Now there is a question that will bring forth a range of theories and ideas. Some will agree in some respects; others will vary. The question, “Who invented music?” is actually almost impossible to answer.
We can, though, determine to a certain extent who invented what we call music, as it is written down today. But, more on that later.
If it was first invented by someone, man or woman, sitting and hitting a bone on a rock, then their name has long since passed into the unknown. Of course, it had to start with someone, but it is unlikely it was quite like that.
Language and Music
There are disagreements about whether music or at least singing of some description developed with language. Either before, at the same time, or after. There are many theories on the invention of music, but none has satisfied a majority, and there is no consensus.
What is agreed, though, is that music, as it is today, is an extension of culture. And, going back in time, every culture has its myths and legends, religions, and philosophies. It is those that have influenced, and in some ways, created the early forms of music.
Whether it was used for worshiping deities or honoring family or authority, it has its roots culturally. And it is from there that it eventually grew.
How Far Back?
Well, it was before Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, and Tony Bennett, who are all still alive. That is as far as most of us go back. We can only make general assumptions about when music was invented based on the evidence of musical instrument archaeology has found.
In that case, the earliest date we can apply would be around 40,000 years BCE or BC. That is the date given to some bone flutes that were found from the Upper Paleolithic period.
What Does The Bone Flute Find Show Us?
Well, it shouldn’t be an estimation of a near exact date of music commencing. There will be other bone flutes. And these are likely to be older bone flutes or instruments made from other natural materials. That find only tells us that music existed then.
It is certain music with instruments existed before that date. And music without instruments, that is, singing or percussion, probably before that. We could be talking about a date as far back as 300,000 BCE.
They All Agree…
There is one aspect on which they all agree. That music has been around almost since we first appeared. It was probably used as a commemorative communication for any number of reasons. It would have been a part of their lives.
Therefore, we cannot say who first invented music. We can only say that it goes back to the dawn of time and was essential to the people’s existence.
In the Upper Paleolithic period…
It was evident from archaeological finds that they had flute-like instruments. However, they were more like modern-day recorders. The oldest of these instruments is known as the “Divje Babe Flute,” and it is thought to be about 60,000 years old.
It was at a time when music was beginning to be used for entertainment as well as various communications. The Divje Babe Flute was found in Slovenia, but as we go through the years, we find other instruments that were in use.
A Global Activity
The creation of early forms of music is not just limited to a small specific area. In China, the first documented evidence of musical instruments was found, proving their existence in 1100 BCE. In other areas of the world, we see similar examples.
Most Students Nightmare
For some, music theory is the biggest nightmare when learning an instrument. And I go back to my earlier statement when mentioning who invented music. Or, should I say, “theoretical” music?
We can thank the Greeks for that, and especially Pythagoras. He broke music down into mathematics. Before him were academics who laid the foundation of today’s music theory. People like Ptolemy who lived from 90-168 BCE and d’Arezzo from 991 to 1033 BCE.
So much of what we know today came from the Greeks and especially Pythagoras. There is far too much to even contemplate, including some of the theories, as they all link to each other. The original theorists might have made major contributions to music theory and especially notation.
But, it was Pythagoras who gave us an understanding of how it all worked. His theories broke music down into scales and pitches, which we still use today.
Following Pythagoras were Plato and Aristotle, and others before and after, who made major contributions. Furthermore, much of what you understand and learn in music theory emanated from here.
A continual evolution…
The musical system that existed in this ancient time evolved in many ways over the next 500 years. Simple scales of the “tetrachord,” a system of four notes divided into perfect fourths, became much more sophisticated.
We saw chromatic and diatonic scales and the emphasis on and understanding of harmonies and so much more. So, did the Greeks invent music theory? You could argue they laid the foundations.
Just like all inventions in the world, musical progress was inevitable. Slow, at first, but then it gathered pace. All around the world, in cultures that hardly knew of each other’s existence, developments were being made.
In Africa and Asia, instruments and the way they were played were becoming more sophisticated. It was a slow process, but we can see those small developments.
One thing that did speed up the development of music was the opening of trade routes. People began to travel for business, and they often took their instruments and their music with them.
