The study of how music has developed and changed over time.

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34
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Why is the double bass the only instrument in the violin family tuned in fourths?

Out of the 4 instruments of the Violin Family (Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass), the bass is the only instrument tuned in fourths. Wikipedia states The double bass is generally tuned in fourths,...
33
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4answers
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When were the terms “Major” and “Minor” applied to keys?

In 1547, Heinrich Glarean published Dodecachordon in which he posited that in addition to the 4 existing pairs of church modes (plagal and authentic versions of modes with finals on D (Dorian), E (...
31
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11answers
4k views

Why does conventional playing style give the string manipulation to the left hand?

For the majority of players, the right hand is used for most tasks that require exacting manipulation: writing, throwing, etc. However, guitar, violin, lute, etc., etc., use the right hand for ...
29
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5answers
2k views

Examples of songs or phrases played in different temperaments

I've read about the fact that 12 tone equal temperament is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that historically, each key would have a different character due to the unequal temperament. I'm curious ...
27
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4answers
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Has music notation become more prescriptive?

Another question asks about the Meaning of 1/1 and 1/2 beneath pedaling marking near some sustain pedal markings. It looks like they are used to specify a particular amount of pedal to use while ...
22
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4answers
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What are the practical reasons for still having transposing instruments?

I understand that historically there was a need for transposing instruments. e.g. Brass instruments would use lead pipes to change their key and players in brass bands would like to stick to the same ...
19
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6answers
4k views

Why is the lowest note on the piano an A?

I've always wondered why almost every piano's lowest note is an A. In fact, I've never seen a piano whose lowest note is not an A, and I have also noticed that this pattern only occurs in pianos; most ...
19
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4answers
8k views

Why is the aeolian mode the minor scale?

I've studied music theory for many years now, and one thing has always confused me about the naming methodology for the minor scale. A major scale is based off the Ionian mode and consist of only ...
19
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3answers
677 views

How much do we know about how ancient Greek and Roman music sounded?

Specifically for music composed earlier than the third or fourth century A.D. I have heard several reports about deciphering examples of ancient greek musical notation. And you can find CDs of "...
17
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7answers
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Is there a known point in history where dissonance became acceptable?

So, I'm not a scholar of music history, but I have a basic timeline. The evolution of Western music theory had several times in which certain chords and intervals were considered too "jarring" or "...
17
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5answers
4k views

What is the history of considering Rock 'n' Roll to be “the Devil's music”?

Historically, what evidence has been cited in support of the claim that Rock 'n' Roll is the music of Devil? This notion exists in the popular culture, fueled by Footloose and half-remembered grade-...
16
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3answers
595 views

Are octaves, fifths, fourths and thirds considered as “consonant” in all music cultures?

Our western music culture revolves around the rule that certain intervals are very consonant, and others (such as the interval between a B and F) are dissonant. The octave is the most consonant ...
16
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3answers
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Origin of the 'squigly line' used for quarter note rest?

This has been driving me nuts - I can't find a single thing on the net that would indicate why the quarter rest is penned the way it is. Did it evolve from some initial or abbreviation or was it ...
16
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2answers
1k views

Music education audio lessons

I am currently learning to play the guitar, and that has sparked an interest in learning more about music in general. I would like to learn about music theory, ear training, history, musical styles ...
15
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4answers
12k views

Why note B is marked with H in Scandinavia and Germany?

At least in Scandinavia and Germany two notes are marked differently than in most other countries: B -> H B♭ -> B I have heard that this is due to mistake in interpreting messy sheet notes, as ♭ ...
15
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2answers
322 views

Singing an opera “all'italiana”

When an opera is played without staging (be it either a rehearsal or an actual concert) it is called all'italiana (translated: "in the italian style"). Or, at least, this is how we call it here in ...
14
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3answers
398 views

Did baroque composers expect you to “bring out” the voices in their pieces, the way today's critics seem to enjoy in players?

