A brief review of how musical notation was developed. This is an interesting subject in itself, though not mandatory or necessary to plat the guitar. If you want to read which online guitar lesson reviews will help you learn guitar faster, and with more fun. Please examine them after you read this.

Western musical notation, or modern musical notation as we know it, is a continuously evolving system dating back at least to Greece and Rome. The early 6th century Roman philosopher, writer, and statesman, Boethius, is credited with developing the first musical staff around 500 AD. Still, he is not the founder of Western Music.

He assigned 15 graphic letters or symbols to explain 2 octaves of tones in writing. The system started as simple sets of patterns and symbols. Essentially they are written directions for musicians or singers who need to read what to play or sing in same exact manner every time.

Therefore, one advantage of Western notation is that it represents sounds in writing; this notation can be used as an aid to memory, or can be passed down on a piece of paper so memorizing is not necessary. Another advantage of musical notation is it is a written universal language.

Musical notation is important for several reasons to the musician.  Instead of passing down music from person to person orally, which is inaccurate and inconsistent, notation allowed music to be communicated in a consistent manner from musician to musician and generation to generation seamlessly.

Musical notation can also be used to convey essential and detailed information in a musicians mind about how to perform a piece of music before striking the first note. Items such as rhythm, timbre, timing signature are noted as the emotional values of music.

The first forms of musical notation were simple compared to today’s notation. Naturally, as music became more popular and complicated, notation has been modified and added to meet the demands of music in new time period.

In the 11th century, several changes occurred in the development of musical notation that were turning points for what is now called modern musical notation. The shifts were specifically for use in the Roman Catholic churches. A standardized system was developed by Guido d’Arezzo [Guido of Arezzo], a Monk and medieval music theorist whose ideas served as a foundation for modern Western musical notation.

Western is a reference to and designates the western areas of the world, as opposed to areas in the East or the Orient. Guido’s contribution to Western music was the proper clef letter/symbol. The clef is essentially a collection of Gothic letters/symbols that establishes the correct starting spot for the primary harmonic note of said Clef.

Guido was devising new methods for teaching singers to learn and remember the religious chants of the times. Specifically Gregorian chants, adopting a four-line staff and clefs, is a series of six notes which served as staff notation and was the first use of “ut–re–mi–fa–so–la”.

This system of notation is the direct ancestor of all subsequent musical notation.

In Guido’s standardized system, the staff was made of 4 horizontal lines. Interestingly the 4-line staff is still used in the  present day for plainchant. Other types of music and instruments may have staffs with differing symbols and numbers of lines, and or have been used at different times and places in history, mostly for various and or unusual instruments.

Plainchant, also known as plainsong, was the main form of medieval period church music, which involved chanting. Historical evidence suggests it was first used around 100 AD. Plainchant is totally void of any instruments accompanying it; instead, it only uses words that are sung as a melody. Plain is the key here. No instruments. Being the only style of music allowed to be played in Christian churches at that period in time.

The current system, or modern notation system based on the universal standard 5-line staff, was first used in France. For example, the stave [staff] first appeared in the tenth century with the help of the Monk Guido and his work with the choirs and churches.

Guido’s was the first system to use symbols to describe the details of the music for the musician or singer in greater depth. This system allowed for greater consistency in the performance and more emotional expression, especially when more than one singer or musician was involved.

By the early sixteenth century, notation had been established in its modern form. The system adjusts well to new musical findings and the needs to represent them in writing.

There are graphically detailed symbols used to define each clef, which may be determined by the instrument or type of music. For instance the Alto Clef is used for trombone music.

The clefs are: Treble Clef, which indicates and starts on the note G, on the second ledger line from the bottom of a 5 line staff.

The Bass Clef which indicates the note F, and starts on the 4th ledger line from the bottom. And four C Clefs. The C Clefs include:
1. Soprano Clef.  First, bottom ledger line of 5 line staff.
2. Mezzo Soprano Clef. Second ledger line.
3. Alto Clef. Third ledger line.
4. Tenor Clef. Fourth ledger line.

Time signatures have constantly been updated, as music evolved in complexity of rhythms. Durational values were established in greater detail with new symbols being used indicating finer increments in the music.

Regular measures or bars, became standardized components by the end of the seventeenth century, establishing a means to establish exact timing, or timing changes to a piece of music. Measures also provide a means for new symbols for future of music.

The versatility of the system is incredible. The only drawbacks I can find are differences in terminology based on geographic areas, or exact definitions. It is a system that has been self- sustaining since the first staff and clefs; it is easy to add to it rather than redesigning the whole system.

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One Response to Online Guitar Lesson: Music History & The Evolution of Musical Notation.

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