Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Understanding musical scores

1.2.2 Working with neumes

To test out how neumes worked, you can try to create something similar.

Activity 1

Take a tune that you know and try to represent the shape of it using coins, stones or buttons that you can move around on a sheet of paper. See if you can put the coins down in a pattern that represents the rise and fall of the melody. This rise and fall is called the melodic contour. It’s not that easy without any point of reference. Here’s a melody (The Beatles’ Yesterday) to have a go with.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: ou_futurelearn_musical_score_aud_1013_yesterday.mp3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Let’s just break that down into shorter sections and have another go.

The first little bit has three notes, short-short-long (‘Yes-ter-day’), that are all quite close to each other. What follows is a series of short notes that all move in the same direction and then just at the end fall back to a longer note (‘all my troubles seemed so far a-way’). There is another series of short notes that move down towards the start note, with another pause on a longer note (‘now it looks as though they’re here to stay’). The final eight notes of the phrase jump around a bit more, moving up and down before ending on another long note (‘oh, I be-lieve in yes-ter-day’).

Figure 8

Even taking this in little sections punctuated by longer notes, it is still not easy to represent accurately how high or low each note is in relation to those around it, nor how long or how short the notes might be. Bigger spaces could have been left where the longer notes are, but if you were trying to do this exercise and didn’t know the tune, it would be a bit of a guess as to just how long those notes should be.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371