How the ways in which musical notation has evolved and how this has influenced contemporary music.
The way in which music is notated has changed and evolved over centuries. Some of the main changes over time have been the move from the early graphical notation to more traditional forms of notation. In a contemporary sphere the development from graphics to a traditional form of notation has left contemporary composers with the choice of either or both forms which also presents an opening and option for the composer to create a new and different type of notation.
One of the earliest forms of notation was that from the Egyptian Coptic Church. There is very little evidence of this notation, and when decipherable the fragments do not always add to the understanding of the music. One of the earliest fragments is from the third century A.D. The main ideas gathered from the fragments of music were that there were only really markings for the upward and downward moving of the voice. ‘At the present time Coptic music remains an art that must be learned and handed down by oral tradition.’(Britannica, Byzantine neumatic notation) The invention of the modern day stave notation where music could be read from a page was to come later from the genius of Guido Monaco.
Monaco’s invention of stave notation paved the way for composers and for polyphonic music. The invention of this form of notation made means for a composer to record there music on manuscript to be interpreted. The stave that Monaco invented was made up of 4 lines. The four lines were assigned pitches. Dot’s were placed on the lines in there particular order to show the singer the pitch pattern to follow. The evolvement of this four line stave has led to the five line stave, where all pitches became possible, that contemporary musicians today are still using. The reason the invention paved the way for composers and polyphonic music was that now the score writers were able to explore the possibilities of different combinations of sound visually right in front of them rather then orally learning music.
Due to the box traditional notation put musical direction in many composers began to broaden their ways and experiment with graphical notation. Composers such as, Ryo Noda in ‘Improvisations 1’, and Ronald Caravan, have all experimented with the mix of both traditional and graphical notation. Caravan particularly explores this mix in the final movement of ‘Paradigms 1’, which he composed in 1976. Modern composer Victor Wooten argues that there is more to making music then to play the right notes, (Wooten, http://www.bassnaturecamp.com/) this is evidence that composers have become much more experimental with notation and its importance to the sound of music, now composers are often placing more emphasis on other elements of the sound, such as timbre and rhythm.
Contemporary music has benefited greatly from the development of musical notation as the different notations have provided a means to record musical works and also a means to recreate the sound of the piece. If a piece were to be notated traditionally a performer would be able to recreate the sound of the piece quite accurately, if graphically notated the performance would be a product of the original idea. With these broad options now it is up to the modern composer to choose their path.
Britannica, Byzantine neumatic notation, viewed 22 April 2010,
Caravan, Ronald, (1976) Paradigms 1 [Score], Dorn Publications.
Cardew, C 1972, Scratch Music, Latimer New Dimensions, London.
Gillespie, J 1964-1967, The Egyptian Copts And Their Music, Tasbeha.
Noda, Ryo, (1972) Improvisation 1 [Score] Japan, Leduc.
Totally Ratted, Guido D’Arezzo, viewed 21 April 2010,
Wooten, V, Bass Nature Camp, viewed 20 April 2010,