Music exists in every culture, without exception. One can say that music is innate to humans, and to summarize the whole history of music in the space of one essay is not an easy feat. Therefore, this paper will provide a brief overview of how music developed throughout the ages. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss prehistoric music, ancient music, the biblical period, and early music, which are all formal names for the first four periods of music’s history.
All music under this category comes from prehistoric times (preliterate). Mostly theories account for what we assume happened during this period. It is often assumed that the first instrument was the human voice itself. This has been suspected since Darwin’s time. After the human voice, there are many different ideas about what musical instruments were played. However, findings of flutes made in Paleolithic times is an often-cited example of one of the earliest instruments (“Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany”). In addition, clapping and making drums by covering pits with animal skins are also notable theories about the first musical instruments. From the earliest beginnings of its history, music was used for various reasons: spiritual practices, entertainment, courtship, ceremonies, and more (“Prehistoric Music”).
As soon as writing appeared, it is said the prehistoric age ended. With the invention of writing came the first-recorded songs. The oldest written song to date is about 3400 years old from Syria, recorded in cuneiform. The initial instance of polyphony shows up in many ancient texts (such as Aristotle’s books). With writing coming into being, many new instruments were introduced, such as the bagpipe, double pipes, intricate flutes, and several types of stringed instruments.
Popular examples of ancient music represented in literature are found in India, with the Vedas mentioning music in various places. One of the most ancient stringed instruments is the veena from India, and it is even stated as a divine instrument played by goddess Saraswati (Massey, Reginald, and Jamila Massey). Another ancient musical tradition comes from Iran. All the way back to the Elamite Empire (2500–644 BC) in prehistory, Iran has had sophisticated musical instruments and compositions. In addition, ancient Greece put a lot of importance on music within their theaters, temples, and places for celebration. Almost everyone in ancient Greece knew how to play musical instruments (“Greek Traditional Music”).
The hebrews feature strongly in this period. Literature by the Hebrews is plentiful in references to music and their cultivation of it. It is said that the time of Solomon, David, and Samuel was the golden age of music for the children of Israel. This period features the first time music was methodically taught in schools. From these institutions came professional singers and instrumentalists. Their music and musical education went on to influence the Greeks and Romans, and forever changed how religious compositions are played (“A Theatre Before the World”).
This period mostly concentrates on the European classical traditions after the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. It comprises Medieval music (500–1400) and Renaissance music (1400–1600). Early music had a multitude of styles, traditions, instruments, and purposes. This is when music became highly integral in societies, and when sophisticated systems of performing music came about, such as the ancestors of the symphony. With more and more trade, musical styles intermixed. The individuality of music by region became less distinct. All in all, it was music’s most explosive time since the first instruments were made (“Early Music: A Very Short Introduction”).
In looking back, we can see that music developed gradually throughout the ages. Starting from flutes, the human voice, clapping, and animal-skin drums, stringed instruments eventually came, along with pipes, and more intricate things for producing music. India, Iran, Greece, and the Hebrews led the earliest revolutions in music. By the time of the fall of Roman Empire, music began to grow even more sophisticated, with complex, long compositions, and large groups of instruments being played together in what was to become the symphony. Music continues to expand its limitations, and seems to be on a road of infinite discovery and innovation.
“Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 25 June 2009, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090624213346.htm.
“Prehistoric Music.” Copernicus Science Centre, www.kopernik.org.pl/en/exhibitions/archiwum-wystaw/wszystko-gra/muzyka-prehistoryczna/.
Massey, Reginald, and Jamila Massey. The Dances of India: a General Survey and Dancers Guide. Tricolour Books, 1989.
“Greek Traditional Music.” Greek Music Information Center, www.musicportal.gr/greek_traditional_music/?lang=en.
“A Theatre Before the World.” The Journal of Religion and Theatre, web.archive.org/web/20061004134128/http://www.rtjournal.org/vol_5/no_1/krahenbuhl.html.
“Early Music: A Very Short Introduction.” Google Books, Google, books.google.co.uk/books?id=eAAC072TMBAC&lpg=PP1&dq=what is early music&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false.