Advantages of Musical Notation

As a medium of transmission of musical thoughts, notation is indisputably important in helping us recognize many aspects of music. Historically, notation provides us with a perspective on the music of the past, which cannot be heard any more. Moreover, it helps to increase our knowledge of musical structures, both melodic and rhythmic, throughout history.

Particularly in western music, different ages have become distinguishable, thanks to notation. Also, harmonic development has become easier to trace. It must be borne in mind, at this point, that harmonic conventions have been subject to considerable changes throughout history - e.g. what had been admissible in the 12th century was objectionable in the 14th. Harmonic rules of the 16th century differed from those in the 18th. In the 20th century, the tonal system changed completely. Any of these developments may be followed through musical notation. Besides, notation is a useful aid to the identification of different compositional styles either across ages, or across modes - i.e. vocal/instrumental. By means of notation, it is even possible to identify different musical schools within the same geographical region.

Before the invention of electrical recording devices, notation served as the only means of access to the various aspects of the music of past generations. Additionally, notation has the ability to store any musical work regardless of its acceptance or rejection by contemporary audiences. The musical work is 'available on paper' even if it is not present in the people's minds. Prior to the use of notation, a song existed only as long as people kept singing it. Now, thanks to notation, popularity of a song is no longer of consequence to its survival. The notation which is used as a means of composition - i.e. the pre-script notation - has no impact on the collective tastes of the society; it does not influence what people like and what they dislike. Therefore with regard to the musical content, such a notation is neutral.

Notation enabled every composer to dictate his musical thoughts to the performer over the ages and across borders as well. The exact transmission of the composer's musical thoughts has become possible, without any aberration, in terms of melody, rhythm, speed, choice of instruments and/or voices, and even feelings and details of performance.

All these aspects refer to music which has been conceived in written form from the very beginning - i.e. composed in the literal sense of the word.

On the other hand, notation can be used for music which was neither created nor historically transmitted nor performed with the aid of notation. This can be applied especially to folk music, whose notation will serve another purpose - i.e. assisting academic research, analysis or comparative studies. As this kind of notation always follows the creation of the particular musical work, it is a post-script notation, unlike the afore-mentioned pre-script notation of western polyphonic compositions. It enables us to examine the minute details of the folk piece - to discuss it and highlight certain aspects of it - as it is easier to deal with a written version than with an oral one.

The notation's function, in this instance, is the explanation of an objective that is already achieved, or a written report on an event already completed - contrary to compositional notation. Although each of these two notations has its own aim and ultimately achieves a different outcome as it is subject to different expectations from the user, both are indisputably advantageous.

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