Reverend John Curwen was an English Congregationalist minister, and founder of the Tonic sol-fa system of music education. He was educated at Wymondley College (subsequently Coward College) and University College London.
Curwen brought out his Grammar of Vocal Music in 1843, and in 1853 started the Tonic Sol-Fa Association. The Standard Course of Lessons on the Tonic Sol-fa Method of Teaching to Sing was published in 1858. In 1879 the Tonic Sol-Fa College was opened. Curwen also began publishing, and brought out a periodical called the Tonic Sol-fa Reporter and Magazine of Vocal Music for the People, and in his later life was occupied in directing the spreading organisation of his system. With his son, John Spencer Curwen (1847–1916) who later became principal of the Tonic Sol-Fa College, Curwen incorporated the J. Curwen & Sons publishing firm in 1863. This firm continued as the Curwen Press into the 1970s, when it was closed. The Sol-fa system was widely adopted for use in education, as an easily teachable method in the reading of music at sight, but its more ambitious aims for providing a superior method of musical notation have not been generally adopted. In 1872, Curwen changed his former course of using the Sol-fa system as an aid to sight reading, when that edition of his Standard Course of Lessons excluded the staff and relied solely on Curwen's Tonic Sol-fa system.
Curwen technically did not invent Tonic Sol-fa. Rather he developed a distinct method of applying it in music education, including both rhythm and pitch. The name and current form can be traced to Curwen.