A Brief History of Sheet Music

Learning to play the piano is a great way to begin expressing an interest or talent in music. While some gifted pianists are able to play by ear and perform beautifully without written music, most piano players require sheet music as a musical road map. Sheet music uses specialized musical notations to convey the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of a particular piece in a manner that allows musicians to play music in real time as they read. One of the essential first steps of any beginning pianist is learning how to read sheet music, and this skill is invaluable as a musician continues through his or her journey through life and piano playing.

Sheet music has existed for centuries, and its history is quite interesting. When humans first began to make music, pieces were incredibly rudimentary, and “written” music was preserved by teaching it to others as part of a tradition. Eventually, music began to distinguish itself from other forms of communication, and musicians decided to preserve their pieces by writing their music in basic forms of notation.

As humans progressed and developed more skills, written music began to become more sophisticated. Writers of music began to use standard notation techniques to document their pieces in manuscripts that could be read and translated by others. These manuscripts were used to preserve pieces such as chants and basic hymns, and they were often bound in extremely large volumes. This practice continued for quite some time, but was phased out, for all intents and purposes, with the advent of printing.

Printing came into prominence toward the end of the 15th century, but music printing did not become popular until much later in the 16th century. Machine printing techniques developed during the century allowed composers to preserve the characteristics of their music in great detail. More importantly, this process allowed them to share their music with the rest of the world much more quickly and easily. This changed the world tremendously, because it allowed composers to sell pieces of music to performers, thus creating an early version of our modern music industry.

From the 1700s until the modern age, sheet music has retained most of its defining characteristics. Once notational standards were developed at this time, they remained virtually unchanged. However, technology grew, and a sheet music printing industry grew along with it in the 1800s. Until the advent of recorded music, sheet music was the most popular way for composers to share their creations with the world, and it offered individuals and families one of the only ways to enjoy popular music at home. Sheet music still exists today, and the industry remains strong. However, changes in digital technology have allowed sheet music to exist in a number of different forms from printed paper to computer screens.

Learning how to play the piano is a great way to express an interest in music, but it is also a wonderful way to connect with its history through the use of sheet music. Printed musical notation has been nearly as important to human history as the printed word, and most people who learn the piano are exposed to sheet music at an early stage in development. Although the world of music is changing rapidly, sheet music is expected to continue enduring in one form or another.