Music and Technology A Historical Encyclopedia

PDF Music and Technology A Historical Encyclopedia May 2022

Book author
  1. James E. Perone


This book introduces readers to the most significant technological developments in music making and listening, including such topics as metronomes and the development of music notation as well as synthesizers, the latest music collaboration apps, and other 21st-century technologies.

Rather than focusing on technical and mechanical details, Music and Technology: A Historical Encyclopedia features the sociological role of technological developments by highlighting the roles they have played in society throughout time.

Students and music fans alike will gain valuable insight from this alphabetized encyclopedia of the most significant examples of technological changes that have impacted the creation, production, dissemination, recording, and/or consumption of music. The book also contains a chronology of milestone events in the history of music and technology as well as sidebars that focus on several key individual musicians and inventors.


  • Includes 100 entries on the most important technological achievements related to music making, sharing, and listening
  • Traces the evolution of music and technology from antiquity to the 21st century, including information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way music is created and disseminated
  • Approaches the content through a historical and sociological lens rather than a purely technical one
  • Offers bibliographic sources and a glossary of terms for readers new to this field of study

The topic of “music and technology” can suggest many different things to different people. As discussed in this book’s Introduction, this volume is based on a broad definition of the topic—broad in the sense of the time period covered and in the types of technologies that have influenced, affected, and, in some cases, suddenly changed the way we create, distribute, and consume music.

The Chronology chapter provides brief overviews of significant connections between music and technology over the course of hundreds of years, with the caveat that the rate of change has dramatically accelerated, particularly with the development of radio, electronic musical instruments, and amplification beginning in the 1920s, and with the advent of sound synthesis and the linkage of computers and music during the 1950s through the present. The next section, the Introduction, provides more detail on the major technological changes connected with music over the years, along with discussion of some of the broader sociological significance of these developments.

The alphabetically arranged entries on music technology through the years focus on 100 significant examples of technological changes that have impacted the creation, production, dissemination, recording, and/or consumption of music. Again, I have taken a historically broad approach to selecting these 100 examples. As one might reasonably expect, Robert Moog’s analog monophonic synthesizer of the 1960s is included, as are streaming audio services, and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface); however, I have also included some examples of the connection between music and technology that, important as they might be, are easy to be overlooked by the general public. These include the development of music printing from movable type to the development and now widespread use of music education software. The recent lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and so on, associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, have also helped to expose more of us around the world to some technologies and music-sharing and music-collaboration applications that, although some may have been around for several years, suddenly became commonplace in the year 2020. These entries include discussion of some of these technologies, particularly from the standpoint of their sociological significance during the pandemic.

Throughout this book, I have attempted to avoid the use of technical terms without explanation, as well as the discussion of technological details that require the knowledge base of a musical or technology expert. Still, some terms and concepts related to music and/or technology are necessary in order to adequately cover the topics. Therefore, this volume includes a Glossary, in which I provide brief explanations of some of the terms that might require more explanation than that which will fit in the other sections of the book. For other musical or technological terms that are unfamiliar, I suggest using one of the concise and reputable online dictionaries, such as Encyclopædia Britannica (, which is an easily accessible source for basic definitions.

I have included annotations for some of the entries in the Bibliography; however, these generally are limited to entries in which the names of the author and source alone might not make it clear exactly what can be gleaned from that particular source.

As one might imagine, technological advances related to music that occurred over the course of hundreds of years include some that are more notable, more influential, and more widely known than others. I have included 22 sidebars throughout the volume to provide moderately sized chunks of information about individuals and technological innovations that either expand upon the main entries in the book or that provide a look at some of the connections of music and technology that were not quite up to the level of meriting an entire 1,000-plus word entry in the A–Z section. Included among the sidebars are a few that decidedly are not well known and that may at first appear to be quirky outliers on the spectrum of music-technology connections. I have included these as examples of some of the oddities that have occurred or that have been invented over the years that might broaden our understanding of what has been tried, even if sometimes with little success or little lasting impact.


I wish to thank the entire staff at ABC-CLIO, as well as the copyeditors and others with whom they subcontract, for all of their help in getting this volume from the concept to the published stage. I am especially indebted to Catherine Lafuente, who first approached me with the idea for this volume. I wish to thank my wife and best friend, Karen Perone, for all the support that she continues to give me on all my writing projects. As I worked on this project, I drew particularly strong inspiration from one of my graduate school professors, the late Dr. Lejaren Hiller. Dr. Hiller was acknowledged as one of America’s early computer music experts, particularly because of his work in the 1950s at the University of Illinois. One of the most unusual and most memorable courses I took in graduate school was Dr. Hiller’s course on 20th-century music composition techniques. It is because Dr. Hiller began our study course by looking back to such things as medieval isorhythmic motets, Johann Sebastian Bach’s use of numerology, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s extensive tonicization of various keys in his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and Robert Schumann’s unusual key motion by the interval of a third in the Symphony No. 1, Op. 38, that I was inspired to offer a wide definition of “music technology” in selecting the topics for this volume. I also wish to thank composer Charles Ames who also broadened my knowledge of computer applications in music during my graduate student years at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was because of Charles’s friendship and influence that my first publication came in the form of a computer-based BINGO caller, programmed in BASIC, that appeared years and years ago in Antic: The Atari Resource.


