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From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

Travel through the history of musical notation and learn how to decode medieval music manuscripts

5,815 enrolled on this course

People perform medieval music against a background of medieval music manuscripts
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Broaden your understanding of musical notation in the past few centuries

Music is all around us: we listen to it while we are on our way to work, when preparing lunch or even while showering. Most people know that music has its own script – the notation. But seldom are they aware of the long tradition of this notation system.

In this course, we’ll travel back in time and explore musical notations from the Middle Ages. 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.

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

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

Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds Are notes just another scripture?

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 seconds If 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.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds If you would like to discover a piece that might have been sung for the first time in 700 years, especially for this course–

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds –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 seconds Join our course, “From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts.” Coming soon.

What topics will you cover?

  • Music manuscripts and notations and their evolution through history.
  • Decoding and transcription of early notational systems.
  • The challenges and principles of music notation, referring to semiotic approaches and visual theory.
  • Different strategies of music visualization.
  • Analysis of ancient music performances provided by musicians of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore medieval music manuscripts and learn how to read them.
  • Reflect on the relation between music and music notation.
  • Develop an understanding of how to decode and transcribe early notational systems.
  • Investigate in recordings of ancient music performances.
  • Debate the evolution of music notation through history.
  • Discuss the challenges and principles of music notation, referring to semiotic approaches and visual theory.
  • Compare different strategies of music visualization.
  • Improve your understanding of today’s music through the music of earlier times.

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for professional and nonprofessional musicians interested in musical paleography and its history, as well as undergraduate students of musicology, historians, philologists, theologians, art historians and semioticians. The only requirement is that you know how to read modern musical notation.

What software or tools do you need?

There are no software tools needed but 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.

What do people say about this course?

"Brilliant course and definitely one of the ones that has sustained my interest throughout. "

Who will you learn with?

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.

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

Who developed the course?

University of Basel

The University of Basel has an international reputation of outstanding achievements in research and teaching.

Learning on FutureLearn

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  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
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Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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