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The History of Sheet Music

While many of us take for granted the accessibility of sheet music today, imagine the difficulties we’d face if we tried to practice our art without the conveniences we currently enjoy. Do you know a scribe around the corner who could laboriously copy note by note, line by line the piece you had selected, if you even knew what to select?

That is what went on prior to the printing press in 1473, and for decades afterward sheet music was still hard to obtain and very expensive. The Gutenberg press was a big step forward for musicians, however the printing of music was a secondary thought in the minds of printers and it took 20 years before the first piece of music was printed on the press. Even then it was a difficult task as the piece had to be run through the press three times to get everything printed. Three passes required that everything had to line up exactly and so sheet music remained outside the reach of many.

Advances in printing were slow to improve accessibility for musicians. For quite a while “mass produced” music was simply printed as a blank ledger and notes were added by hand. Finally in 1528 a single pass printer made music easier to print. At that point, however, music became the domain of the monarchs as they controlled the publishing business. They decided who could print music. The lucky chosen few became very wealthy as sheet music was now in demand by the common person.

It wasn’t until the 19th century in the United States that publishers arose and flourished to make sheet music truly available for all. Until the invention of the phonograph sheet music and the parlor piano was the vehicle for entertainment in every home of any means.

Gutenberg press.bmp 

 
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  History of Sheet Music
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  Sheet Music in the Digital Age
     
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