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Standards in Music

2011 October 5
by Doug Nix

Working in a field that is stan­dards heavy, I often get ques­tions from clients and stu­dents about the ori­gin of stan­dards. Recently I heard a dis­cus­sion on CBC radio talk­ing about the ori­gins of musi­cal nota­tion, and I real­ized that this is prob­a­bly one of the ear­li­est exam­ples of stan­dard­iza­tion. Here’s the story as I under­stand it.

In the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Gregory I, who sat as Bishop of Rome from 590 to 604, decided that there was a polit­i­cal need to solid­ify Rome’s hold on Catholic Christian com­mu­ni­ties. All of these com­mu­ni­ties used the same Latin liturgy, but the music that was used when singing parts of the Mass var­ied from church to church and monastery to monastery. To help con­sol­i­date Rome’s hold, the deci­sion was made that all of the com­mu­ni­ties should use the same music. Eliminating the local vari­a­tions in music would show Rome’s power and help to unify the com­mu­nity. The prob­lem was that there was no means to com­mu­ni­cate music in writ­ing, and rely­ing strictly on the mem­ory of the field agents was not the most reli­able means. Some means of con­vey­ing music in writ­ten form was required.

Someone in Rome devel­oped the ear­li­est method for writ­ing music down, but the exact per­son who came up with the sys­tem is unknown, lost in time.  The ear­li­est records only show increases and decreases in pitch, with no infor­ma­tion on dura­tion, rhythm or pace. This sys­tem used marks called “neumes”.

Early musical notation

Neume musi­cal notation

From this early sys­tem grew the com­plex nota­tion that is now used to com­mu­ni­cate music, a stan­dard­ized sys­tem used world-​​wide for com­mu­ni­cat­ing west­ern music.

So how old is stan­dard­iza­tion? Based on this story, at least 1500 years!

Do you have a story about the ori­gins of stan­dard­iza­tion or a par­tic­u­lar stan­dard? Share it with us by leav­ing a comment!

Post By Doug Nix (94 Posts)

+DougNix is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc. (http://​www​.com​pli​an​cein​sight​.ca) in Kitchener, Ontario, and is Lead Author and Managing Editor of the Machinery Safety 101 blog.

Doug’s work includes teach­ing machin­ery risk assess­ment tech­niques pri­vately and through Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, as well as pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal ser­vices and train­ing pro­grams to clients related to risk assess­ment, indus­trial machin­ery safety, safety-​​related con­trol sys­tem inte­gra­tion and reli­a­bil­ity, laser safety and reg­u­la­tory conformity.

Website: → Compliance inSight Consulting Inc.

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Acknowledgements: Neume image from Wikimedia Commons. h more…
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