Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Origins of Music Notation

It’s easy to take a musical staff with five lines and four spaces for granted in today’s world. Everyone recognizes music notation when they see it – whether they can read it or not. But where did music notation come from? Let’s dig into this a little bit.

The history of music corresponds somewhat with the history of the Christian church. The reason for this is that the church was always known to use music in its services. Music notation was actually invented for use in the church. The music seen in early church history consisted of the chanting of scripture and the singing of psalms. These early chants had various dialects depending on the region or the division of the church. During the first millennium, the Roman Empire had split into the Western Empire (this became the Roman Catholic Church) and the Byzantine Empire (the became the Orthodox Church).

During the mid-8th century, Pope Steven II needed military alliance and Pepin the Short, King of the Franks in the North, wished to use the church in order to unify the lands. This is when we see the standardization of chant. By eliminating the various dialects and coming up with a standard chant and means of notating it, people from different regions would more likely feel unified. When Charlemagne took over as Holy Roman Emperor in 800, he declared that every church had to sing the same thing in order to help with this standardization process.

But how did this lead to music notation? And what did music notation look like? We’ll continue looking at this next time.

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