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Tracing its history back more than a millennium, sheet music plays a vital role in the performance of music, and the education of musicians. Writing in the 7th century, the music theorist Isisdore of Seville wrote that it was impossible to notate music. Contrary to his opinion, European monasteries developed a system called Neumes which was used for the singing of Gregorian chant.

Neumatic notation traces its origins to the Eastern Roman empire, where a culture of musical composition flourished in the major cities of what is today's Turkey, Syria and Israel. A form of this early notation is, albeit reformed, is still used in the Greek Orthodox church to this day.

Around 800AD, the European king Charlemagne required that his Frankish church musicians would employ performance nuances used by Roman singers, and hence Metz created the earliest western neume notation in that era.

Early sheet music notation
Neume music notation

The neume system was devoid of any indication of pitch - to addess this a single staff line was introduced. As time went by additional staff lines were added until the use of four parallel, horizontal lines was standardized; this is the system we know and use today.

The standard staff system is attributed to the work of the Italian Benedictine monk, Guido D'Arezzo who was active in the 10th century. He also created the tonic solfa system whereby the seven notes of the diatonic scale were assigned names derived from an ancient hymn dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, called Ut Queant Laxis.

Today classical musical traditions use this system of notation widely in the western world. Popular musical forms often opt for a simpler notation called a lead sheet which contains only the melody, lyrics and chord changes. Free sheet music for many different genres and instruments can be found at .