The following anecdote was told to myself, a few months after the curious event, by the three witnesses in the case. They were connections of my own, the father was a clergyman of the Anglican Church; he, his wife and their daughter, a girl of... Read more of The Girl In Pink at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Terms Relating To Forms And Styles (_continued_)
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Miscellaneous Terms

The History Of Music Notation

Many conflicting statements have been made regarding the history and
development of music writing, and the student who is seeking light on
this subject is often at a loss to determine what actually did happen in
the rise of our modern system of writing music. We have one writer for
example asserting that staff notation was begun by drawing a single red
line across the page, this line representing the pitch f (fourth line,
bass staff), the neumae (the predecessors of our modern notes)
standing either for this pitch f, or for a higher or lower pitch,
according to their position on the line, or above or below it.
Another line, continues this writer, this time of yellow color, was
soon added above the red one, and this line was to represent c' (middle
C). Soon the colors of these lines were omitted and the letters F and
C were placed at the beginning of each of them. From this arose our F
and C clefs, which preceded the G clef by some centuries.[37]

[Footnote 37: Elson--Music Dictionary, article, Notation.]

Another writer[38] gives a somewhat different explanation, stating that
the staff system with the use of clefs came about through writing a
letter (C or F) in the margin of the manuscript and drawing a line from
this letter to the neume which was to represent the tone for which this
particular letter stood.

[Footnote 38: Goddard--The Rise of Music, p. 177.]

A third writer[39] asserts that because the alphabetical notation was
not suitable for recording melodies because of its inconvenience in
sight-singing points were placed at definite distances above the words
and above and below one another. In this system ... everything
depended on the accuracy with which the points were interspersed, and
the scribes, as a guide to the eye, began to scratch a straight line
across the page to indicate the position of one particular scale degree
from which all the others could be shown by the relative distances of
their points. But this was not found sufficiently definite and the
scratched line was therefore colored red and a second line was added,
colored yellow, indicating the interval of a fifth above the first.

[Footnote 39: Williams in Grove's Dictionary, article, Notation.]

It will be noted that all three writers agree that a certain thing
happened, but as in the case of the four Gospels in the New Testament,
not all the writers agree on details and it is difficult to determine
which account is most nearly accurate in detail as well as in general
statement. Communication was much slower a thousand years ago than now
and ideas about new methods of doing things did not spread rapidly,
consequently it is entirely possible that various men or groups of men
in various places worked out a system of notation differing somewhat in
details of origin and development but alike in final result. The point
is that the development of musical knowledge (rise of part-writing,
increased interest in instrumental music, etc.), demanded a more exact
system of notation than had previously existed, just as the development
of science in the nineteenth century necessitated a more accurate
scientific nomenclature, and in both cases the need gave rise to the
result as we have it to-day.

Out of the chaos of conflicting statements regarding the development of
music notation, the student may glean an outline-knowledge of three
fairly distinct periods or stages, each of these stages being intimately
bound up with the development of music itself in that period. These
three stages are:

(1) The Greek system, which used the letters of the alphabet
for representing fixed pitches.

(2) The period of the neumae.

(3) The period of staff notation.

Of the Greek system little is known beyond the fact that the letters of
the alphabet were used to represent pitches. This method was probably
accurate enough, but it was cumbersome, and did not afford any means of
writing measured music nor did it give the eye any opportunity of
grasping the general outline of the melody in its progression upward and
downward, as staff notation does. The Greek system seems to have been
abandoned at some time preceding the fifth century. At any rate it was
about this time that certain accent marks began to be written above
the text of the Latin hymns of the church, these marks serving to
indicate in a general way the progress of the melody. E.g., an upward
stroke of the pen indicated a rise of the melody, a downward stroke a
fall, etc. In the course of two or three centuries these marks were
added to and modified quite considerably, and the system of notation
which thus grew up was called neume notation, the word neume
(sometimes spelled neuma, or pneuma) being of Greek origin and
meaning a nod or sign.

