History Of Music Since Prehistory

The music historyit begins thousands of years ago, in prehistory. The earliest forms of music they could have occurred in the Stone Age , about 3 million years ago. It is about the time when humans made use of stone to create tools.

The creation of stone objects and tools, and activities such as crushing seeds, roots and even the collision of stones may have generated the first instrumental musical rhythms. Also, these early humans could have tried to mimic natural sounds.

The language is estimated to have appeared about 50,000-150,000 years ago, several thousand years after the origin of the Homo sapiens species , about 300,000 years ago. It is possible that the earliest forms of language led to the earliest forms of vocal music.

Continuing with the possibilities that there was music in prehistory, one of the oldest musical instruments that have been discovered is the Divje Babe flute, which dates back to approximately 43,000 years old. It was found in Slovenia in 1995 and it is a bear femur bone with two circular perforations. 

In any case, music in prehistory is very difficult to study due to the lack of evidence, such as fossil records. However, as we will see below, there is a lot of information about music from the earliest civilizations.

Music in the first civilizations

In ancient civilizations, music was related to sources of religious and cultural inspiration. 


The Egyptian civilization had multiple associations with music. In the Egyptian Neolithic period, music was used in rituals and magic. Later in the Old Kingdom flutes, harps, and lutes were used.


The oldest song was written in cuneiform about 3,400 years ago, in Ugarit, Syria. It is a part of the “Hurrian songs”, a series of musical fragments.

Greek civilization

The Greeks linked music with the religious and mythological. The valuation of certain instruments was given by their origin within the myths. For example, the lyre was an instrument devised by Hermes; the flute, known asclassrooms, by Athena; and the syringa, created by Pan. 

Within the Greek civilization, music was part of festivities, religious ceremonies, weddings, games, funerals and the banquets known as symposia.

Among other instruments used at the time are the sistrum, the saucers or kymbala, the kithara, the trumpet or salpinx, the tambourine, the tympanum, maracas, and some versions of the lyre such as phorminx and the harps of triangular shape.

Music was also attributed therapeutic powers against physical and mental ailments. It was claimed that she could influence anyone who listened to her both on a moral level and in their soul. 

During the 6th and 5th centuries BC, music schools had been established for people to learn to play the lyre and aulos. The Greeks paid special attention to stringed instruments, since they allowed them to emit words and play at the same time.

Roman empire

In Ancient Rome, which goes from 27 BC to 305 AD, music was part of different activities within their culture. It was heard at games, religious events, funerals, and other festivals.

The Greeks and Etruscans were the main influencers within Roman music, although also, due to the conquest of territories, other cultural influences were adopted such as those of Asia Minor, North Africa and the Gaul region. 

As in previous civilizations, pictorial art revealed the most widely used instruments within this period. Some categories of its instruments include:

Wind instruments: the Roman tuba, the cornum, the tibia, the askaules known as cleats and some versions of flutes.

String instruments: within this category were the lyres; the zither, one of the main instruments within civilization; and the lute, also popular in ancient Greece.

Percussion instruments: among these is the scabellum, made of wood or metal and used to keep time; some drums whose origins come from Egypt and Greece such as the sistrum and records; and the castanets.

Middle Ages

The Middle Ages range from the 5th century, with the fall of the Roman Empire, to the 15th century with the discovery of America. One of the most relevant aspects for music within this period was the great influence of the Catholic Church, which led many dimensions within European society. 

Music in the Middle Ages was characterized by monophony, that is to say that the song and the music followed a single melodic line. This period can span up to the 12th century. Later, polyphony would develop, where harmony, rhythm expansions and sound complexity would make its way. 

One of the most recognized monophonic songs that have been kept alive over time is the Gregorian songs, closely related to the tradition of the church.

From the 12th century on, various schools dedicated to the teaching of music also began to open, such as the school of San Marcial de Limoges in France; Notre Dame School; and the English school, of which some musical archives such as the “Worcester fragments” and the “Old Hall manuscript” are preserved today. 

