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thank u, next: The Design Behind the Music

Ariana Grande in her music video "thanm u, next."

I’ll admit right away that I’m not an Ariana Grande fan, so I’ve avoided listening to her new song “thank u, next.” Despite my opinions, Grande’s hit has become incredibly popular and broke records on YouTube within days of its release. An interesting fact that many people don’t put much thought into, though, is that Grande and the musicians she works with create their music with the help of something relatively simple: sheet music. 

Today’s sheet music is standardized. It uses a combination of one or more staves, which denote the exact pitch, and mensural notes, which show how long to hold each tone. As commonplace as this form of music notation has come to be, the sheet music we use is vastly different than the sheet music that was used centuries ago.

Prior to the eleventh century, choir chants were taught using a system called “neumes,” which offered the general shape of the melody, but nothing specific about the notes to sing. To solve the problem, a monk named Guido of Arezzo perfected the staff circa 1025 CE to help musicians understand the precise pitch, even those who had never heard the chant before. The next issue to solve was knowing how long to hold each note, and over the centuries that followed, notes evolved to incorporate timing as well. Finally, in the 1600s, written music took the form we use today.

Having a well-designed sheet of music in front of a musician can guarantee that it is played perfectly and consistently, every time. Thanks to sheet music, even someone like me (albeit with a better vocal range) can sing “thank u, next” and sound just like Ariana Grande herself.

One Comment

  1. cchenow wrote:

    This blog post could honestly be broken into a few different posts; I’d love to read more about the structure of thank u, next’s sheet music as well as the staff Guido of Arezzo perfected that laid the groundwork for sheet music.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2019 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

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