Posted in For Project 5 Examples

Example 1 Research, Part 3a: Early neumatic notation

“Before notation was employed to codify chant melodies, and provide an aid to learning and preservation, the music was performed from memory” (Hiley, 1993: 370), or the way musicians like to say – ‘by ear’. Thus, with plainchants, we are not dealing with “… a repertory transmitted in writing, but one remembered and later codified differently in different places.” Even after notation began to be used, most performing was continued from memory. Notation was there only to remind the singer of details of phrasing, rhythm, dynamic, together with some refinements of performance. In this regard, the early notated manuscripts weren’t ‘performing scores’ in the modern sense, but on contrary, were used to refresh the memory, for recordatio – as was known in the Latin West.


Fig. 1. Examples of neumes

The notation of the Western plainchant traditions is based on the Carolingian neumes (Fig. 1) which emerged in the 9th century. The main difference between the neumatic notation and the notation utilized today is that, neumes weren’t so much about designating the signs for single tones, but rather for the groups of two, three or more tones in various combinations of upward and downward motion. As Hiley writes, the term itself was often used in the early Middle Ages to mean a melodic phrase, while the usual word for a written musical symbol was nota. Thus, he goes even further as to state that: “A neuma could be as short as one note or as long as 101 notes.” (Hiley, 1993: 341) For example, around 1030, Guido draws an interesting analogy between the construction of metrical verse and that of a melody: Continue reading “Example 1 Research, Part 3a: Early neumatic notation”