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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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47 votes
6 answers
63k views

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 ...
JohnLBevan's user avatar
50 votes
5 answers
12k 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 (...
Caleb Hines's user avatar
  • 20.8k
41 votes
5 answers
91k views

Why is note B 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 ...
Skrim's user avatar
  • 521
25 votes
4 answers
8k 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 ...
norlesh's user avatar
  • 595
6 votes
3 answers
400 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 ...
Aaron's user avatar
  • 89.1k
4 votes
1 answer
362 views

What is the origin of the notation A4, B3, F5, etc. (i.e. <letter><number>)

Long before I started to play an instrument I used to tune my young son's guitar for him using a device which told me how close the strings were to the correct notes of E2, A2, D3, G3, B3 and E4. When ...
Brian Towers's user avatar
  • 5,620
22 votes
6 answers
17k 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 ...
fons's user avatar
  • 328
22 votes
8 answers
7k 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 ...
cmp's user avatar
  • 2,706
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 ...
éclairevoyant's user avatar
13 votes
2 answers
9k 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 ...
Tim's user avatar
  • 194k
13 votes
4 answers
13k 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 ...
Dom's user avatar
  • 47.7k
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?
Neil Meyer's user avatar
6 votes
4 answers
2k 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, ...
Tim's user avatar
  • 194k
1 vote
2 answers
262 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 ...
Albrecht Hügli's user avatar
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 ...
Brian Campbell's user avatar
21 votes
3 answers
3k 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 ...
Нет войне's user avatar
20 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 ...
Lee White's user avatar
  • 5,941
20 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 ...
Peter Bloomfield's user avatar
19 votes
5 answers
8k 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 ...
Caleb Hines's user avatar
  • 20.8k
19 votes
4 answers
9k 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 ...
michaeljan's user avatar
19 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 ...
Teusz's user avatar
  • 817
19 votes
4 answers
4k views

Who was listening to Bach's compositions in his lifetime?

Who ever encountered his work? Was his music played somewhere else in Europe, or only where he lived? What strata of society had any chance of coming into contact with his music? What might be the ...
aaron's user avatar
  • 191
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, ...
Noldorin's user avatar
  • 1,133
12 votes
1 answer
4k 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 ...
Sandra-Émilie's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
1k 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 ...
Electric-Gecko's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
4k views

What is the “Trio” in a march?

During a band rehearsal the bandmaster may ask when playing a march: Let’s start from the trio! a) What is meant by this term? b) where does it come from?
Albrecht Hügli's user avatar
8 votes
3 answers
1k views

Instances of note beams across measures

How rare was it, in classical and romantic periods, for composers to notate eighth note and sixteenth note beams across measures? Are there examples from composers other than Schubert? In two of ...
Thomas Andrews's user avatar
8 votes
3 answers
316 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 ...
Tim's user avatar
  • 194k
8 votes
3 answers
596 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 ...
Dave's user avatar
  • 17.8k
8 votes
3 answers
1k views

When was the first recorded usage of a musical score?

Music is quite universal in the sense that you can hand a musician almost anywhere in the world a piece of sheet music and they will be able to understand it. I've been wondering this for a while now; ...
Kevin Yap's user avatar
  • 313
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.
SovereignSun's user avatar
  • 3,842
6 votes
3 answers
436 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 '...
Tim's user avatar
  • 194k
6 votes
3 answers
845 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?
CHEESE's user avatar
  • 202
5 votes
4 answers
500 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 ...
Heimdall's user avatar
  • 159
4 votes
2 answers
8k views

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

The piece sounds lovely, why did he name it "Wrong Note"?
Zektor's user avatar
  • 445
3 votes
4 answers
246 views

Did the music of the common practice period always end with a full measure?

If there are pieces which end with an incomplete measure, then what would be some examples? And is there a term for an incomplete measure at the end? Something that would be the opposite of anacrusis.
Liisi's user avatar
  • 641
30 votes
4 answers
25k 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 ...
O S's user avatar
  • 725
25 votes
9 answers
15k views

What made 4/4 time the most common time signature?

Most music is written in 4/4 time, and in today’s world it seems to be the accepted norm. Now, that doesn’t mean mainstream music doesn’t use alternate meters, but it’s just less common than I ...
Hazel へいぜる's user avatar
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 "...
ogerard's user avatar
  • 8,814
20 votes
7 answers
7k 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 "...
KeithS's user avatar
  • 8,195
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 ...
Brian Campbell's user avatar
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 ...
Dom's user avatar
  • 47.7k
16 votes
1 answer
1k views

At what point in history did the relationship between pitch and frequency become well-known among musicians?

I think I've read that even very ancient cultures were able to discern that an octave difference corresponded to a pipe of twice the length, and so on. But at what point were musicians and composers ...
Нет войне's user avatar
14 votes
2 answers
582 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 ...
Eric's user avatar
  • 454
13 votes
2 answers
1k 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 ...
Aaron's user avatar
  • 233
12 votes
1 answer
433 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 ...
KeithS's user avatar
  • 8,195
12 votes
4 answers
4k 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 ...
Saturn's user avatar
  • 1,409
11 votes
3 answers
5k 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 ...
Shevliaskovic's user avatar
11 votes
2 answers
459 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 ...
Pat Muchmore's user avatar
  • 18.3k
11 votes
1 answer
213 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 (...
Dave's user avatar
  • 17.8k