Monday, August 24, 2015


Notasium is open for business! 

Many Durham parents rallied together to contribute to Preston Clarke and Stephen Norman-Scott's kickstarter for a music based play space and now their dream has come to fruition! I took my kiddos to the soft opening this past Saturday and it was so much fun. It's an interactive, music-based play space and school designed to awaken the musician in any child at any age, and is completely fascinating to adults too.

When you walk in, there is a wall surrounding the fun play space, where the adults can sit and enjoy refreshments while the children play. Notasium will be offering Bean Traders delicious drip coffee and Portable Gourmet baked goods and prepackaged snacks, including healthy and vegan options. No food or drink in playspace, so those of you who have kids with food allergies can rest assured it's a safe area (same goes for the music studios - no one wants root beer spilled on their keyboard!). 

Once you check in, there is a half door leading in (with a kidproof handle on the inside so little ones can't escape) and a shoe shelf. Be sure to bring socks as no bare feet or shoes are allowed in the play space! 

I'm going to start with my favorite part and the signature structure of Notasium, the giant Climbing Guitar! As you climb up the frets, the children can press the silver letters and the guitar will play the note for that letter! The Climbing Guitar is geographically correct, meaning that it has 12 frets like a normal guitar, and the notes are exactly what they'd hear if playing a real guitar. There is a climbing wall on either side, one for taller kids and one for smaller, and the holds are shaped like notes! Then to the right is a smooth silver slide for the kids to ride down on soft mats shaped like guitar picks. When they zoom down, the Climbing Guitar makes one of five guitar slide sounds! It's soooo much fun and totally magnetizing for kids!  

Next to the climbing guitar is an upright handmade silver xylophone with flat paddles for you to pound, just like in the Blue Man Group! It makes a deep sound and as you can see, kids like figuring out where the sound is coming from!

Beside those is an incredibly creative invention! There is a double sided organ called the Flat Zone, Sharp Zone. The building previously housed Pearson Music, and when they left, they also left behind two pedal boxes. When you step up onto the platform, you can choose to play pedals on either side. If you take a "half step down", and sit on that side to play, you're playing flat notes. (Photo on the right, my son in the Hawaiian shirt). If you take a "half step up", you'll be playing sharp notes. The sound that comes out is trombone, but like everything else that they custom built for the space, they can alter it to their whim. Perhaps Christmas bells at the holidays? The beautiful part about it and all the play structures in Notasium is that they're all accurate representations of music and instruments, so they're learning as they have fun, not just making noise. When children play with their feet, the display lights up and shows them what note they are playing as they play it. It's super cool - did I mention two kids can play at once, one on each side?

Behind the curtain in a small room is the Beat Kitchen, containing found objects that make noise, also called a Sound Garden. They went to town gathering all kinds of kitchen utencils and other items that are perfect to make noise with - after all, that's where most children first experiment with drumming, is on the pots and pans in the kitchen. My daughter loved the standup washboard base - it reminded me of Emmet Otter's Jugband from the 80's! There were a ton of pots, pans, muffin tins, bundt cake drums, wok lid chimes... and every kid was going to town on every surface they could!

There is a wall separating the main area from the toddler area, and on one side is the Notasium Note Light Brite, based on a simple color system with infants and toddlers that Owner Preston created. Every note has a different color, and in group classes they use that corresponding information to learn basic melodies in C with handbells, then piano. It's an eye catching simple way to learn the beginnning concepts of music for non-readers within the context of staff. In the Note Light Brite, the clear cylinders can be taken out and rearranged and as you press them, a note is sung, "Doh re mi" in a child's voice.

Unfortunately I didn't a good picture of it, but next to the Note Light Brite is the World Music Wall, which has an interactive map of the world. When you touch a country, the maps plays music native to that area of the globe. Much like how in Willy Wonka the "schnozzberries taste like schnozzberries", Brazil plays Brazilian music, and so on! Such a creative way to teach about world music!

You certainly can't miss the custom made Double Drum Bounce House, where bouncing triggers a drum sound, complete with colorful lights. This of course is a hit!

Next to the bounce house is a Stage that will be used for recitals midway through and at end of semester. All they have to do for recitals is deflate the bounce house (like above, as Preston spoke to the open house crowd) and set up chairs, making the space really flexible. Normally the bounce house is up and the stage acts as a pretend performance space, with a mix of play instruments, real instruments and dress up costumes. 

Some kids jamming out on stage! I love how the stage encourages kids to cooperate and work together to make a band. I saw all different ages and talents of kids sharing gleefully.

If you go behind the bounce house drum, you'll notice it's dark, but that's only because you've entered a super secret fun area! There is a projected interactive xylophone which scrolls through three games, and can be adjusted to be other instruments as well. You can see in the video above how much my daughter loved it - it's very intuitive and fun! 