The topic of “music and technology” probably conjures up images of computers, artificial intelligence, the latest in recording studio and editing techniques, the latest in notation software, the latest apps for tablets and smartphones, and so on. The danger in focusing on what is viewed as cutting edge today is that by the time this volume is published, something newer, better, faster, and more useful might well have taken the place of at least some of these.

This volume takes a broader view of music and technology. Although it includes information about such things as current physical studio techniques, music-related computer software for sound synthesis, virtual studios, computer-based music generating programs, smartphone apps, and so on, it also examines connections between music and earlier forms of technology. So, we will take a look at such topics as Theobald Boehm’s development of the Boehm system flute—the principles of which as still used today—back in the 1840s; the development of the plastic 45-rpm record, which undoubtedly played a significant role in the popularizing of rock and roll in the 1950s; music boxes; player pianos; analog synthesizers; early electrical recording; the now-almost-extinct 8-track tape; and other examples of music technology that are easy to overlook in an age in which it seems that virtually everything associated with the word “technology” involves a computer.

Of course, if one opens up consideration of a topic on one end of the historical timeline, the question will always arise as to where to begin. Because of documentation—or lack thereof—and because it is one of the connections of music and technology that still impact us today, let us begin with the work of the ancient Greek writer and mathematician Pythagoras. Using a monochord, a onestringed musical instrument, Pythagoras described and discussed various proportions that would form the basis of our understanding of overtones, musical intervals, and musical scales. Western music eventually incorporated various tuning systems and temperaments before turning almost exclusively to equal temperament in the 18th century of the Common Era. It is a bit of an oversimplification, but the problem with the pure Pythagorean intervals based on the overtone series is that the farther that one goes away from the fundamental pitch—the one to which the string is tuned—the more out of tune harmonic intervals sound. To put it another way, one particular major 3rd from the series is not proportionally the same as another, which makes them give the effect of having differing degrees of (to coin a term) major third-ness. The equal temperament that eventually became a standard in Western music basically made every interval slightly out of tune (compared with the natural intervals that Pythagoras described) so that none would be horribly out of tune sounding. However, it must be noted that Pythagorean tuning is still occasionally used today. In fact, it is one of the options that is available on Cleartune and other tuning apps that are currently available on smartphones, approximately 2,500 years after Pythagoras first described the monochord proportions.

Ancient music notation systems have proven themselves to be difficult to find. Historians suppose that much music that was not entirely transitory was passed along from person to person. In other words, it was probably part of an aural and oral tradition. A widely known notation system only developed slowly over time. In Western music, symbols known as neumes were beginning in the 9th century to provide reminders of melodic motion to the members of the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. These symbols did not clearly define pitch or exact distance of one pitch to the next, so they indeed were reminders to singers who had learned the liturgical chants with which the symbols were associated as part of the oral tradition. Eventually, more complex symbols known as heightened neumes provided singers with more information about melodic shape and relative distance from pitch to pitch. As this notation evolved, one could accurately sing the melody in this monophonic music even if one had never heard the tune before, provided that one understood the notation.

As musical notation continued to evolve, rhythm and meter were incorporated into the picture, and the development of the staff—which started as one line and evolved to the five-line staff used today—also helped to provide even more clarity to the melodic shapes and distances from note to note.

Until the late 15th century, however, music notation, like the text in a book, typically was printed by hand, by scribes. However, just as Gutenberg opened up the book to mass consumption by the development of printing using movable type, this technology came to music. Machine-printed music made musical works more readily available, such that publishing developed as an industry. In Europe, by the 19th century, it was possible to work as a freelance composer supporting oneself through publication and the sale of one’s music. In the United States, the entire Tin Pan Alley era of approximately the 1880s through the 1940s was largely sheet music driven, particularly in the late 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century. Much music making was done in the home, and mechanically printed sheet music provided amateur musicians with current hits, classics, and hymns. And although the term Tin Pan Alley is most closely associated with New York City, dozens of publishing houses flourished throughout the United States.

The mid-19th century cannot be overlooked with respect to how mechanical and acoustical advancements led to improvements in the construction, intonation, and playability of the flute and the clarinet. At the same time, Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone, an instrument that later would help to define big band and small group jazz, as well as R&B and early rock and roll. Another important mechanical development of the 19th century was Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel’s invention of the metronome in 1812. Four years later, Johann Maelzel improved upon Winkel’s design and began manufacturing the tempo-keeping devices.​
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