Though the notion of music notes may seem like an integral, necessary part of any system for creating and performing music, it is less intuitive than the casual, non musically inclined listener might suppose, being more a part of the history of how the modern world has quantified and systematized various aspects of native human culture than an implied part of the basic existence of music. The method through which musical notes are arrived at, represented and accessed by musicians can vary widely between different regions, and the way in which they came to take their present-day form is one that took a considerable portion of time to unfold. A survey of the development of human artistic and intellectual culture throughout history will necessarily include some coverage of the ways in which music notes have been created as ideal systems and as part of the practical process of playing music.
The earliest forms of musical notes have been considered by musical history scholars to exist in the form of a cuneiform tablet found by an archeological team in Iraq that is felt to date from 2000 B.C.E. It is far more rudimentary and less indicative of degrees of sophistication than today’s systems for representing music notes but nonetheless holds considerable historical significance for its place in time, as does a more sophisticated system found recorded on tablets that are estimated by archeological experts to date from about 1250 B.C.E., which contain the earliest known melodies that have found to be recorded. Much later in history, during the era of the ancient Greeks, a system of musical notes was in place that has been found by contemporary musical scholars to be enabled for the representation of pitch and note duration, and to a lesser degree harmony. Despite its limitations for the representation of music notes in comparison to modern systems of musical notes, this system had much staying power and remained in place in some form in Greek culture until the fourth century C.E., around the time that the Roman Empire, which had dominated Greece for much of that time, was falling into a steady decline.
The next great source of creativity in the task of formulating systems of notations for creating understandable charts of music notes can be found in the Arab World toward the end of the first millennium C.E., when that culture was in a position of great political power that was matched by its intellectual vitality. One of the most important figures in the Arab World’s movement toward an organized system of musical notes was the intellectual Al-Kindi, who moved practice beyond the Greek system in its expressive powers and complexity of organization, while his successor in that task Al-Farabi devised a “pure tone” system that is still widely relied upon as a source of music notes in the Arab World’s music. The next great source for innovation in the creation of systems of notation for making and interpreting musical notes came from the medieval European monasteries.