Fasola Timeline

Related Historical Events A Partial Pedigree of the Events Relevant to the Development of Shape Note Style Music
England/Europe America Comments
1540 Renaissance Music Reformation Calvinist metrical psalmody
Simple non-harmonized but rich melodies are crafted, while other French psalmodists experiment with harmonized versions
In England Sternhold prints his metrical psalm texts
Sternhold and Hopkins metrical psalms become the basis for texts in psalters both in England and later in New England
1555 Marian exiles

Mary I’s Catholic rule forces many Puritans and Anglicans into exile to France and the Netherlands where they are exposed to continental psalmody styles
1559 Elizabeth’s Injunctions Metrical psalm singing now tolerated
Many Marian exiles return
English harmonized Psalters appear; Damen, East and later Ravenscroft (1621)

1600 Baroque era begins

1629-1641 The Long Parliment, Cromwell, the Commonwealth
Bay Psalm book published in Cambridge, MA, metrical texts and no music. The later 1698 12th edition contains the first music published in America (with fasola letters under notes) In reaction to a royal attempt to enforce detailed conformity, the Parliment effectively abolishes Anglican liturgy. The Westminster Council of Divines propose lining out reform that develops into the ‘old way’ of psalm singing.

Anglican liturgy returns and enters an era of revitalization
late 1600s
Playford’s Introduction to the Skill of Musick rules for contrapuntal writing for two and three voices were used by the emerging rural self taught psalmodists and the later New England tunesmiths. It uses fasola solfege.
Playford establishes the forerunner of the singing school tradition for parish clerks. He publishes widely disseminated psalters that the early American psalters are directly indebted to.

Campaign to reform the ‘old way’ of highly ornamented lined out psalm singing begins
The ‘old way’ of singing survives into the 20th century in the Isle of Lewis (part of the outer Hebrides)
Explosive rise of rural country psalmody, self taught singing masters and schools emerge--gallery music
Chetham’s psalmody, a long lived regional tunebook, is published.

Tufts’ psalter is published which draws heavily on material published previously in Playford’s psalters. It uses 4 letter shorthand for fasola under the notes. ‘Pamphlet war’ to reform the ‘old way’ of highly ornamented lined out psalm singing initiated in New England. Singing schools begin in New England, use fasola solfege. the ‘old way’ of singing survives into the 20th century in some of the old Baptist churches of the Appalachians
W. Tans’ur, an archetypical English country tunesmith, publishes A Royal Melody Compleat. Other English tunesmiths produce a flurry of the new ‘fuging tune’ style.
Tans’ur’s books include compositional rules pretty much directly swiped from Playford.

Lyon’s Urania published. American reprints of Tans’ur and Williams become available
A large emigration of the Borderer peoples from northern England, lowland Scotland, and northern Ireland occurs. These Borderer peoples infiltrate through Pennsylvania into the backland highland regions of the Appalachians. These are the southern highland folks that GP Jackson would later refer to as ‘Scotch-Irish’
1760-1830 Classical era begins Evangelical and then Anglican reform movements that eventually result in the demise of the rural parish choirs


W. Billings publishes his first tune book. It is the first tune book published by a single American composer. English tunesmiths that the Americans are directly familiar with include W. Knapp, W. Tans’ur, J. Stephenson, and A. Williams.

Salad days of the New England tunesmiths Billings, Holden, Read, Morgan, and many other self taught tunesmiths carry on and evolve the English parish psalmody tradition.

Little & Smith publish Easy Instructor, using shaped notes (patented and thus ‘patent’ notes) to visually represent the 4 syllable solfege. Shape note tune book era begins. This notation becomes wildly popular as the New England style music moves south and west.
Thomas Hardy in Under the Greenwood Tree describes surviving English gallery music in Puddleton A reform movement that Lowell Mason later spearheads results in the demise of the singing schools in much of the urban north. Singing masters, their schools, and their shape note books move south and west to receptive ground among the former Borderer peoples of Britain. The second ‘great awakening’ brings campmeeting influences.

Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp are published South Carolina brothers-in-law William Walker and B.F. White produce the most widely used four shape tune books.

Revival of Yankee psalmody Billings and Holden Collection
1860s Civil War

Aiken’s Christian Minstrel first 7 syllable do re mi solfege shape note tune book (1846) 7 shape books not popular till after the Civil War. New Harp of Columbia, Christian Harmony, and Harmonia Sacra are 20th century survivors along with the seven shape gospel ‘little’ books

Southern singing conventions are established. 4 shape publications continue among Pennsylvania Germans dinner on the grounds, hollow square?

Revisions of the Sacred Harp create many new alto parts. Founding of the United Convention The Cooper Revision, and other competing Sacred Harp editions add alto parts. Within the generation women leading becomes common.

Denson Revision, White Spirituals in Southern Uplands, Colored Sacred Harp are published GP Jackson’s work first brings attention to the survival of shape note singing to the urban and academic world

Sacred Harp starts to rapidly spread outside of the south Southern groups’ performances at urban folk festivals expose the music and tradition

National and Midwest Conventions are established Singers regularly travel to each others’ singing conventions, large and small. Rapid urban growth of the tradition continues.

1991 revision of Denson book, 1992 revision of Cooper book are issued

timeline by Keith Willard

Acknowledgments to Warren Steel for very helpful suggestions, but any remaining errors are my responsibility