|Image Credit: Divje Babe flute (alleged Late Pleistocene
flute) dating to 43100 ± 700 BP. National Museum of Slovenia. Measurements: 133.6 mm (5.26 in) long. Attribution: Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Divje_Babe_flute_(Late_Pleistocene_flute).jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Throughout history, musical instruments have been an important part of human culture, providing a means of creative expression and cultural identity. Advances in technology, changes in musical styles, and the creative vision of musicians and instrument makers have driven the evolution of musical instruments. It means that we continue to see new instruments and forms of music being developed all the time, ensuring that music remains an important part of our cultural heritage.
According to some sources, the oldest musical instruments in the world are flutes made from animal bones, dating back more than 40,000 years ago, and were found in caves in Germany and Slovenia. The oldest musical instrument in the world, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute, is a treasure of global significance. It was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno, Slovenia and has been declared by experts to have been made by Neanderthals. It is made from the left thighbone of a young cave bear and has four pierced holes. Other ancient musical instruments include bullroarers, lithophones and trumpets:
- A bullroarer is a musical instrument consisting of a piece of wood attached to a string, producing a roaring sound when swung in a large circle. It is one of the most ancient instruments in the world, dating back to more than 18,000 years ago and was used for ceremonial, ritual and communication purposes by many cultures around the world. The oldest known example of a bullroarer was found in Ukraine, dating back to the Paleolithic period (about 18,000 BC). You can see a video of a bullroarer in full swing here.
- A lithophone is a musical instrument made of rocks or stones that are struck to produce musical notes. The rocks or stones used in a lithophone are typically chosen for their size, shape, and resonant properties. When struck with a mallet or another hard object, they produce musical tones with a range of pitches and timbres. Lithophones have been used by various cultures throughout history, and they continue to be played and enjoyed today. Some examples of lithophones include the Thai ranat ek, the Chinese bianqing, and the American Indian lithophone, known as the “stone chimes.” Some of the oldest known examples come from Vietnam.
The Ten Oldest Known Musical Instruments
The history of music is as old as humanity itself, and archaeologists have been able to trace the instruments used since ancient times. The ten oldest known musical instruments are:
Image Credit: Ethiopian Lithophones with Stand, Monastery of Na’akuto La’ab
Attribution: A. Davey from Where I Live Now: Pacific Northwest, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ethiopian_Lithophones_with_Stand,_Monastery_of_Na%E2%80%99akuto_La%E2%80%99ab_(3425530734).jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
- Divje Babe Flute – a flute carved from a bear femur bone and found in a cave in Slovenia, estimated to be around 43,000 years old. (Source: Oxford Music Online)
- Neanderthal Flute – a flute made from a vulture bone and found in a cave in Germany, estimated to be around 43,000 years old. (Source: National Geographic)
- Bullroarer – a small carved wooden instrument that produces a humming or buzzing sound when spun around, found in archaeological sites around the world and estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 years old. (Source: Live Science)
- Upper Paleolithic Flutes – a set of flutes made from bird bones and ivory found in a cave in Germany, estimated to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Lithophones – a set of stones that produce musical tones when struck with another object, such as a mallet or hammer, found in archaeological sites around the world and estimated to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. (Source: The British Museum)
- Lyres – a stringed instrument with a yoke and strings that stretch from the body to the crossbar, found in ancient cultures around the world and estimated to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Harps – a stringed instrument with a curved body and strings that stretch from the neck to the soundbox, found in ancient cultures around the world and estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Panpipes – a set of pipes of varying lengths that produce musical tones when blown into, found in ancient cultures around the world and estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Trumpets – a brass instrument with a flared bell and valves or slides for changing pitch, found in ancient cultures around the world and estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Drums – a percussion instrument made from a hollowed-out tree trunk or animal skin stretched over a frame, found in ancient cultures around the world and estimated to be 5,000 to 6,000 years old. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Prehistoric (40,000 BC – 3,000 BC): During the prehistoric period, humans used their voices, natural objects, and materials found in their surroundings to create music. Examples include bone flutes, wooden trumpets, and percussive instruments made from rocks or animal skins.
- Ancient (3,000 BC – 500 AD): During the ancient period, musical instruments became more sophisticated and diverse. Some of the most significant instruments from this era include the lyre, harp, flute, and various types of drums. Many of these instruments were used in religious ceremonies or for storytelling.
- Medieval (500 AD – 1400 AD): Western music was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church during the medieval period. The pipe organ, which had been developed by the Greeks and Romans, became a staple instrument in churches throughout Europe. Other popular instruments included the lute, which was used for secular music, and the harpsichord, which became a popular keyboard instrument.
- Renaissance (1400 AD – 1600 AD): During the Renaissance period, instrumental music began to gain popularity, and new instruments were invented. The violin family of instruments, including the viola and cello, were developed during this time, as were the early forms of the piano and guitar.
- Baroque (1600 AD – 1750 AD): During the Baroque period, instrumental music reached new heights of complexity and sophistication. The harpsichord was the most popular keyboard instrument, and orchestras began using string, brass, and woodwind instruments. Notable Baroque composers include Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel.
