Teaching Students About Ars Nova Music


Ars Nova, a progressive and innovative musical period during the 14th century, marked a significant departure from traditional Western music. This era saw the birth of complex rhythms, intricate melodies, and an increase in polyphony which reshaped the way people created and listened to music. As educators, introducing students to Ars Nova allows them to explore an important chapter in music history and appreciate the foundations upon which contemporary forms have evolved.

Understanding Ars Nova

Ars Nova (New Art), named by French composer Philippe de Vitry, was a remarkable period that primarily focused on notating rhythm with increased precision and flexibility. It was characterized by:

1. The introduction of the mensural notation system: This system allowed composers to more accurately represent different note durations.

2. Polyphonic musical compositions: Polyphony upended existing rules by integrating different melodies simultaneously instead of adhering to a single melodic line.

3. The rise of secular themes: Secular poetry and themes heavily influenced Ars Nova music, seen in works like Guillaume de Machaut’s “Le Messe de Nostre Dame.”

Effective Approaches for Teaching Ars Nova Music

1. Contextualizing historical background: Begin by explaining the broader societal and cultural shifts that occurred during the 14th century, including developments in literature, arts, and politics.

2. Exploring key composers: Introduce students to influential composers such as Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut, Francesco Landini, and Johannes Ciconia. Discuss their lives, works, and contributions to Ars Nova’s development.

3. Analyzing new notation systems: Teach students about mensural notation and how it revolutionized rhythm notation. Compare this system with modern notation techniques to highlight its significance in musical evolution.

4. Examining polyphony: Introducing students to polyphony helps them visualize the concept and appreciate Ars Nova’s complexity. Analyze a piece, such as Machaut’s “Rose, liz, printemps, verdure,” to study its textual and melodic layers.

5. Encouraging critical listening skills: Have students listen to Ars Nova compositions and encourage discussions about the music’s structure, lyrics, emotions, and themes.

6. Hands-on activities: Engage students by having them create their own Ars Nova-inspired compositions utilizing principles learned in class.

7. Connecting to modern music: Highlight the continuity and influence of Ars Nova on today’s music by drawing parallels between techniques used in both eras.


Teaching students about Ars Nova music unlocks the door to a fascinating historical period where composers broke free of convention to create incredibly expressive works. By integrating relevant context, exploration of key composers, analysis of groundbreaking musical concepts, and active listening exercises, educators can help students gain valuable insights into how this vibrant era has shaped the world of music we enjoy today.

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