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A neume (; sometimes spelled neum) is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation. The word entered the English language in the Middle English forms "newme", "nevme", "neme" in the 15th century, from the Middle French "neume", in turn from either medieval Latin "pneuma" or "neuma," the former either from ancient Greek ("breath") or ("sign"), or else directly from Greek as a corruption or an adaptation of the former.

The earliest neumes were inflective marks which indicated the general shape but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung. Later developments included the use of heightened neumes which showed the relative pitches between neumes, and the creation of a four-line musical staff that identified particular pitches. Neumes do not generally indicate rhythm, but additional symbols were sometimes juxtaposed with neumes to indicate changes in articulation, duration, or tempo. Neumatic notation was later used in medieval music to indicate certain patterns of rhythm called rhythmic modes, and eventually evolved into modern musical notation. Neumatic notation remains standard in modern editions of plainchant.



n. (context music English) A sign used in early musical notation

Usage examples of "neume".

In any case, his mind was too busy to be seeking after an elusive neume, for he was about to report to a new captain, a man upon whom his comfort and ease of mind was to depend, to say nothing of his reputation, career and prospects of advancement.

Church, and since the words of these chants were sung as they would be pronounced in reading, the deficiency of the neume system in not expressing definite duration values was not felt.

F, C, and G, which were written at first by Guido and others to make the old neume notation more definite.

The neumes signified mostly intonations, upward or downward slides of the voice, and not absolute pitch.

In one of the manuscripts of his book letters are written upon the lines and spaces, and in another the neumes are given.

Greek letter system, for the neumes indicated neither definite pitches nor definite tone-lengths.

The development of the neumes into notes of various shapes indicating relative time values and the division of the staff into measures with a definite measure signature at the beginning are natural developments of the earlier primitive idea.

It was admirable, no doubt, to write phrases that showed at a glance their designed rhythm, and rang with sonorous words, but he dreamed of a prose in which the music should be less explicit, of neumes rather than notes.