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Boëthius, c. 480 – 525

Guido d’Arezzo (991/992 – [17 May?] 1050): the Micrologus

In an earlier blog on Paul the Deacon’s Ut queant laxis, I indicated the origin of the do-ré-mi sequence.  The first initial of each line of the Ut queant laxis gave the name of the note or pitch.

  1. Ut queant laxis
  2. resonare fibris,
  3. Mira gestorum
  4. famuli tuorum,
  5. Solve polluti
  6. labii reatum,
  7. Sancte Iohannes (added later) 

Guido d’Arezzo’s contribution to musical notation was indeed a quantum leap.  As well, we can presume that Guido created the staff, then composed of four lines only.  One climbs up the scale by going from line to space.  Each is a note or pitch.

The Semitone

I would now like to indicate that Guido’s C-D-E-F-G-A set (an hexachord) also contained a semitone.  If one looks at a keyboard, one can see that there is no black note between mi and fa.  As I wrote yesterday, Carlo Gesualdo used semitones, which was extremely innovative.  If one goes from do to si playing every note, white and black, of the piano, one has played a chromatic scale.  Chrome means colour.  During the Romantic era, or beginning with Beethoven (the nineteenth century), music was more and more chromatic.

A Keyboard

Mensural Notation 

However, useful as it may be, the domifasolla-(si) chain provided no information regarding rhythm or duration.  Duration was still an oral tradition.  It was transmitted from teacher to student.

Colours shape, stem and quavers

As time passed, composers started to use colours to show duration.  They then used shapes: squares, diamonds, etc.  Soon the stem was introduced as were quavers, or croches.  Rests were also introduced to indicate a silence, or pause.  However, the bar lagged behind, but the time signature was in use.

Time Signature

Equivalent rests: pauses or silences


© Micheline Walker
26 November 2011