Thursday, 9 August 2012

Writing Music

Today's suggested topics:
  • Do you write songs/music? If so, tell us about it
  • Is written music useful to you?
  • Tell us about your favourite piece of written music
  • Share with us a piece of music theory
  • The history of written music
  • Do you come from a country with different musicial conventions?
  • Interpret 'writing music' in your own unique way

Early music

I've been fascinated by how medieval music was written for a long time. I also it interesting how different tradition music was when I visited Bulgaria to back here in the UK. But its only when began researching this post that I discovered how varied the history of written music actually is.

Isodore of Seville remarked in the early 7th century that it was impossible to notate music. But music had actually been written down for a long time before the supposed first time in the 9th century.

Medieval Visigothic neumes only showed the shape of the melody, so it really only acted as a reminder to someone who already knew the music. This was similar to Byzantine music whose notation showed when notes got higher or lower. I am reminded of a recording form used in some schools for those who are writing music but do not yet understand the official notation. I can certainly see it as being practical for everyday singing. In contrast cuniform tablets from 2000BC Iraq showed which strings to pluck on an instrument and Ancient Greek music used notations above words to represent both pitch and note length. I guess to some extent this is quite similar to how we might show keyboard chords, or music for those learning to play today.

Eventually Medieval scholars evolved the idea of one stave line up to four. This is attributed to Guido of Arazzo and is still used for plain-chant today. It is the French that we have to thank for the 5 line stave which is commonly in the modern world- this became standardised from the 16th century.

In the Persian Empire the length of notes was sometimes represented using geometric patterns, an idea similar to that which the medieval Franco of Cologne also came up with. Franco suggested that each note could be a different shape to show how long it lastest. By the 14th century this had evolved into something similar to the note notations that we are used to today. Byzantine music seems to have been the first to show music with some sort of bar lines, something which we not commonplace in Europe until the 17th century.

Of course there are many different notations still used throughout the world today, but I believe that this concludes the history of the one with which most of the world is familiar to this day.

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