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Online course

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

Travel through the history of musical notation, learning how to decode medieval music manuscripts, with this free online course.

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • Access to course tests
  • A Statement of Participation when you complete over half the course

Find out more

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

Why join the course?

Nowadays music is all around us: we listen to it while we are on our way to work, when preparing lunch or even while showering. All this music is written down in its own language - the notation system. But did you ever wonder where this came from? Have you ever looked at a medieval music manuscript and wondered how to read it?

In this free online course, we will answer the key questions, including:

  • What happens to music when we write it down? How did this evolve through history?
  • Who wrote down music? And why?
  • Which strategies of visualization came into play?
  • Are notes just another scripture?
  • How does it help us play and listen to music today, if we understand how music was written in earlier times?

Transcribe early music manuscripts

This course will enable you to understand the theoretical and practical principles of reading musical notation from the Middle Ages until the Early Modern Period. We will show you how to decode and transcribe early notational systems. And we will discuss the challenges and principles of music notation, referring to semiotic approaches and visual theory.

Enjoy medieval music

As well as the theoretical and practical parts, this course offers more than 15 recordings of ancient music performances provided by musicians of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis - the renowned institution for ancient music in Basel. These will give you the opportunity to listen to many of the musical pieces that we will discuss during the seven weeks.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsWhat happens to music when we write it down?

Skip to 0 minutes and 17 secondsHow did the way we note music evolve through history?

Skip to 0 minutes and 23 secondsAre notes just another scripture?

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 secondsIf you would like to discuss these questions--

Skip to 0 minutes and 34 seconds--and learn how to read ancient music notation from the Middle Ages until the early modern period.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsIf you would like to discover a piece that might have been sung for the first time in 700 years, especially for this course-- --and understand what a ligature is, a brevis, or a longa, and how to look at ancient music with fresh eyes.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 secondsJoin our course, "From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts." Coming soon.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

Who is the course for?

The only requirement is that you should know how to read modern musical notation.

This course is intended for professional and non-professional musicians interested in musical paleography and its history, as well as undergraduate students of musicology, historians, philologists, theologians, art historians and semioticians.

During the course, we encourage you to use a feather quill to enjoy the original feeling of writing down music. If you have no quill at hand, you can try building your own or buy one at a stationery stop. A quill, however, is not necessary to follow the course.

Who will you learn with?

Professor Matteo Nanni

I am professor of musicology at the University of Gießen (Germany). One of my main research fields is medieval and early modern music with a particular focus on history of musical notation.

Angelika Moths

Playing harpsichord.
Singing Gregorian Chant.
Teaching paleography and music theory.
Historical informed performance.
Arabian and medieval music.

Who developed the course?

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.