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A Guide to the Most Important Music Periods in History

Do you have classical musicians for friends who go on and on about these classical periods? Are you not too sure about what they’re talking about and feeling left out? Do you want a quick crash course on these famous periods to impress your friends or just learn more? Look no further and read on for a condensed walk through music in time!

Medieval Period (c. 1150 - c. 1400)

Beginning around the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the medieval period progressed into the 6th century and lasted through the end of the 14th century (when it gave way to the Renaissance Period). One of the most prominent features of this period was its focus on the church. Medieval music included liturgical music (used for the church) and secular music.

Medieval music carried stark characteristics such as monophony, standardised rhythmic patterns and limited instrumental music. Furthermore, the foundation for the music notation and music theory practices that would shape Western music was laid and developed during this period. Before this introduction of music notation, songs and pieces were learned by ear since no song melodies were written out.

While a majority of medieval music has not survived the test of time due to inconsistencies in music notation, the works of a few prominent composers have. These composers include Léonin, Pérotin, Hildegard von Bingen and Guillaume de Machaut.

Renaissance Period (c. 1400 - c. 1600)

During the Renaissance Period, music was increasingly freed from medieval constraints and there was a wider display of range, rhythm, harmony, form and notation. This was also when music became more used for personal expression.

A few of the most notable traits of Renaissance music were its polyphony, tonal music and increase in risk-taking (with the increased use of dissonance).

Although Renaissance music has not carried on to the present as much as music from the Classical and Romantic periods have, some of the composers from this era still remain highly influential. The works of Josquin des Prez, Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina are still frequently used in today’s age.