Much of the documents that contain data on the music of this time have a religious character, since the church was one of the few institutions with the capacity to educate monks for musical writing.

The music of the Renaissance

During the Renaissance period, between the 15th and 16th centuries, new forms of composition and more diversity of musical styles were generated. Much of the music that was performed during this time continued to serve religion, continuing the styles known as mass and motet, the latter developed towards the end of the 14th century. 

Within the early 15th century much of the musical environment was heavily influenced by English and Northern European composers.

Among the most prominent composers in the early Renaissance is Guillaume Dufay (1397–1474), who stood out for his musical contributions to both church service and secular music, in which he experimented with melodic lyricism including French poetry. . 

Another of the most prominent composers for the 16th century was Josquin des Prez (1450 / 1455-1521). Also from the Franco-Flemish school, he was one of the most famous characters. His work ranges from religious to secular music, with styles such as the chansons and the frottole.

Regarding the evolution of instrumental music, there is the development of various styles such as canzona, ricercare, fantasy, variations and counterpoint compositions inspired by dance. 

As far as musical instruments are concerned, by the 16th century, manufacturers began creating families of instruments, with variations in size and range. Among the most popular of the period are the shawm or shawm and the trombone. For the most intimate music the flute, harp and lute were frequently used. There are also the violin, the carrying organ and the zither.

Baroque music

The music of this period, which spans from the 1600s to the 1750s, was characterized by the tone of grandeur, drama and energy contained in the compositions, which were also part of a wide stylistic variety.

The differences in national musical styles became more evident as did the contrast between secular music and religious music.

At the vocal level, the most prominent forms were the opera, the cantata and the oratorio. As for instrumental music, the sonata, the concerto and the overture emerged. Among the most important and relevant composers we can mention Claudio Monteverdi, who appears as the first composer of the “new music”, and others such as Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Classical music era

In the era of classical music, instrumental music began to gain strength, with forms such as the symphony, the concert or the sonata. Although the opera was displaced, it did not disappear and works continued to be created, especially in native languages, since the previous ones used to be in Italian.

Among the most prominent musicians of this period are Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Christoph Willibald Gluck, and Ludwig van Beethoven in their younger years. 

Music in Romanticism

From the 19th century, music became a form of expression linked to the emotional and the dramatic. Among the most dominant media are opera, orchestra, piano, and singing with piano accompaniment.

Romanticism embraced emotionality, subjectivity, individualism, and nationalism. The relationship between spectator and performer depended more on a sensory experience than an intellectual one. 

The message was also determined by the personal thoughts and feelings of the composers and performers.

Among the most prominent composers of Romanticism are Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin, Vincenzo Bellini Hector Berlioz, Johann Strauss II, Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Strauss, Giacomo Puccini and Jean Sibelius 

Modern music

Much of what determined the development of music from the 20th century to the present was the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. 

On the one hand, Schoenberg challenged the traditional concepts of harmony, consonance and dissonance, elaborating what would be known as atonality and the 12-tone or twelve-tone technique. It is here that he proposes an organization of the 12 tones of an octave with a specific relationship between them.

On the other hand, Igor Stravinsky, with his style called “barbarism” introduced a period of experimentation based on percussive dissonance and metric imbalance. 

Subsequently, advances at the electronic level throughout the twentieth century, prompted the development of devices such as radio, recording media, amplifiers and musical instruments in electronic versions, which produced an accelerated increase in musical production, its diffusion and the birth of new genres. 

Within the beginnings of current music, jazz can be mentioned in the 1920s. Percussion instruments began to be more relevant. Then more styles would emerge such as swing, bebop, and rock with its different subgenres. 

The introduction of electronic music would be one of the biggest impulses for the birth of pop music today. The manipulation of sound and its reproduction provide a variety of possibilities through editing programs, many times without the need for specific instruments, but they still use the theoretical resources of music for the creation of music.


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