How Was Musical Notation Invented? A Brief History

Guidonian Hand (Wikimedia Commons)

Guidonian Hand (Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine a piece of music. No, not the music, but the written score or sheet. Some of us look at it, and immediately begin translating those symbols into sounds. Others among us might not be able to make sense of what we see on the page — and that’s OK, because you don’t need to be able to read music to appreciate it. Musical notation is complex, and that’s a good thing because it allows composers to express complex ideas that can make their way to your ears.

But the notes and staves we see today didn’t spring fully formed from one person’s mind. Instead, the notation we see today is the product of centuries of innovation and refinement. So let’s explore a few milestones of its development. Full story.

James Bennett, II (WQXR) / June 15, 2017

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