- Classical (1750 AD – 1820 AD): During the classical period, composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven focused on creating balanced and elegant compositions that emphasised melody and form. New instruments, such as the clarinet and the modern piano, were developed during this time.
- Romantic (1820 AD – 1900 AD): During the Romantic period, composers such as Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner sought to evoke strong emotions and moods through their music. The orchestra grew larger and more diverse, and new instruments, such as the saxophone and the tuba, were invented.
- Modern (1900 AD – present): During the modern period, composers such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Cage began experimenting with new forms and techniques, including atonal and experimental music. New technologies, such as electronic instruments and synthesisers, were also developed, expanding the range of sounds that musicians could create.
The dates in the timeline are approximate and can vary depending on the specific region or culture being studied. Additionally, there are many different musical traditions and genres, and the history of musical instruments can be quite complex and diverse.
Image Credit: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Attributes of Music, 1770. This still life painting depicts a variety of French Baroque musical instruments, such as a natural horn, transverse flute, musette, pardessus de viole, and lute.
Attribution: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Attributes_of_Music.jpg
With the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), there has been a significant increase in the use of machine learning and deep learning techniques to create music. These techniques involve training computer algorithms on large datasets of existing music to analyse and learn the patterns and structures that define different genres, styles, and elements of music.
One notable development in this field is the creation of AI systems that can ‘write’ original music. These systems use algorithms to analyse patterns in existing music and generate new pieces that mimic the style and structure of that music. Some of these systems can even respond to changes in input parameters to produce variations on the generated music.
Another area of research is using AI to assist with music composition. Here, machine learning algorithms can be used to suggest chords, melodies, and rhythms based on a set of initial musical parameters or input from a musician. This technology is often used in music production software and can significantly speed up the composition process.
AI is also being used to create new sounds and instruments. For example, researchers have used deep learning algorithms to generate new and unique sounds by training the algorithm on large datasets of different sounds and manipulating the parameters of the algorithm to produce novel sounds.
Code for a Melodious Jingle
It’s still in its infancy as the use of AI in music creation is still a relatively new field, but it has the potential to transform the way music is composed, produced, and consumed. I asked my artificially intelligent friend to write a jingle, and it came up with the following code, for a simple melody in the key of C, with a repetitive melody that matches the rhythm of the text. Apparently (if you are musically inclined), you can customise the tempo, dynamics, and instrumentation to fit your needs. I’m sure someone will tell me if it’s catchy and destined for stardom.
Here are four examples of popular songs or artists that have used AI in their music creation:
- Taryn Southern – “Break Free”: In 2017, musician Taryn Southern used an AI program called Amper to create the backing track and instrumentation for her song “Break Free.” Amper analysed the song’s melody and lyrics and generated a unique backing track that fit the style and mood of the song.
- YACHT – “Chain Tripping”: The experimental pop band YACHT used an AI program called A.I. Duet to create the melody for their song “Chain Tripping.” A.I. Duet is a browser-based tool that uses machine learning to generate musical responses to user input.
- Holly Herndon – “PROTO”: In her 2019 album “PROTO,” musician Holly Herndon collaborated with an AI program called Spawn to create new sounds and musical textures. Spawn is a machine-learning algorithm that can generate and manipulate audio samples in real-time, allowing Herndon to create complex and evolving musical compositions.
- Björk – “Mouth Mantra”: In her 2015 music video for “Mouth Mantra,” Icelandic musician Björk used an AI program called Metamorphosis to create surreal, otherworldly visual effects. Metamorphosis analysed Björk’s facial features and movements and used them to generate intricate, abstract animations.
Top 25 Best-Known Musical Instruments
- Percussion instruments (Antiquity): Percussion instruments such as drums, cymbals, and bells have been used since ancient times. In fact, the earliest known drums date back to 5500 BC in China. Over time, percussion instruments have evolved to include various instruments from all over the world, including African djembes, Latin American maracas, and the Indian tabla.
- Drums (Ancient times): Drums have been used since ancient times and are an essential part of many different musical genres, including rock, jazz, and pop. The modern drum set as we know it today was developed in the early 20th century and used by famous drummers such as Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and Neil Peart.
- Bagpipes (Ancient times): Bagpipes are wind instruments originally developed in ancient civilisations such as Greece and Rome. They later became popular in Scotland and Ireland, where they were used in traditional folk music. Famous bagpipers throughout history include Stuart Liddell, Jack Lee, and Field Marshal Montgomery. The bagpipes continue to be an important instrument in traditional Celtic music and have also been used in contemporary genres such as rock and pop music.
- Gong (Ancient times): The gong is a percussion instrument used in many cultures throughout history, including China, Indonesia, and India. It is widely used in classical and contemporary music and has been played by famous gong players such as Don Conreaux and Pierre Favre.
- Lyre (2600 BC): The lyre was one of the earliest known stringed instruments, with evidence of its use dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was commonly played in ancient Greece, where it was the instrument of choice for epic poets like Homer. Over time, the lyre evolved into other stringed instruments, such as the harp and the guitar.
