Medieval Music Timeline

Illustration of the Famous Chorister Dufay of Cambrai
Guillaume Dufay (d.1474) and Gilles Binchois (d.1460) from 'Le Champion des Dames' by Martin le Franc (1410-61) 1440 (vellum), French School, (15th century). Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

During the medieval period or the Middle Ages from roughly 500 A.D. to approximately 1400, is when musical notation began as well as the birth of polyphony when multiples sounds came together and formed separate melody and harmony lines.

Church (liturgical or sacred) music dominated the scene although some secular, folk music heralded by troubadours were found throughout France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Gregorian chants, a monophonic vocal line sung by monks, as well as choral music for a group of singers, were among the main types of music.  

Here is a brief timeline of music events during this period:

Significant Dates Events and Composers
590—604 During this time the Gregorian chant was developed. It is also known as plainchant or plainsong and named after Pope St. Gregory the Great. This pope was credited with bringing it to the West.


The organum was developed. It is an early form of counterpoint, which eventually led to polyphony. This type of song had a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony. There is no real independent second voice, so, it is not yet considered polyphony.
1000—1100 During this time of liturgical musical drama unfolds throughout Europe. Also, the music of the troubadour and trouvère, a vernacular tradition of monophonic, secular song is accompanied by instruments and singers. Guillaume d'Aquitaine was one of the well-known troubadours with most themes centered around chivalry and courtly love.
1030 It was around this time when a new method to teach singing was invented by a Benedictine monk and choirmaster named Guido de Arezzo. He is regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation.
1098—1179 The lifetime of Hildegard von Bingen, a highly regarded abbess who was conferred the title of "doctor of the church" by Pope Benedict XVI. One of her works as a composer, the ​"Ordo Virtutum," is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.
1100—1200 This period is the age of the Goliards. The Goliards were a group of clergy who wrote satirical Latin poetry to mock the church. Some known Goliards were Peter of Blois and Walter of Chatillon.
1100—1300 This period was the birth of minnesang, which were lyrics and songs writing in Germany much like the troubadour tradition of France. Minnesingers mainly sang of courtly love and some known minnesingers were Henric van Veldeke, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Hartmann von Aue.
1200s The spread of geisslerlieder or flagellant songs. The practice of flagellation was practiced by people whipping themselves with various instruments as a way to repent to God with hopes of ending the disease and wars of the time. Geisslerlieder music was simple and closely related to folk songs.
1150—1250 The Notre Dame school of polyphony firmly takes root. Rhythmic notation first appears during this period. Also known as the ars antiqua; it is during this time when the motet (a short, sacred, choral song) initially developed.
1300s The period of ars nova, or "new art," coined by Philippe de Vitry. During this period, secular music acquired polyphonic sophistication. The most notable practitioner of this style was Guillaume de Machaut.
1375—1475 Known composers during this time were Leonel Power, John Dunstable, Gilles Binchois, and Guillaume Dufay. Dunstable is credited with the contenance angloise, or "English manner," which was his stylistic trait of using full triadic harmony. It is a distinctive style of polyphony.