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Derived from the Greek word for breath or breathing, because a group of sounds were sung to one syllable.

  1. Ornamental phrases at the close of a verse, as in the last syllable of Allelula
  2. A sign or character in medieval music to represent a tone or phrase.

Neumes were the earliest attempts at musical notation, though they were, at first, no more than musical shorthand, as they were an aid to the memory rather than a definite representation of sounds. They are traced to the Eighth century, but their origin is uncertain, some supposing them to be Roman and others, Asiatic. The earliest examples of neumes can not be deciphered with any certainty.

In the Tenth century these characters were given a relative height and position to represent pitch, and this was soon followed by the use of lines and clefs, thus developing the staff.

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