Have you ever wondered why we use letter names in musical notation before?

I have to confess that I had never really thought of it much until a friend asked me the other day how the music letter names were named and why the alphabet was used to name them. Here are a few ideas and links that I came up with, but please if anyone else has some other ideas, feel free to post them using the comment box below.

The first musical notation manuscripts or tablets have letters of the Greek alphabet with symbols written on the top called Neums which indicate the pitches of the notes. I found an interesting website about Byzantine Music which I found to be an interesting look at how to de- code some of the meanings of these symbols.

The first person who wrote on musical notation book was a Roman philosopher called Boethius back in the 6th Century. Boethius was the first person to record the use of letters for notes and he used 15 letters of the alphabet to represent the musical notes. This became known as Boethian notation. It is not really known if he made this method up or it was commonly used at the time, but it is thought that linking the note names to the alphabet letters originates from the earliest Greek music musical notation.

This method became very complicated over time , so changes were gradually made in order to make the whole system less complicated. The system of repeating letters A-G was introduced and gradually symbols were introduced for the chromatic notes and flats, sharps and naturals. At the end of the 12th Century, a Benedictine monk, Guido d’ Arezzo added the concept of the staff , placing the letters on lines to indicate their pitch. He also made an alternative to learning note names by inventing the solfege system which offered an alternative to learning musical letter names. This was originally first made up of the first six syllables of the first six musical phrases of a Gregorian Chant melody. This evolved over time into the syllables  Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si/Ti-Do.

Check out this simple, but effective Music History lesson fact sheet called “Who Invented Musical Notation?“.

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