by Aden Fischer-Brown
Whether you consider yourself a musician or not, you’ve probably seen the pages lined with notes on the music stands of amateurs and professionals alike. While this notation system may seem logical and easy to some, the methods of writing and sharing musical ideas have constantly changed for thousands of years. Check out these interesting facts to learn more about music notation, in the past, the present, and future.
- Developed in the 1950s, the Nashville Number System expresses musical chords in numbers instead of notes.
While classical musicians prefer to read and write music using traditional staves and notes, country musicians use the Nashville Number System. The NNS can be used by musicians with very little music theory knowledge, and makes it easy to alter the key that songs are in.
- The earliest example of music notation dates back to 2000 BC!
In the Sumerian city of Nippur (present day Iraq,) researchers found a cuneiform tablet inscribed with instructions for musical performance and harmony.
- The traditional music notation system we use now has its roots in Catholicism.
While music has been passed down through oral tradition since its inception, the Catholic Church began writing down its chants during the Medieval Ages. These songsheets enabled the chants to be used everywhere for prayer.
- Advances in technology have allowed for the creation of new music notation software for computers.
Often referred to as scorewriters, these programs offer efficient notation, editing, and electronic sharing of music compositions. Some new programs even mimic the physical action of writing notes, so that musicians can skip the pen and paper altogether.
- The Italian Benedictine monk Guido D’Arezzo is considered the creator of the solfege system.
To create the 7-note scale, D’Arezzo used the first syllable of each of the first eight lines of the hymn “Ut Queant Laxis”:
Ut queant laxis = Ut
resonare fibris = Re
Mira gestorum = Mi
famuli tuorum = Fa
Solve polluti = So
labii reatum = La
Sancte Iohannes = Si
Later, “Ut” and “Si” were changed to the easier-to-sing syllables “Do,” and “Ti,” creating the scale we know and love.
- Graphic notation is an alternative style that uses visual symbols to describe sound.
Graphic notation is typically used by composers of experimental and avant-garde music. It was developed in the 1950s by music theorist John Cage in order to allow performers to overcome the limitations of the traditional notation system.
Bonus Fact: One of John Cage’s most famous compositions is titled “4’33’’”, and consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence.
- The Braille language has been adapted to allow blind musicians to read and write music.
Almost any piece that can be traditionally notated can be written in braille. However, the braille notation also has its own independent set of musical conventions.
Are there any interesting facts that you think we missed? Share them in the comments!