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High and low: a short exercise

One of the oldest form to notate music was implemented by using neumes. These little strokes and dots do not reproduce the pitches and intervals on staff lines, but can represent visually the shape and gesture of the melody.

Let us explore some basic principles of early notation with the melody that was sung at the end of the last step. If we dispense with the modern indicators of time, the melody would read in the modern system as follows.

modern notation of Greensleeves

Now study this table. With these four neumes you should be able to note down the shape of the melody.

table showing four neumes: tractulus = lower note; virga = higher note or equal; pes = group of two ascending notes; clivis = group of two descending notes

Try to jot this down on a piece of paper by starting with a tractulus.

Spoiler alert: you find the solution either with comments in the next step or if you watch the last video again.

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This article is from the free online course:

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel