The Origin of Music


Possible palaeolithic Neanderthal flute (credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Peyton Chanley, Contributor

 “Sometimes music is the only medicine that the heart and soul need.” -unknown. Music is such a big part of culture, and people’s personalities. But do you know how it started? Who started it? How music came to be? 

Thomas Geissmann from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, came up with an interesting theory on where humans got the idea of singing from. His theory was that monogamous (mah-naa-ga-mus) animals (like lemurs, tarsiers, titi monkeys and gibbons) form a connection with each other (like a mate), and communicate with each other in their languages. Which to us humans it would almost sound like music. Almost 90% of all birds are monogamous and they “chirp” with each other. Birds “chirp” with each other for several different reasons, either to indicate danger is near, communication with their mates, or comforting their young. But to us some of their “chirps” sound like music. 

This is where everything becomes complicated. Some researchers suggest that music was the way of communicating before languages, which is linked to monogamy (which I previously told you about). Other researchers say that we got the idea of music and instruments from the Neanderthals. Around 40,000 years ago The Neanderthals were invaded by Europe and the Europeans discovered some rather curious cave paintings and half-assembled instruments. The paintings showed animals, and human-like figures, but most importantly what we would eventually call music notes. The half-assembled objects were made of bone, clay, and string, the Europeans found this interesting and carried on making the instruments and adopting these cave paintings. So eventually this discovery spread around the world and we all came to adopt; in what modern days we call, “Music”. 

Guido d’Arezzo created the music staff in what researchers say around year 1000 (also their are earlier unfinished versions) but it has been improved over time. The music staff (also called the music clef or stave) is basically written music, we use them now to read off of them to play basically every instrument. The staff first made its appearance in Polyphonic Music. The first real genre of music was the “Classical Music” back in the Renaissance Period (1300). Some famous composers from that era were Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Guillaume DuFay, and Jacob Obrecht. They all composed famous classical music pieces. 

Next time you hear a pair of monogamous animals speaking to each other see if you can make the connection between music and their monogamous noises. Some links for further explanations are here,,%E2%80%9CHurrian%20Hymn%20No.,a%20woman%27s%20gravesite%20in%20Turkey  Music definitely plays an important role in my life and I’m gonna guess it does in yours too.