Music in History

A big part of our connection with music is how it has developed with us over time.  For as long as we can trace back history, we can find examples of musical instruments, and theories that people might have even sung to each other to communicate before they developed language.

An interesting theory, developed by Steven Mithen, is that music is developed in the human genome, ingrained in our DNA throughout the evolutionary history of our species. Mithen takes our ancestors, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons alike, from the very first evolved humans, and uses modern evidence to support a claim that perhaps all human beings share a musical heritage.  (Mithen 102)  An idea such as this, one that supports music as a very important part of humanity’s evolutionary process, gives legitimacy to the idea that music truly is ingrained in our minds.  People have the ability to distinguish between musical sounds and non-musical sounds (Yadegari), a talent that may have developed over several thousand years of musical evolution.

There are also several examples of prehistoric musical instruments that further prove the existence of music in our ancestors’ society.  Musical instruments of early times can be categorized into three types:

  • Drum-type
  • Pipe-type
  • Lyre-type

These types are ordered in the way they’re believed to have been created by humans: drums, pipes, then lyres. This order actually makes quite a lot of sense, since it coincides with the order in which music is written: rhythm, melody, and then harmony.  Rhythm is the most elementary, easily created by the drum.  Melody is the next stage of rhythm, giving tones to rhythms, brought to life by the pipe. Harmony, the most advanced of those musical concepts, was introduced by the lyre. The instrument most common to all cultures, it seems, is the drum. It is involved in rituals in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, as well as having a very important role in Western music.  The fact that these instruments and also singing have become such important parts of our rituals (Western music being separated in sacred and secular categories, for church and entertainment, respectively) shows how important music has been to us throughout our history. (Rowbotham 380-381)

The conception of Western music is an important and interesting thing to study when determining music’s growth with humanity.  Western music began in the early Middle Ages, and is generally agreed upon to have begun with Gregorian chants.  These chants, simple melodic, religious pieces, formed the style of much of the music to come.  With the motet, polyphony came to exist, and music began to evolve.  The secular music of the time was sung by troubadours and trouveres, who sang of news and spread word of news from one town to the next. (Feld) With the use of music as a medium with which to tell of events and convey ideas in religious ceremonies, music is shown to have been much more than a hobby, but as It was an integral part of European culture at the time.

In the time since those early days, we have continued to use music as a medium for communicating our emotions.  From Beethoven and Bach to the modern-day musicians we listen to on the radio today, music has grown with humanity, developed with us, and reflected our actions since prehistoric times.  There are few art forms (if any) that have had the same influence and same concurrent existence with humanity that music has had.