NickES345's Reviews > Capturing Music: The Story of Notation

Capturing Music by Thomas Forrest Kelly
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This book is not intended to be a manual of music notation rules and style, but rather a history of the development of music notation. And a fascinating history it is. If you've ever wondered why the lowest line of the bass clef is a "G", why the grand staff splits at middle C (which is close, but not the middle of a piano keyboard), where the names of the G and F clefs come from, why note lengths are encoded by flags and dots, then this is your book.

Throughout, there are many full-color plates of ancient manuscripts illustrating points made in the text. There is even a CD in the back cover containing tracks of Gregorian chants and other musical styles, each keyed to a specific example in the book.

The author also emphasizes the interplay between musical practice and musical notation and how that interplay affected the evolution of notation. For example, the author mentions two principles at the foundation of the Western musical system (p.12): "first, that this music is meant to go with words; and second, that the basic unit of music-writing is not the note, but the syllable".

Although the book is an easy/fun read, it contains so much information and history that it will be a reference to which you will constantly return. E.g., when was tablature first used (ans., 200 BC); where did 'do, re', mi..' names come from (see p.68); why does the word 'gamut' have its origins in musical notation? I couldn't possibly remember all the facts/dates/names mentioned in the book, so I try to remember the main themes and approximate dates - when/why did the grand staff appear, when/why did rhythmic notation become important to notate, when/why did Italians get to coin all those names for dynamics/performance - the rest I'll have to look up again in this wonderful reference.

Will this book make you a better musician? Probably not. Will it clarify many of the idiosyncrasies of music notation? Absolutely!

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Reading Progress

January 1, 2016 – Started Reading
January 1, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 29, 2016 – Shelved

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