Questions tagged [history]

For questions about how music has developed and changed over time or for questions about concepts and ideas of a historic period of music. Do not use just because the subject of the question is a historic figure or piece.

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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 ...
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46 votes
5 answers
11k views

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 (...
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33 votes
4 answers
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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 ♭ is ...
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6 votes
3 answers
304 views

Did continuo players consider figured bass as "interval symbols" or "chord symbols"?

The "modern" idea of chords and their inversions being functionally equivalent is generally credited to Jean-Philippe Rameau's 1722 Treatise on Harmony. However, figured bass was already in ...
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20 votes
8 answers
6k views

"The intervals considered dissonant have changed since the 'Middle Ages'"; How so?

In reading my new book 'Complete Classical Music Guide', I understand the following: If two notes are separated by a consonant the sound is pleasing to the ears. If they are of a dissonant ...
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12 votes
4 answers
12k views

How did the plagal modes differ from their authentic counterpart in practice?

In the traditional modal system there were eight modes. Four that were authentic and four were plagal. These modes are depicted below: Based on the description of the modes the final note of the ...
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  • 46.1k
22 votes
3 answers
6k views

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 ...
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  • 555
7 votes
2 answers
2k views

What is so special about the devil's interval (tritone)?

I'm interested in learning more of the Devil's interval: how it originated, some of its uses and what exactly about the interval of a diminished fifth makes it sound ominous?
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17 votes
3 answers
2k 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 ...
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6 votes
4 answers
1k views

Absolute pitch - has it varied through the centuries?

At the moment, absolute pitch seems to be using 12et, with A=440 Hz. Would this have been the case, say, in the Baroque period, when A=quite a bit less than 440 Hz? With some orchestras using 442 Hz, ...
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1 vote
2 answers
167 views

History of standardization of pitch and tuning: measuring waves

The velocity of a traveling wave in a stretched string is determined by the tension and the mass per unit length of the string. for a string of length cm and mass/length = gm/m. For such a string, the ...
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29 votes
5 answers
4k 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 ...
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20 votes
5 answers
15k 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 ...
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14 votes
2 answers
6k 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, ...
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18 votes
4 answers
8k views

When did the half-step/whole-step modulation in the middle of a song become popular?

Many pop songs in modern times will use a half step or a whole step modulation in the middle of a song in order to increase excitement. I would like to know when this strategy started, and if it is ...
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19 votes
3 answers
2k 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 ...
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8 votes
3 answers
269 views

To Slash or not to Slash?

In years gone by, when I saw a chord marked, for example, A, I would use any inversion or voicing I felt was appropriate - still do; it doesn't have to be root position. Or does it? Is there an untold ...
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  • 174k
18 votes
2 answers
2k 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 about ...
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  • 797
11 votes
2 answers
802 views

Where did "The Real Book" originally come from?

I saw my first copy of The Real Book when I was 15. The coolest, hippest, jazziest trumpet player I knew (he was 17 and knew who Miles Davis was) had a copy of this spiral-bound badge of savvy: a ...
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  • 56.6k
6 votes
3 answers
238 views

Where did the term 'Tone' originate?

We use 'tone' and consequently 'semitone' a lot in music - in Western music, the semitone is the smallest possible difference between two notes. (Not including guitar bends etc!). However, the word '...
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6 votes
3 answers
426 views

When was music theory first studied?

Music has been around for a long time, but how about music theory? What was the first instance of a publication on music theory?
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19 votes
3 answers
2k 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 ...
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10 votes
2 answers
766 views

How did Pythagoras and Ptolemy measure the relative pitch of musical notes?

Both Pythagoras and Ptolemy believed that the intervals between notes in music should be ratios of small integer numbers. This is known as Just Intonation. Pythagoras liked them to derived from ...
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7 votes
3 answers
540 views

Physiological basis for note durations?

For some reason (probably read something like this a long time ago), I have it in my head that there was some sort of physiological basis for some note durations. This may have been something like, a ...
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6 votes
1 answer
2k views

What clef was first?

Adding up to my previous question, what clef was first and why? I guess there should be answers somewhere out there but I can't find them.
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  • 3,671
5 votes
4 answers
246 views

What exactly is a Christmas carol?

