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Brief History of Musical Notation

The followings are a brief history of musical notation presented in

chronological manner.
2000 B.C.
The earliest form of musical notation founded in a cuneiform tablet
that was created at Nippur, Iraq. The tablet represents fragmentary
instructions for performing music. The music was composed in
harmonies of thirds. It was written using a diatonic scale.

Cuneiform Tablet
1250 B.C.
A tablet from this era shows a more developed form of notation.
Although the interpretation of the notation system is still
controversial, it is clear that the notation indicates the names of
strings on a lyre, the tuning of which is described in other tablets.
5th Century
In the 5th Century, Boethius was the first Roman to record the use of
letters for notes. He used the first 15 letters of the alphabet to
represent 15 notes and this became known as Boethian Notation.
Later, this method evolved into the repeating letters A-G in each
octave, and gradually symbols were introduced for the chromatic
notes: flats, sharps and naturals.
9th Century
In the 9th century, a notation for chant appears. It is called
cheironomic or in campo aperto, a staffless neumes, appeared as
freeform wavy lines above the text.

Cheironomic Neumes
A single neume could represent a single pitch or a series of pitches all
sung on the same syllable. Cheironomic neumes indicated changes in
pitch and duration within each syllable, but did not specify the pitches
of individual notes, the intervals between pitches within a neume, nor
the relative starting pitches of different syllables' neumes.
There is assumption that these staffless neumes was created at Metz
around 800, as a result of Charlemagne's desire for Frankish church
musicians to retain the performance nuances used by the Roman
11th Century
In the early 11th century, Beneventan neumes (from the churches of
Benevento in southern Italy) were written at varying distances from
the text to indicate the overall shape of the melody. These neumes
are called heightened or diastematic neumes, which showed the
relative pitches between neumes.
Approximately in 1026, Guido of Arezzo (a French Benedictine Monk)
introduced the neumes that use staff lines to clarify the exact
relationship between pitches. One line was marked as representing a
particular pitch, usually C or F.
Guido of Arezzo developed a six-note ascending scale taken from the
initial syllables of each of the first six half-lines of the first stanza of
the hymn Ut queant laxis, namely ut, re, mi, fa, sol and la.
Later, ut changed to the open-syllable do in Italy, and si was
added to complete the diatonic scale, taken from the initial letters of
the name at the end of the hymn. In Anglo-Saxon countries, "si" was
changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that
every syllable might begin with a different letter.

Guido also credited with the invention of the Guidonian Hand, a

mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the
human hand.

Guidonian Hand
13th Century
Around 1280, Franco de Cologne created a system, which have a clear
indication for each note of its exact rhythmic length and selected
certain neumes to represent tones of long and short duration. In his
system, the long value was in principle equal to three of the short
values. These refined versions of neumes were called ligatures,
because of their appearance as individual notes that had been tied
14th Century
In the 14th century, Philippe de Vitry, author of Ars Nova, expands the
system of Franco. He codified the duple divisions of the long and short
notes. At the various rhythmic levels of a given piece, a rhythmic
relationship was implied. This was shown graphically by different
combinations of a dot inside a circle or half circle. He also developed a
system of signs and colored notes, for indicating which relationships
were in use or were being temporarily altered.
The works of Franco de Cologne and Philippe de Vitry was important
early stages in the development of Mensural notation. Mensural refers
to the ability of this system to notate complex rhythms with great
exactness and flexibility. Mensural notation was the first system in the

development of European music that systematically used individual

note shapes to denote temporal durations.

Mensural Notation
15th Century
In the mid-15th century, white note heads was introduced in addition
to the solid-color note heads already in use. Later, the present system
using the black and white notes with their corresponding rests
became fairly standardized.
17th Century
In the 17th century, the modern time signature, expression signs, the
bar lines, tempo marks such as andante, allegro, moderato,
etc., and dynamic markings such as forte and piano were
18th Century
By around the 1700, the modern system of notation, using a stave of
five lines, had become firmly established. A stave of five lines for
vocal music was adopted in France and one of six lines in Italy.