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NEUMES

Neumes are the ancestors of our Western and Eastern systems of musical notation, prior to the invention of five-line staff notation. The earliest neumes (from the Greek pneuma, i.e., breath) were inflective marks, in the form of symbols pointing up and down. These indicated the general direction but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung. In the Middle Ages, a learning period of up to 10 years was necessary for mastering the huge repertoire of songs covering one full liturgical year. The use of these shorthand mnemonics could be invaluable if the singer knew the tune but did not know how to fit in the words or if his memory slipped a little…