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Chapter 2- Notation & Instruments


A method of recording music so that it can be read for performance. The use of letters of the alphabet to identify notes originated with the Greeks and was adopted by the Romans, although these systems do not seem to have been used by performers. The first systematic notation was based on “ neums” which were introduced in the 7th c.  

A proportional notation  capable of recording time values began in the 10th c. using notes of different shapes, although bar lines were not introduced until the 15th c.

The present Staff notation gradually evolved over this period and has been in use continuously for over 400 years. It is well adapted for music based on semitone intervals, but breaks down when microtones are used.

A parallel Notation - “tonic solfo” was first introduced in the 11th c.  It was initially known as “solmization” but has been termed as “tonic solfa” from the 19th c. onwards. But this system has limited uses for teaching and in singing.

A different type of notation is based not on notes but on the method of producing them. An example is the “tablature” which we will discuss in more detail when on the subject of guitars and other fretted instruments.

In popular music a simple harmonic notation is used in which harmonic sequences are denoted by abbreviation for the names of chords. This is known as a “chord indication” system.


Instruments are devices for provoking vibrations in the air, which strike the ear drum creating a nervous disturbance which we call “SOUND

Instruments are divided into simple loose classifications, viz.

a) Percussion

b) Wind

c) Stringed

In 1914 Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs published a classification similar to this system but with ambiguities avoided.  In their system instruments are classified according to what actually makes the sound.

a) Aerophones 

A vibrating column of air:


         i. Organs, harmoniums 

    Reed & woodwind 

        i.  Clarinet, oboe, bassoon, piccolos, cor anglais – Flute

        ii. Horns trumpet, saxophone, trombones (later called Brass)

b) Chordophones: 

A combination of 2 or more simultaneously played notes:

     Bows – lyres – harps lutes and zithers 

Note:  (violins guitars (evolved from the lute family) 

Note:  Zithers (evolved into board zithers, harpsichord dulcimer and piano)

 c) Idiophone:  

Sound produced by the instrument itself when hit, rubbed, scraped, etc.

(xylophones, bells, gongs, tambourines, rattles, Jew’s harp, musical saro,         tubes, poles, stamping boards) 

 d) Membranophones:  

Vibrations from a stretched membrane or skin (Drums)

To clarify still further, we now divide the instruments into:

a) Keyboard Instruments

b) Stringed Instruments

c) Wood wind, Brass Instruments.

d) Percussion Instruments

See below for the Tabulated Families of Instruments.

Keyboard     Stringed           Woodwind      Brass        Percussion

Organ             Guitar             Recorder          Cornet       Kettle drum


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