This system of neumes was in some ways a retrogression from the Greek
letter system, for the neumes indicated neither definite pitches nor
definite tone-lengths. But it had this advantage over the Greek system,
that the position of the signs on the page indicated graphically to the
eye the general direction of the melody, as well as giving at least a
hint concerning the relative highness or lowness of each individual tone
(the so-called diastematic system), and this was a great aid to the
eye in singing, just as the relative highness and lowness of notes on
the modern staff is of great value in reading music at the present time.
Thus although the neumae did not enable one to sing a new melody at
sight as our modern staff notation does, yet they served very well to
recall to the eye the general outline of a melody previously learned by
ear and therefore enabled the singer (the system was used for vocal
music only) to differentiate between that particular melody and the
dozens of others which he probably knew. Neume notation was used mostly
in connection with the plain-song melodies of the Church, and since
the words of these chants were sung as they would be pronounced in
reading, the deficiency of the neume system in not expressing definite
duration values was not felt. But later on with the rise of so-called
measured music (cf. invention of opera, development of independent
instrumental music, etc.), this lack was seen to be one of the chief
disadvantages of the system.

The elements of neume-writing as given by Riemann in his Dictionary of
Music are:

(1) The signs for a single note: Virga (Virgula) and Punctus (Punctum).
(2) The sign for a rising interval: Pes (Podatus). (3) The sign for a
falling interval: Clinis (Flexa). (4) Some signs for special manners of
performance: Tremula (Bebung), Quilisma (shake), Plica (turn), etc. The
others were either synonyms of the above-named or combinations of

Since music in the middle ages was always copied by hand, it will
readily be understood that these neumae were not uniform either in shape
or size, and that each writer made use of certain peculiarities of
writing, which, although perfectly intelligible to himself, could not
readily be interpreted by others (cf. writing shorthand). Here then we
observe the greatest weakness of the neume system--its lack of
uniformity and its consequent inability accurately to express musical
ideas for universal interpretation.

Examples of several neumes are given merely in order to give
the beginner a general idea of their appearance.

Virga [virga symbol] or [virga symbol]. Punctus [punctus
symbol] or [punctus symbol]. Pes [pes symbol] or [pes symbol].
Clinis [clinis symbol] or [clinis symbol].

As music grew more and more complex, and especially as writing in
several parts came into use (cf. rise of organum, descant, and
counterpoint), it became increasingly difficult to express musical ideas
on the basis of the old notation, and numerous attempts were made to
invent a more accurate and usable system. Among these one of the most
interesting was that in which the words of the text were written in the
spaces between long, parallel lines, placing the initial letters of the
words tone and semi-tone at the beginning of the line to indicate
the scale interval. An example will make this clear.

This indicated the precise melodic interval but did not give any idea of
the rhythm, and the natural accents of the text were the only guide the
singer had in this direction, as was the case in neume-notation and in
early staff-notation also. Various other attempts to invent a more
definite notation were made, but all were sporadic, and it was not until
the idea of using the lines (later lines and spaces) to represent
definite pitches, and writing notes of various shapes (derived from the
neumae) to indicate relative duration-values--it was only when this
combination of two elements was devised that any one system began to be
universally used.

Just how the transition from neume to staff notation was made no one
knows: it was not done in a day nor in a year but was the result of a
gradual process of evolution and improvement. Nor is it probable that
any one man deserves the entire credit for the invention of staff
notation, although this feat is commonly attributed to an Italian monk
named Guido d'Arezzo (approximate dates 995-1050). To this same monk we
are indebted, however, for the invention of the syllables (UT, RE, MI,
etc.) which (in a somewhat modified form) are so widely used for
sight-singing purposes. (For a more detailed account of the transition
to staff notation, see Grove, op. cit. article notation.) It will now
be readily seen that our modern notation is the result of a combination
of two preceding methods (the Greek letters, and the neumes) together
with a new element--the staff, emphasizing the idea that higher tones
are written higher on the staff than lower ones. The development of
the neumes into notes of various shapes indicating relative time values
and the division of the staff into measures with a definite measure
signature at the beginning are natural developments of the earlier
primitive idea. In the system of musica mensurabilis or measured
music which was inaugurated a little later, the virga (which had
meanwhile developed into a square-headed neume) was adopted as the
longa or long note, and the punctus in two of its forms as breve and
semi-breve (short and half-short). The longa is now extinct, but the
modern form of the breve is still used as the double-whole-note, and the
semi-breve is our modern whole-note.

