Classical music is a term that most commonly refers to the formal musical tradition of the Western world, considered to be distinct from Western folk music or popular music traditions. In a more general sense, the term may also refer to music evidencing similar formal qualities in non-Western cultures. Originated in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, it is classified into eras: the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modernist and Postmodern/Contemporary eras. These periods and their dates are all approximate generalizations and represent gradual stylistic shifts that varied in intensity and prominence throughout the Western world.
The term "classical music" did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to distinctly canonize the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Ludwig van Beethoven as a golden age. The earliest reference to "classical music" recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1829.
One distinguishing feature of Western classical music is its use of staff notation, in use since about the 11th century.