The doors behind you lead into two karaoke booths - each one has vocal effects they can play with that add harmonies or echo. There are built in ipads that have unlimited song choices in a simple to scroll through format. Older girls especially really dug these rooms, I could hear Taylor Swift blasting! (Although everyone enjoyed them - adults were definitely excited about them as well, and I saw a little guy no more than 3 who put on the alphabet song, pretty adorable. These professional quality rooms double as recording studios for students and bands after hours.

 Going back out to the main room, the other side of the wooden wall closest to the front desk has smaller play structures. It's made to be friendly to toddlers but all kids at the open house were having fun in it. There is a soft plastic molded drum musicmaker that plays a one of seven rotating drum patterns, and a matching xylophone that cycles through one of 7 melodies. Next to them is a small wooden slide that made a trombone noise when the child slides down! I saw several crawlers and new walkers enjoying themselves safely in this area.

Against the wall is a walk on piano - just like in FAO Schwartz, made famous in the movie Big! It is anatomically correct like a regular piano so the children even at a young age can start to gain an understanding of what keys make what sounds. (You can also see the windows for the karaoke studios above them.)

Then there is the other side of the wooden wall - this part they refer to as THE AWESOME WALL! On the left side is the Instrument symphony, a configuration of instruments where each one plays same melody but with their own unique sound, so kids can see how the tones and pitches of instruments differ from one to the next, even when playing the exact same notes. In this case, the melody is easily recognized by any lego fan, "Everything is awesome!" To the right is the Dynamic wall that teaches pianissimo and fortissimo, and crescendo and decrescendo, which refers to the volume at which something is sung or played. To demonstrate this, each symbol produces a voice when touched that says "awesome!" either loud or soft, depending on where it falls on the scale. Everything about this wall is indeed Awesome!

Once you exit the play space and put your shoes back on :) you can follow the back hallway to bathrooms and then you'll enter the second area and it's lobby. 
This is the Music School!

Comfy couches abound for parents waiting during a music lesson,
and the party room is ready to go for crafts, cake, and presents
so book your party now before they fill up!
* This space will also be used for summer camps come 2016! *

Here kids can take classes with a "more focused musical curriculum and private lessons when they’re ready to learn an instrument all the way up to advanced levels. Whatever the age or ability, Notasium™ will have something fun and musical for your child."

If you've been looking for a place for lessons, this couldn't be a better fit. Not only is the facility itself fun and inviting but Preston is a total professional, and someone who not only loves music but loves teaching music to kids. He has developed programs for multiple instruments that make learning music fun while teaching piano, voice, guitar, ukulele, bass and drum lessons for kids of all ages. For the last 3 years, Preston has been the lead instructor at the Rock n’ Roll High School in Apex, NC, teaching their Rock Band classes and camps for middle and high school students, as well as exploratory music classes and camps for young children. He’s led both adult and children’s choirs, and has brought his own brand of music enrichment regularly to Weaver Dairy Community Preschool with his original compositions and interactive versions of child favorites.

The space has 8 individual lesson rooms, as well as a larger space for group lessons, and a  heavily soundproofed drum room. Lessons will take place primarily in afternoons, from 3-7pm and all day Saturdays. Group lessons start Sept 1 so get signed up! Many people on SoDu Parents Posse have been asking about what classes there are for young children. Here's what I found out Notasium will be offering:

Notes-for-Tots – A weekly 45 min. group class of basic movement for toddlers to music, basic percussion instruction and rhythmic play led by qualified instructors. Parents are welcome to stay but not required.

Notemakers – Ages 5-8- A weekly 45min. group class with an introduction to singing, keyboard, drums and guitar.

Another view from the front door, behind the wall where parents can sit with food and drink - although not normally wine! ;) (L to R in background, Climbing Guitar, Beat Kitchen, Stage, Double Drum Bounce House)

The exterior - complete with southwest Durham's famous "pickle with a needle on top" building in the background!

What we loved: 

There is a lot to do for kids of all ages and interests, and the option of staying with one child in the playspace while another takes lessons is so unique. Plus it's a great option for birthday parties! There is ample parking and it's easy to get to. Plus it's a locally owned business and one of a kind, right here in Durham!

What we would change:

Not sure of anything now, and it's important to note that they welcome any and all suggestions customers might have as a new business. So let them know what you want to see or think should be changed - they want Notasium to be the best it can be!

The details:

3750 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.
Durham, NC 27705
email for more information at:
(919) 230-9321

Mon - Fri 9am - 7pm, Sat 9am - 9pm

Playspace is open play unless a birthday party is booked. Lessons are by appointment only.


Children: $8 (Children Under 1 are Free)
Parents/Guardians: Always free
All children must be accompanied by an adult and have a completed waiver. 
DISCOUNT: Children taking lessons and their siblings play for $5 each on the day of the lesson. If children are in a weekly contract for lessons or classes, they and their siblings may play at any time for $5 each.

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