Other cultures saw them and developed similar instruments. And in some cases, they incorporated the styles of music into their own traditions. Religious and worship rituals had a big impact as well.
Music began to be written down, and the first signs of “organized” music appeared. The Celtic nations and their musical traditions were just one example.
The Music Composers
There had always been some form of composition in music, even in the earliest days. But, before musical notation, the music wasn’t written down or organized in any way. When those skills had been achieved and developed, thanks to our Greek friends, the composers began to arrive.
Music from then is seen as developing within a broad description of different “ages” of music. These are described as the following, along with some examples:
- Medieval – Medieval Music (Music for A Merry Monarch).
- Renaissance – Great Renaissance Church Music.
- Baroque – J.S. Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring / Sleepers Wake / Chaconne.
- Classical – Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor and Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks/Water Music.
- Romantic – Chopin: Favourite Piano Works and Beethoven: Symphony No. 5. Some music in this period was still being written for celebrations. Especially in the national context, as we see in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Changes Were Coming
The Medieval and the Renaissance period, which featured composers like Byrd, and Monteverdi, laid the framework and foundations for music and what was to come. And, as we moved into the Baroque period, music changed.
It became more sophisticated…
Kings, Queens, and noblemen found it fashionable to employ a composer who would write music to entertain their guests. During this period, JS Bach and Handel wrote some great pieces.
As we move into the Classical period, more great composers arrived. Mozart, Brahms, Debussy, and the arrival at the end of the period of a certain Mr. Beethoven.
Music was now not just religious…
It was more for entertainment. Of course, the military and religious themes still existed, but the music was being seen as something else. Something to be enjoyed with all the commercial benefits that could bring
Instruments were now developing, and their quality was improving. This opened the doors for more complex music. The days of the Divje Babe Flute had evolved and become something special.
Roll Over Beethoven
We wanted to address the question, “Who actually invented music?” But, by now, you will realize that there could be no such thing as the “invention of music.”
By “invented,” what do we mean? Are we talking about the first recognizable noise or melody? Are we talking about its practical uses? Perhaps as a communication tool?
Do we mean when it became almost scientific with what the Greeks gave us? Or are we speaking of the constant evolution through the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods? Because new methods and ideas musically were created, invented if you like, during all of them.
Among all of these geniuses that contributed to the invention of music…
One man stood out as moving the theory and application of music forward more than the others. Born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770, he did things that others had not done.
There is an argument that his harmonically styled music paved the way for much of what we have today. Some might even call him “the inventor of modern music.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
His contribution to composition, theory, and approach was unique. And, for the last few years of his life, he was deaf. He used the ideas of the Greeks to mathematically construct the music he heard in his head. Music like Ode to Joy: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor.
He wrote for the instruments that constructed the music in a way that no one else had, especially for the piano. Pieces like “Fur Elise” or pieces that would allow development within their structure, like “Moonlight Sonata.”
He was the principal creator of “forms” in music, the way music is organized. And also changes in tone and the use of different keys to add feeling and emotion. His input cannot be overestimated.
Want to Learn More About Earlier Music and Composers?
Also, check out our in-depth articles on 10 Important Renaissance Period Composers You Need To Know About, Amazing Facts About Mozart, and Amazing Facts About JS Bach for lots of useful information.
And don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Student Violins, the Best Flute, the Best Yamaha Saxophones, the Best Trumpet, the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500, and the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500 you can buy in 2023.
Who Invented Music? – Final Thoughts
Have I answered the question? Not really, because it is, to a certain extent, unanswerable. In the eons of time, someone somewhere did something that started a chain reaction, and music was born.
However, we don’t know who, why, or where. We just know that they did because we can see the result. We passed through periods of primitive instruments, to the Greeks and their theory, and then on through Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Somehow we ended up with Bob Dylan, Leonard Bernstein, Joni Mitchell, Bernie Taupin, and John Lennon. And, of course, plenty of others.
Where did it all start, though?
The answer is we don’t know, and we never will. But, if we ever do find out, we should all be very grateful to whoever it was, wherever they were.
But, also grateful to all those like Beethoven who pushed the boundaries even further and “invented” music as we know it today.
Until next time, let the music play.