I looked up differences between Christmas carols and other Christmas songs. Generally about carols being about nativity or some other traditional songs not necessary religious while other Christmas ...
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  • 159
4 votes
2 answers
7k views

Why did Chopin name Etude Op. 25, No.5 the "Wrong Note"?

The piece sounds lovely, why did he name it "Wrong Note"?
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  • 445
21 votes
2 answers
1k 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 "...
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20 votes
7 answers
6k views

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 "...
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  • 7,985
18 votes
2 answers
2k 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 ...
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8 votes
4 answers
1k views

How to understand 20th-century pop music as evolution of classical harmony

With sufficient training, a student of harmony may build forwards from Bach through Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc... understanding music of a period in terms of what has gone before. But it's going ...
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  • 985
13 votes
2 answers
6k views

Where did the symbols ♭ 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 ♭ may have something to do with the German B, but the ♯ sign? Something to ...
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  • 174k
28 votes
4 answers
11k views

Why is a 440 Hz frequency considered the "standard" pitch for musical instruments?

I was reading the Idiot's Guides: Music Theory (3rd edition), and I read: The "standard" pitch today that most musicians tune to is the A above middle C, which equals 440 Hz; all the other ...
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  • 685
21 votes
3 answers
2k 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 ...
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19 votes
5 answers
6k 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 ...
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17 votes
5 answers
2k 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 ...
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  • 46.1k
13 votes
2 answers
538 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 ...
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  • 444
12 votes
1 answer
406 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 ...
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11 votes
3 answers
4k views

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 ...
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10 votes
3 answers
1k views

Origin of Roman Numeral Analysis

Out of curiosity, I was searching for the origin of Roman Numeral analysis and the only online source I could find was this passage in Wikipedia: Gottfried Weber's Versuch einer geordneten Theorie ...
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9 votes
1 answer
814 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 ...
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7 votes
2 answers
106 views

Original sources for note-increment dot

A dot after a note adds half of its duration. This is called a “dotted note”. I am interested in the history of the dot itself. How is it called, and what is its origin. I’m looking for earliest ...
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6 votes
5 answers
5k views

What are some examples influences from external cultures on the development of Western classical music?

So, I think it's largely safe to presume that the core of Western musical theory developed almost entirely within Europe -- Greece in its very early history, mainly Italy and also the Franco-Flemish ...
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  • 1,114
5 votes
3 answers
2k views

Why don't pianos use multiples of 12 for the number of keys?

In one of the answers of this question, some pianos with 44, 61, 76, and 88 keys are introduced. I just don't get it. Why notes are not following any formula? I mean, a piano with 63 keys means that ...
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5 votes
4 answers
4k views

Why does unpitched percussion play a less prominent role in classical music than many other genres?

With my little knowledge of classical music I noticed, and I believe most people would agree, that unpitched percussive instrument play a much less prominent role in classical music than in most ...
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10 votes
2 answers
331 views

Notation of triplets in Bach’s *Orgelbüchlein*

In the following piece from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, the nearly constant triplet line seems to be incorrect: The time signature is 3/2, but there are 9 eighth-note triplets per measure rather than ...
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  • 17.9k
10 votes
4 answers
11k views

How did people tune their instruments in the past?

Today we are using electronic tuners and know everything about frequencies but in the past, like before the 16th century, how could people tune their instruments? Did they tune them to specific ...
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  • 487
9 votes
1 answer
4k views

How did "Mary had a little lamb" become popular blues?

"Mary had a little lamb" had long been a popular choice for blues musicians to jam and solo on stage. Ever since watching the rendition by Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan, it also had been ...
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  • 663
9 votes
1 answer
2k views

Origin of the Backbeat

Ok, so I've heard a lot on the origin of the backbeat. Some say it came from African voodoo and others say from the Middle East. Where did it actually come from? Also, people say it was expressly ...
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7 votes
2 answers
2k views

When did the appearance of the quarter rest in music change from its original appearance?

WHEN did the appearance of the quarter rest in music change from its original appearance - as a backward looking number 7 -( ) to its current look ()? I have been searching the Internet with no luck. ...
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