So, I recently had a, sadly, way too short conversation with a pianist on the train. According to the guy, in the 17th and 18th century polyphonic keyboard works were not played in such a way that ...
14
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3answers
702 views

J. S. Bach's place in musical history

Was there any reason Bach didn't follow the trends of the times? He was surely very much in touch with contemporary composers, and knew of Handel's and Scarlatti's works specifically. Amazingly, he ...
13
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2answers
325 views

What did ancient cuneiform notation look like, and how did it work?

I looked at Wikipedia of course... According to Wikipedia: The earliest form of musical notation can be found in a cuneiform tablet that was created at Nippur, in Sumer (today's Iraq), in ...
13
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2answers
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Baroque music composed in the 21st century

Which characteristically Baroque elements of music composition still have currency in the 21st century? Are there any 21st-century composers or songwriters who still compose primarily or largely in ...
13
votes
3answers
439 views

What is the reason for pitch inflation?

There's this phenomenon among instrumentalists to constantly raise the pitch of the concert A. This generally occurs among string players, since the range of tunings for woodwinds, for example, is ...
12
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3answers
2k views

How did Mozart know about voice leading rules like consecutive fifths?

What education did Mozart receive in order to know basic harmony rules, like consecutive fifths are bad? And how did he make sure his compositions do not have errors? Did he have to check every voices ...
12
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2answers
401 views

What do these unusual signs on key signature mean?

I know that the more typical notation for the little X in the time signature is used for double sharps, but in the intro of the volume the author of this work seems to say that he is using that symbol ...
11
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4answers
316 views

Was the viola da gamba or violin particularly associated with England in the late 16th or early 17th century?

The viola da gamba was an instrument in use throughout western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries; the modern(ish) violin became popular around the turn of the 17th century. But instruments ...
11
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4answers
2k views

Why were sound effects like the gunshot included in the General MIDI (GM) standard?

I recently learned about the general MIDI standard and one thing that I cannot understand is the last sound effect is always a gunshot. Most of the other effects like applause, telephone ring, and ...
11
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2answers
572 views

Where did the British names for different note lengths come from?

I was always taught to use a certain set of names for the length of a note, such as crotchet, minim, quaver, and so on. I'm aware though that those terms aren't used as much outside the UK, and that ...
11
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1answer
120 views

How were tuning/temperaments indicated on scores (if they ever were)?

Bradley Lehman claims that the details of the intended tuning for the Well-Tempered Claivier are encoded in the squiggle at the top of the manuscript (related wikipedia link). Are there other (...
11
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2answers
340 views

When did keyboard partitions start to use the G-clef for the upper staff ?

When you look at very old sheetmusic (for harpsichord or organ), you see that the upper staff has a C-clef, first line. The lower one is the familiar bass F-clef, fourth line. Why and when did the ...
10
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2answers
1k views

Vivaldi's “The Four Seasons”, Who Chose the Title?

Did Vivaldi himself choose the title "The Four Seasons" and the titles for each of the four concerti, or they're chosen by publishers?
10
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3answers
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Did they ever make a double bass this huge?

I have seen some pictures where the double bass is literally enormous. Seems like a single person wouldn't be an able to play it on his own. But I don't know for sure if these pictures are real or ...
10
votes
2answers
514 views

Why is the “longest note value still in common use” called a “breve”, when breve means “short”?

This Wikipedia page says that the double whole note, or breve, is the "longest note value still in common use". However, breve in Italian means 'short'. How did the longest commonly-used note value ...
10
votes
1answer
200 views

Is it a coincidence that “blue” notes are “chromatic”?

According to the OED: The word "chromatic" has been applied to music with lots of accidentals since at least the 17th century. In the 19th century, a "blue note" was one that was incorrect; starting ...
10
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1answer
423 views

Earliest-*known* use of a double leading tone cadence?

Background For those who do not know, the double leading tone cadence was perhaps the single defining characteristic of Ars Nova. Earlier music styles used much simpler cadences (movement by 3rds, ...
10
votes
1answer
456 views

What's the earliest known piece of polyphonic music?