Red-colored notes were sometimes used to indicate changes in value and
before long outline notes (called empty notes) came into use, these
being easier to make than the solid ones. The transition from square-
and diamond-shaped notes to round and oval ones also came about because
of the greater facility with which the latter could be written, and for
the same reason notes of small denomination were later tied together
or stroked. This latter usage began about 1700 A.D.

It is interesting to find that when measured music was finally
inaugurated there were at first but two measure-signatures, viz.--the
circle, standing for three-beat measure (the so-called perfect
measure) and the semi-circle (or broken circle) which indicated
two-beat measure. Occasionally three-beat measure was indicated by three
vertical strokes at the beginning of the melody, while two-beat measure
was shown by two such strokes. Upon the basis of these two varieties of
measure, primitive in conception though they may have been, has been
built nevertheless the whole system now employed, and in the last
analysis all forms of measure now in use will be found to be of either
the two-beat or the three-beat variety. The circle has disappeared
entirely as a measure-sign, but the broken circle still survives, and
from it are derived the familiar signs [common-time symbol] and
[cut-time symbol], which are sometimes erroneously referred to as being
the initial letter of our word common (as used in the expression
common time). The transition from the older style of measure-signature
to the present one seems to have occurred during the century following
the invention of opera, i.e., from about 1600 to about 1700 A.D.

The rest came into use very soon after measured music began to be
composed and we soon find rests corresponding with the various
denominations of notes in use, viz.:

The terms applied to these rests vary in different authorities, but it
will be noted that the pausa, semi-pausa, and suspirum correspond
respectively to the double-whole-rest, whole-rest, and half-rest in use
at present.

The bar and double bar may be developments of the maxima rest (as some
writers suggest) but are probably also derived from the practice of
drawing a line vertically through the various parts of a score to show
which notes belonged together, thus facilitating score reading. The bar
may occasionally be found as early as 1500, but was not employed
universally until 1650 or later.

The number of lines used in the staff has varied greatly since the time
of Guido, there having been all the way from four to fifteen at various
times and in various places, (four being the standard number for a
long time). These lines (when there were quite a number in the staff)
were often divided into groups of four by red lines, which were not
themselves used for notes. These red lines were gradually omitted and
the staff divided into sections by a space, as in modern usage. The
number of lines in each section was changed to five (in some cases six)
for the sake of having a larger available range in each section.

The clefs at the beginning of the staffs are of course simply altered
forms of the letters F, C, and G, which were written at first by Guido
and others to make the old neume notation more definite.

The staccato sign seems not to have appeared until about the time of
Bach, the legato sign being also invented at about the same time. The
fermata was first used in imitative part-writing to show where each part
was to stop, but with the development of harmonic writing the present
practice was inaugurated. Leger lines came into use in the seventeenth

Sharps and flats were invented because composers found it necessary to
use other tones than those that could be represented by the staff
degrees in their natural condition. The history of their origin and
development is somewhat complicated and cannot be given here, but it
should be noted once more that it was the need of expressing more than
could be expressed by the older symbols that called forth the newer and
more comprehensive method. The use of sharps and flats in key signatures
grew up early in the seventeenth century. In the earlier signatures it
was customary to duplicate sharps or flats on staff degrees having the
same pitch-name, thus: [Illustration] [Illustration]. (The use of the G
clef as here shown did not of course exist at that time.)

The double-sharp and double-flat became necessary when equal
temperament (making possible the use of the complete cycle of keys) was
adopted. This was in the time of Bach (1685-1750).

Signs of expression (relating to tempo and dynamics) date back at least
as far as the year 1000 A.D., but the modern terms used for this purpose
did not appear until some years after the invention of opera, the date
given by C.F.A. Williams in Grove's Dictionary being 1638. These words
and signs of expression were at first used only in connection with
instrumental music, but were gradually applied to vocal music also.

