Music History

May 20, 2008
By Madeleine Harris, Marietta, GA

From cavemen rhythmically thumping on a log, to the rich sounds of a full orchestra -- for as long as people have been on earth, there has been music!
Starting in the 800s, a chain of many different musical eras began.
The first era of music was the Medieval Era, which lasted from 800-1400 C.E.. At 600 years, this era was by far the longest. The musical notation for that era is different than what we have today. Today’s music notation system consists of clefs, staff, notes, rests, measures, repeats, etc. The musical notation during the Medieval Era was called neumes, which consisted of the punctum, which was the equivalent of a single note; the scandicus, which was essentially three or more notes going upward, and the climacus, which was three or more notes going downwards. The style of music most used during the Medieval Era was monophonic. Monophonic music had only one melodic line without any accompaniment.

The second musical era was known as the Renaissance. This era began in the 1400s and ended in the 1600s. During the Renaissance Era, secular music, which is a style of music that does not relate to the church, became popular. New forms of printing were used to distribute musical compositions to the people. The musical technique of “imitation” became popular. Imitation is where one line of music copies one or more notes from the previous line. Keyboard instruments, such as the clavichord, were invented. The existing instruments were enhanced in various ways, and the lute, a plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep, round back, became extremely popular.

The third era of music was the Baroque Era, from 1600-1750. “Baroque” means “a pearl of irregular shape.” Baroque was used to describe oddity and strangeness. Homophonic style, a musical technique that showed separation between the melody line and the accompaniment, became widespread throughout this time period. Another musical style, polyphonic style, was a form of music with two melody lines. Operatic and orchestral music became popular during this time.

The next music era was known as the Classical Era, which lasted from 1750-1820. Orchestras gained more and more instruments, such as the flute, oboe, bassoon, and clarinet. A musical style called Rococo was popular during the Classical Era. This style of music was light and embellished. Another style of music that was popular was the homophony style, which included a single, melodic line with accompaniment. The sonata, consisting of 4 smaller parts in a single composition, each with structure and importance, also made its appearance during this era.

Next came the Romantic Era from about 1850 to 1920. During this time, composers tried new types of harmonies, and varied the length of their compositions. They experimented with dissonance, where two conflicting tones are sounded together. Chromaticism, the usage of notes outside of the regular scale, also became increasingly popular. Orchestras began to use Symphonic Poems, which were compositions that portrayed a story.

The last musical era, from 1920 to the present, has generally been referred to as “the 20th Century” --though, given the turn of the millennium, a more inclusive name seems to be called for! Technology began to become an important part of the music world. Composers could use recording devices to blend tape recordings with live music. Computers can also influence the making of music. Computers can be used imitate sounds of real instruments, and even other types of sounds, such as those found in nature, to create interesting effects. This is my favorite era, not because I think technology makes everything better, but because technology can be used to alter the sound of instruments to make some really cool sounds!

Music has been around for millions of years, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. Of course, in the future, it will continue to change and evolve; but all the same, it will still be music. No doubt, as long as there are people on Earth, music will be wanted.

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