FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME
At some time in the distant past, ancient man must have discovered that by stretching a thong between the horns of a dead animal, or on a branch that forked, a musical sound could be produced. The hunter would also have heard that the string of his bow would sound a definite pitch. Later it would have become clear that by stopping the string at different points and varying its length and thickness it could be made to sound other notes. Once two or more parallel strings were added to the bow, a rudimentary harp was created.
The first stringed instrument was the harp, on which the strings are plucked. The harmonic curve caused by the varied speaking lengths of strings dictated the shape of the frame of the piano and broadly follows the shape of a harp.
The monochord is simply a sound box with a single string stretched over a movable bridge to the position required, which is determined by a scale marked by “0” on the surface. The bridge is moved to each marking to give you a new note. It was plucked, and would now be referred to as a tone metre.
The psaltery was common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is a shallow closed box where strings are stretched and sounded by plucking with the fingers or plectra. There was also a bowed version. The psaltery can be considered a forerunner of the harpsichord, since the strings are plucked, just as the dulcimer can be considered a forerunner of the piano, since its strings are struck. The hammer dulcimer is an ancient instrument dating back to before Christ, and it originated in Iran. The dulcimer and the psaltery may look alike, but they are played differently. Small wooden hammers are used on the strings of the dulcimer to set the strings vibrating, much as the hammers do on the piano’s strings. The strings of the psaltery are plucked with the fingers or with a feather quill, as are the strings on the harpsichord.
Around this time in Rome, music notation started to be developed. At first it was crude, no more than a simple curve to indicate that the pitch should rise or fall. Then around 1160 in Paris the familiar five lines of the staff can be seen with the music notation, giving a clearer sense of pitch. Around 1400 in England the system of notation began to resemble our modern form, with open and closed notes. The colour red was used by some composers to indicate metric alterations, the use of such “colouration,” as it was known, later giving way to other devices.
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