Renaissance means rebirth. And the reason the period between the 14th and 17th century is given that name is that many things were either created or recreated in ways that changed history.

One of which is the printing press which of course had amazing effects on the spread of knowledge and arts. In this article, we’ll be looking at how it affected music in particular.

Needless to say, before being able to use a printer, people had to copy music notes by hand. But thanks to the printing press, people could easily and quickly print music.

Middle Ages

This is the period between 800-1450 c. during which the Catholic Church was powerfully dominant and most of those who weren’t illiterate were members of the clergy.

That’s why most of the music was documented in decorative manuscripts and labeled illuminative manuscripts.

Their “paper” was mainly vellum made from animal hide and on which red and black lines were used.

Woodblock Printing

During the 15th century, woodblock printing was invented.
The process consisted of drawing or writing the music on a piece of flat wood by carving out the wood to make the symbols protrude.

Then, the piece of wood was inked and pressed on vellum or paper.

Music Type

In 1450, Johann Gutenberg introduced the printing press invention which was a game-changer.
In music type printing, you basically assemble the notes, lines, and beams represented as moveable type into a puzzle.

This had to be done in reverse and was a bit of a tedious task. However, it made copying, duplicating, and distributing music a lot faster.

Music Engraving

Music engraving quickly replaced moveable type as the latter made duplicating some details of hand-written manuscripts a bit difficult.

The process consisted of planning outlines, spaced, and layout on paper where the page turns are determined.


In 1796, lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder.

The process consisted of drawing images, text, or music on a smooth piece of limestone with an oil-based ink.
Then, pouring acid onto the stone to burn the image onto the surface.

After that, a water-soluble solution was applied to adhere to the non-oily surface and seal it.

To actually print, the water adhered to the solution whereas the oily ink repelled it to allow the images to form.

Printing Blocks

Since lithography didn’t suit all tasks as some of them included written words, people resorted to printing blocks.
Printing blocks were the same height as the type used and were easy to incorporate into a normal letterpress job.


Once again, music printing was changed with the invention of the camera.
Photolithography was a very practical method for copying music.

The process consisted of transferring a photo image to a metal plate or a stone through the help of chemicals.
Then, the stone was treated to produce a printing surface.


Although they weren’t that popular or fast, stencils were still used as they provided consistency in terms of the size of the notes and clefs.

Stencils basically had the shapes of the music notes that could be filled in. And once a stenciled copy existed, it could be used to produce more copies through processes like lithography or photography.

The NOTEMASTER was one of the most popular stencil devices in the 1980s.

Music Typewriters

Although music typewriters were invented in the 19th century, they only became popular in the mid-1900s.

Music typewriters were mostly like regular typewriters except for the Keaton Music Typewriter which had two keyboards –a stationary one and a moveable one.


By the 1950s and 1960s, music could be documented and notated through computers and software.
The earliest two programs developed were Plaine and Easie Code and DRAMS (Digital Alternate Representation of Musical Scores).

However, computers back then lacked visual feedback to the encoder.

Thanks to the invention of the desktop computer, however, music notation developed with the developing of programs such as SMUT, SCORE, MUSTRAN, MEG, and the Oxford Music Processor.

It’s worth mentioning that in 1976, Armando dal Molin invented the MusiComp which was a computer designated to notating music.

It had two keyboards. The one on the left was used to set the pitch while the one on the right contained the music symbol and letters.

After entering the music, you could edit it and save it to the attached microcassette.
This microcassette was able to store up to 30 pages of music and then used to print music on another machine.