If you like music, you may have wondered what the origin of musical notes is. Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, are 7 symbols that make you enjoy beautiful melodies or songs, right? But do you know what the history of musical notation is? Who was its inventor?
The oldest musical notes we know of come from India and correspond to certain Vedic hymns from around 700 B.C. It was a meticulous and complex system that included more than three hundred musical symbols based on the Indian alphabet, each of them representing a series of notes.
Thus, for example, the sign called “cha” indicated to the singer that he should sing three notes in a rapid descending scale. The singer had to memorize hundreds of possibilities of phonic development, unlike the great simplification that the current musical notation supposes, in which each node can represent a sound, its tone, and duration.
Centuries later, around 400 B.C., the Greeks used a type of musical note with letters to identify sounds: these were dots and lines indicating the rhythm, the movement of the piece of music and the nature of the sounds. However, that knowledge, which could have allowed us to know how the ancient songs sounded, was lost after the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages. You may also be interested in reading the history of music.
Thus, in the 7th century, Saint Isidore of Seville makes the following comment in his Etymologies: “If music is not retained by the memory of man, it is irremediably lost, since it is not possible to write it”.
Around 800 the idea of indicating or pointing out the movements of a melody arose in Europe and a system of ascending and descending signs was created. A series of accents were used on the words or lyrics of the cantabile, of the plainchant, to serve as a reminder and warning to the singing monks.
But the most definitive step was taken later. In the eleventh century, the Italian Benedictine Guido d’Arezzo perfected a system of musical notation based on the tetragram of four horizontal lines on which he marked the notes, although not the measure or the rhythm. He also created the harpsichord idea using different colors for different symbols.
Musical notes were denoted by letters: fifteen in total. A system of pneumae or tachygraphic symbols on the words of the text to be sung indicated the tone in which it should be made:
A dot indicated a short note
A wavy line represented a group of two or more notes
The height of the note was indicated by moving it more or less away from the text.
Guido d’Arezzo also introduced a system of lines parallel to the text to represent certain notes, so that the interval between the text and the lines would be more easily discernible. In their time music, magic and mathematics participated in a common nature. You may also be interested in the history of the piano.
Also due to this brilliant monk is the name of the notes, the “solmization”, calling Uta the initial note “do”; the rest of the notes were the initial syllables of a Latin antiphon dedicated to St. John: Ut quaint laxis resonare fibris, mira gestorum famuli tuorum solve polluti labii reatum, S(anct) J(ohannes), (“So that our vocal cords may sound relaxed, look at your servants and dissolve the polyps by opening your lips, oh, San Juan”). The initials of the saint, SJ, gave rise to the seventh note: yes.
Around 1200 Franco de Colonia (also known as Franco Teutonicus) added the notation alluding to rhythm, to musical time, of which he spoke in his book Arte de la música measurable, where he distinguished four note lengths: semibreve, mínima, Negra, and coaches. The basis of our current musical note system had just been born. Perhaps you would like to know the history of the drum.
The modern system of musical notation or writing, with its keys, notes, and staves dates from the early seventeenth century. In the 19th century, the English priest and musician John Curwen, who taught singing, with the help of a lady called S.A.Glover, developed the current notation, instituting the tonic system: “do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, sí”, thus facilitating the study of solfege and the reading of music at first sight.