Other systems of notation have been invented from time to time in the
course of the last two or three centuries, but in most cases they have
died with their inventors, and in no case has any such system been
accepted with anything even approaching unanimity. The tonic-sol-fa
system[40] is used quite extensively in England for vocal music, but
has gained little ground anywhere else and the chances are that the
present system of notation, with possibly slight additions and
modifications, will remain the standard notation for some time to come
in spite of the attacks that are periodically made upon it on the ground
of cumbersomeness, difficulty in teaching children, etc. The main
characteristics of staff notation may be summed up as follows:

[Footnote 40: The tonic-sol-fa system represents an attempt to invent
a simpler notation to be used by beginners, (especially in the lower
grades of the public schools) and by singers in choral societies who
have never learned to interpret staff notation and who therefore find
some simpler scheme of notation necessary if they are to read music at

In this system the syllables do, re, mi, etc., (in phonetic
spelling) are used, the tone being arrived at in each case, first by
means of a firmly established sense of tonality, and second by
associating each diatonic tone with some universally felt emotional
feeling: thus do is referred to as the strong tone, mi as the
calm one, and la as the sad tone, great emphasis being placed upon
do as the center of the major tonality, and upon la as the center of
the minor. The system is thus seen to have one advantage over staff
notation, viz.: that in presenting it the teacher is compelled to begin
with a presentation of actual tones, while in many cases the teacher of
staff notation begins by presenting facts regarding the staff and other
symbols before the pupil knows anything about tone and rhythm as such.

The symbol for each diatonic tone is the initial letter of the syllable
(i.e., d for do, r for re, etc.), the key being indicated by a
letter at the beginning of the composition. The duration-value of tones
is indicated by a system of bars, dots, and spaces, the bar being used
to indicate the strongest pulse of each measure (as in staff notation)
the beats being shown by the mark: a dash indicating the continuation of
the same tone through another beat. If a beat has two tones this is
indicated by writing the two initial letters representing them with a .
between them. A modulation is indicated by giving the new key letter and
by printing the syllable-initials from the standpoint of both the old
and the new do-position. The figure ' above and to the right of the
letter indicates the tone in the octave above, while the same figure
below and to the right indicates the octave below. A blank space
indicates a rest. The tune of My Country, 'Tis of Thee, as printed in
tonic sol-fa notation below will make these points clear.

Key F

d :d :r t1 :-.d :r m :m :f m :-.r :d r :d :t1 d :-- :--
s :s :s s :-.f :m f :f :f f :-.m :r m :f.m :r.d m :-.f :s
l.f:m :r d :-- :--

The advantages of the system are (1) the strong sense of key-feeling
aroused and the ease with which modulations are felt; and (2) the fact
that it is necessary to learn to sing in but one key, thus making
sight-singing a much simpler matter, and transposition the easiest
process imaginable. But these are advantages from the standpoint of the
vocalist (producing but one tone at a time) only, and do not apply to
instrumental music. The scheme will therefore probably be always
restricted to vocal music and will hardly come into very extensive use
even in this field, for the teacher of music is finding it perfectly
possible to improve methods of presentation to such an extent that
learning to sing from the staff becomes a very simple matter even to the
young child. And even though this were not true, the tonic-sol-fa will
always be hampered by the fact that since all letters are printed in a
straight horizontal line the ear does not have the assistance of the eye
in appreciating the rise and fall of melody, as is the case in staff

1. Pitches represented by lines and spaces of a staff, the
higher the line, the higher the pitch represented, signs
called clefs at the beginning of each staff making clear the
pitch names of the lines and spaces.

2. Duration values shown by shapes of notes.

3. Accents shown by position of notes on the staff with regard
to bars, i.e., the strongest accent always falls just after
the bar, and the beat relatively least accented is found just
before the bar.

4. Extent and description of beat-groups shown by

5. Key shown by key signature placed at the beginning of each

6. Rate of speed, dynamic changes, etc., shown by certain
Italian words (allegro, andante, etc.), whose meaning is
as universally understood as staff notation itself.

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Previous: Miscellaneous Terms (_continued_)

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