Machinery Safety 101

Standards in Music

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!

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Acknow­ledge­ments: Neume image from Wiki­me­dia Com­mons. h more…
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