Do we know what is the earliest known piece of polyphonic music? I know that there are some 12-th century composers like Léonin and Pérotin that did this kind of thing, but did they compose the ...
10
votes
1answer
1k views

Why is Italian the standard for expressive markings in music?

I was reading through the music for Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy a few days ago and I realized that I am often surprised when I see expressive markings (dynamics, tempo, accents and the like) that ...
10
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2answers
273 views

Was the pitch A given that letter because the minor key was originally the “basic” mode?

It's something that's puzzled me; The key that has no sharps and no flats, in essence the "basic" key, is C Major. Well, fine, but why C? Why not label that key and note A, if it's the foundation of ...
10
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3answers
4k views

Training and Influences of J. S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is undoubtedly among the most celebrated of Baroque composers, and to many the great composer in all history. The era of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in which he lived, ...
10
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3answers
4k views

Origin of the asymmetrical keyboard layout of a piano

The piano keyboard has white keys based on the C Diatonic scale plus black keys, which add the remaining notes used in western music. The asymmetrical way in which the black and white keys are placed ...
10
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2answers
573 views

What changes were made to Dvořák's Cello Concerto by Wihan?

Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, is a standard part of the modern cello repertoire, probably even the most popular concerto on the instrument. For the most part the version played ...
10
votes
1answer
226 views

Where did the term backbeat come from?

In most modern music in 4/4 beats 2 and 4 are where the snare hits are and are usually referred to as the backbeat. Normally in 4/4 the 2 and 4 beat would not be accented, but the snare hits do just ...
9
votes
4answers
896 views

Was Bach the first to use thumbs on a keyboard?

This question reminded me of a claim that I've heard before, namely, that J. S. Bach was the first keyboardist to utilize the thumbs in his playing technique. I'm not sure where I've heard this, but ...
9
votes
3answers
2k views

Is a violin's shape (particularly the f-holes) necessary or is it just for aesthetics?

Violins have a rather beautiful design. ... is such design necessary? Is a violin's natural sound only achieved when it has this specific shape? I have a particular interest in the f-holes. Are they ...
9
votes
3answers
98 views

Musicians Unions In The Modern Day

Historically, the AFM was the place to be to get anything done with music performance; or so that's what I heard growing up. But I don't hear much about it now. This was even the case while I was ...
9
votes
2answers
572 views

Naming convention for augmented 6th chords

There are three types of Augmented 6th chord the German, the Italian, and the French. Most chords are named for the intervals they contain or their function, but these seem like just arbitrary names ...
9
votes
1answer
204 views

Scales in modal versus tonal music

When tonal music replaced modal music, why were 6 of the 8 scales (modes) used in modal music abandoned in favor of only two, major and minor? Superficially this would look like a reduction in the ...
9
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2answers
275 views

Where did the symbols b and # originate from, and why those?

We're all used to flat and sharp signs, also naturals. Accidentals in some cases. But why those unusual signs? I suspect the b may have something to do with the German B, but the # sign? Something to ...
8
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6answers
3k views

Is Beethoven's 9th symphony the first piece that combined a chorus with an orchestra?

(a very good musicology question suggested by BenV, from the definition phase of the "Classical Music" area51 proposal). Beethoven's ninth Symphony (opus 125) is one of the most well-known works of ...
8
votes
1answer
1k views

Why are the black keys on some ancient fortepianos now white on modern pianos?

I am wondering what happened in the fortepiano's history that made the keyboard colors switch (why black keys on some ancient pianofortes are now white on modern pianos). Here is a picture of a ...
8
votes
3answers
446 views

History of screaming in music throughout the world

Screaming is a common technique in metal and other music genres but according to Wikipedia it has also been used in blues music and very few times in more classical Western works. Are there other ...
8
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3answers
885 views

Has opera traditionally been enjoyed by aristocracy only or the masses too?

I was reading A History of Opera by Abbate and Parker. On page 19, they say And although its financial basis has gradually broadened...opera in its primary form, theatrical form has typically ...