom of the
Bass Staff and at the top of the Treble Staff, or as a set of three lines in the middle
of the Great Staff.
The students growing familiarty with such relationships can be encouraged by
placing the approariate symbols on both the Staff board and the keyboard,
followed by the student singing the sound-names and writing them in black on
manuscript paper.


Developing relationships between sound-names through use of word patterns.


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