Musical history can be catagorized into seven periods, starting with ancient music:
Ancient music is music that was composed and performed before the fall of the Roman empire. This music was almost all monorythmic, and almost always monophonic. There were plenty of Greek drama schools, but at this point in time there were no musical schools; you had to learn from another player. The romans were not a huge scource of memorable music, and so we find most of our western musical roots sprouting from Greek sources.
The second major period of music is the Middle Ages. When the Roman empire broke down, the western world entered a period of dark ages. Constant warfare abounded, and cities were spread thin, making the spread of new musical ideas difficult. As the Christian Church slowly took control, they approved of a musical style known as the Gregorian Chant. This was a monophonic, monorythmic chant that was used for secular reasons. This style was the only major style of musical expression up until the early 1400’s.
Around 1420, the Renaissance began. In this era we see the rise of polyphony, and we also see our modern musical notes beginning to take shape. Staff lines were set, and the clefs were roughly outlined. Dance vocal music was very prevalent during this period, and England ecspecially saw a large increase in musical activity.
The fourth major period of music is known as the Baroque period, which began around 1600. The term Baroque comes from a style of architecture. Baroque music tends to focus on simple rythms, simple chording, and small ensembles. Chamber groups abounded in this age, and we see the first “rockstar” composer, J.S. Bach. We see early operatic pieces composed, as well as early soloistic works. We can also see many of the modern orchestral instruments either standardized or in the process. This eras end is marked by the death of Bach, in 1750.
The fifth major musical period is known as the Classical Period. During this period, we notice music becoming much more complex, and the many classic chordal structures being inverted. Many pieces are still composed for chamber sized groups, and small symphonic works are being perfected. Prominent composers from this period include Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Gluck.
The sixth period of music is known as the Romantic period. This period lasted from around 1820 to 1920. Composers in this period really started to pay attention to the emotional side of music, and the symphony was brought to full maturity. Great composers from this period include Beethoven, Elgar, Brahms, and Wagner. These pieces tend to be huge works, giant displays of art that sometimes lasted hours.
The final period of music is reffered to as the Modern era. This period lasts from around 1920 till the current time. Famous composers from this era include Schoenberg, Debussy, Bartok, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Mahler, and others. The forms of musical expression have expanded greatly since its beginnings, and in the last century anything was game. Many of these composers were extreme innovators, and many new ideas have been presented, including electronic music.