Medieval music represents nearly up to 1,000 years of European musical development. It is the ancestor of all later Western music. In the history of music, the medieval period extends from about A.D. 500 to about 1450. However, our knowledge of medieval music is incomplete due to our loss of medieval music. The music of the people consisted of folk songs and dances. Public concerts did not exist. Paying to hear music would have seemed ridiculous to medieval people. Church polyphony was performed only in cathedrals, monasteries, royal chapels, and a few large city churches. Outside of these places polyphony was confined, in most of Europe, to the upper classes. The common people only heard polyphonic music if they worshipped in a cathedral or monastic church. Otherwise, they would hear it only if there was some wedding procession. For an event like this the king's musicians would perform a piece specially composed for the occasion. They would make, as one medieval writer called it, "Heavenly noise on both sides of the street." Although writing of the middle ages lets us know a bit about various medieval music, church music has been the only common remains of music composed before the year 1000. .
The early Christian Church adopted much of the music of the Jewish synagogue. Christian adaptations of Jewish chant were used all over the Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries A.D. This chant was called the Gregorian chant. This name came to be because the first standard collection of chants was thought to have been ordered by Pope Gregory I, who reigned from A.D. 590 to 604. Now however, many believe that this standardization took place about two centuries later. The Gregorian chant is the only music that has been used continuously since the beginning of the Middle Ages until now. It consists entirely of vocal melodies without harmony. .
During the Middle Ages, nonreligious music was mostly learned by ear and not by script for the composers and performers of music were mostly illiterate minstrels.