How Was Music Written in Ancient Times?

Music has been an integral part of human society since ancient times. The earliest forms of music were created using basic instruments like drums, flutes, and strings.

However, have you ever wondered how music was written in ancient times? In this article, we will explore the various methods used to write music in ancient times.

Oral Tradition

Before the invention of writing systems, music was passed down through oral traditions. Skilled musicians would teach their students how to play a particular tune or song by demonstrating it to them. Students would then learn the melody and rhythm by ear and memorize it for future performances.

Cuneiform Script

One of the earliest forms of music notation was the cuneiform script used by the Sumerians around 2000 BCE. Cuneiform script involved pressing a reed stylus into clay tablets, creating wedge-shaped marks that represented different sounds. The Sumerians used this script not only for writing songs but also for recording their religious rituals.


During medieval times in Europe, a system called neumes was developed for writing music. Neumes were small markings placed above text to indicate pitch changes and rhythm. They were first used in Christian religious chants and became more complex as time went on, eventually evolving into modern musical notation.


Tablature is another ancient method of writing music that is still used today. It involves using symbols or numbers to represent specific notes on an instrument like a guitar or lute. Tablature was commonly used during the Renaissance era and is still popular among guitar players today.


In conclusion, there are many methods that were used to write music in ancient times. From oral tradition to neumes and tablature, each method has its unique characteristics and played a vital role in the development of music as we know it today. While these methods may seem archaic compared to modern notation, they were essential in preserving and passing down musical traditions from generation to generation.