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Musical notation

Music notation is the practice, science and art of describing music in symbolic form. Written musical notation constitutes sheet music (also called a score).

The most common form of Music notation is the modern European system. There are a number of other systems in use, including non-western schemes such as the Indian svar lippi[?], along with other alternatives such as Ailler-Brennink[?] and the Chinese Dien Pou[?] or simplified notation. Notation systems have been developed for use with particular instruments; examples include tablature and Klavar notation[?] for keyboard music.

Modern day music notation is based around a staff of five lines. Music notes are represented by drawing note heads on the lines and spaces of the staff to represent pitches. The shape of the note head, or the characteristics of the stem attached, are varied to specify different note durations. Notes are written in a left-to-right sequence.

Elements of the Staff

A staff is generally presented with a clef, which indicates the particular range of pitches encompassed by the staff. A treble clef placed at the beginning of a line of music indicates that the lowest line of the staff represents the note E above middle C, while the highest line represents the note F one octave higher. Other common clefs include the bass clef (second G below middle C to A below middle C), alto clef (F below middle C to G above middle C) and tenor clef (D below middle C to E above middle C). These last two clefs are examples of C clefs, in which the line pointed to by the clef should be interpreted as a C. In a similar fashion, the treble clef points to a G and the bass clef points to an F.

Another common element of a staff is the time signature, which indicates the rhythmic characteristics of the piece. Time signatures generally consist of two numbers; the upper number indicates the number of beats per measure (or "bar"), while the lower indicates what sort of note constitutes a "beat". A time signature of 4/4 (also known as "common time" and sometimes indicated with a large "C" symbol) implies that there will be four beats per measure, with each beat constituting a quarter note. A signature of 2/2 (or "cut time", a "C" with a vertical slash) allows 2 beats per measure, with each half note lasting a beat.

Finally, the key signature on a staff indicates the key of the piece by specifying certain notes to be held flat or sharp throughout the piece, unless otherwise indicated.

Notes representing a pitch outside of the scope of the five line staff can be represented using leger lines, which provide a single note with additional lines and spaces.

Multiple staves can be grouped together to form a staff system.

Development of Modern Music notation

The ancestors of modern symbolic music notation originated in the Catholic church, as monks developed methods to put plainchant (sacred songs) to paper. The earliest of these ancestral systems, from the 8th century, did not originally utilise a staff, and used neums (or neuma or pneuma), a system of dots and strokes that were placed above the text. Although capable of expressing considerable musical complexity, they could not exactly express pitch or time and served mainly as a reminder to one who already knew the tune, rather than a means by which one who had never heard the tune could sing it exactly at sight.

To address the issue of exact pitch, a staff was introduced consisting originally of a single horizontal line, but this was progressively extended until a system of four parallel, horizontal lines was standardised on. The vertical positions of each mark on the staff indicated which pitch or pitches it represented (pitches were derived from a musical mode, or key). Although the 4-line staff has remained in use until the present day for plainchant, for other types of music, staffs with differing numbers of lines have been used at various times and places for various instruments. The modern system of a universal standard 5-line staff was first adopted in France, and became widely used by the 16th century (although the use of staffs with other numbers of lines was still widespread well into the 17th century).

Because the neum system arose from the need to notate songs, exact timing was initially not a particular issue as the music would generally follow the natural rhythms of the Latin language. However, by the 10th century a system of representing up to four note lengths had been developed. These lengths were relative rather than absolute, and dependeded on the duration of the neighboring notes. It was not until the 14th century that something like the present system of fixed note lengths arose. Starting in the 15th century, vertical bar lines were used to divide the staff into sections. These did not initially divide the music into measures of equal length (as most music then was far less rhythmic than in later periods), but appear to have been introduced as an aid to the eye for "lining up" notes on different staffs that were to be played or sung at the same time. The use of regular measures became commonplace by the end of the 17th century.

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