Image Credit: A bull lyrist on the Standard of Ur, c. 2500 BC
Attribution: British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ur_lyre.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
- Flute (2600 BC): The flute is one of the oldest known musical instruments, with evidence of its use in ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The modern flute as we know it today was developed in the early 19th century, with famous flautists such as Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway popularising the instrument in the 20th century.
- Harp (1500 BC): The harp has been used for thousands of years and was popular in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. It was also an important instrument in the Middle Ages, often played by troubadours and minstrels. Today, the harp is still widely used in classical music and has also been adapted for use in folk and popular music.
- Trumpet (1500 BC): The trumpet has a long and storied history, with evidence of its use in ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The modern trumpet as we know it today was developed in the early 19th century, with famous trumpeters such as Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis popularising the instrument in the 20th century.
- Lute (1000 BC): The lute is a stringed instrument popular in ancient Persia and throughout the Middle East. It was later adopted by Europeans during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where it was a popular instrument for both secular and religious music. Famous lutenists throughout history include John Dowland and Francesco da Milano.
- Organ (3rd century BC): The organ has a long history that dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. The modern pipe organ was developed in the Middle Ages and became an important instrument in the Catholic Church. Today, the organ is still widely used in religious music, as well as in secular music genres such as jazz and rock.
- Oud (9th century): The oud is a stringed instrument that originated in the Middle East and is widely used in traditional Arabic music. It has been played by famous oud players such as Anouar Brahem and Marcel Khalife and used in Western music by musicians such as John McLaughlin and Sting.
- Kora (13th century): The kora is a stringed instrument that originated in West Africa and is widely used in traditional African music. It is played by famous kora players such as Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko and has also been used in Western music by musicians such as Taj Mahal and Bela Fleck.
- Sitar (13th century): The sitar is a stringed instrument that originated in India and is widely used in classical Indian music. It has been played by famous sitarists such as Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar and used in Western music by musicians such as George Harrison of The Beatles.
- Trombone (15th century): The trombone is a brass instrument developed in the 15th century. It was widely used in classical music during the Renaissance and Baroque eras and has since become an important instrument in jazz and popular music. Famous trombonists throughout history include J.J. Johnson, Tommy Dorsey, and Wycliffe Gordon.
- Violin (16th century): The violin is a stringed instrument developed in Italy during the 16th century. It quickly became popular throughout Europe and was later adopted by composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Famous violinists throughout history include Niccolo Paganini, Itzhak Perlman, and Joshua Bell.
- Cello (16th century): The cello is a stringed instrument developed in Italy during the 16th century. It is closely related to the violin and was originally used as a bass instrument in orchestras. Famous cellists throughout history include Pablo Casals, Jacqueline du Pre, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Picture Credit: A romanticized print of Antonio Stradivari examining an instrument
Attribution: Viktor Bobrov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonio_stradivari.jpg
- Harpsichord (17th century): The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument popular in the Baroque era. It was widely used in both secular and religious music and was an important instrument for composers such as Bach and Handel.
- Piano (18th century): The piano is a keyboard instrument developed in Italy in the 18th century. It quickly became popular throughout Europe and was later adopted by composers such as Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. Famous pianists throughout history include Franz Liszt, Vladimir Horowitz, and Lang Lang.
- Clarinet (18th century): The clarinet is a woodwind instrument developed in the 18th century. It was widely used in classical music during the Romantic era and has since become an important instrument in jazz and popular music. Famous clarinettists throughout history include Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman.
- Saxophone (1840s): The saxophone is a woodwind instrument invented in Belgium in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax. It was widely used in classical music during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has since become a staple of jazz and popular music. Famous saxophonists throughout history include Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Bud Freeman and Stan Getz.
- Accordion (19th century): The accordion is a portable wind instrument developed in Germany in the 19th century. It quickly became popular in Europe and later in the Americas. It is widely used in folk music and adapted for many musical genres. Famous accordionists throughout history include Myron Floren and Astor Piazzolla.
- Electric guitar (1930s): The electric guitar is a guitar that uses electronic amplification to produce sound. It was first developed in the 1930s and quickly became popular in jazz and blues music. It has since become a staple of rock and roll music and has been used by famous guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Eddie Van Halen.
Picture Credit: A musician playing the double tenor steelpan
Attribution: Shanel, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pan_player.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
- Bass guitar (1950s): The bass guitar is a stringed instrument developed in the 1950s as a variation of the electric guitar. It is primarily used to provide the low-frequency rhythm section in bands and has been used by famous bassists such as Jaco Pastorius, John Entwistle, and Flea.
- Synthesiser (1960s): The synthesiser is an electronic instrument developed in the 1960s. It can produce various sounds and has been used in many musical genres, including pop, rock, and electronic music. Famous historical synthesiser players include Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Jean-Michel Jarre.
- Steelpan (20th century): The steelpan is a percussion instrument developed in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century. It is made from oil drums hammered into different shapes and sizes. Steeelpans are widely used in calypso and soca music.
There is no universally-accepted comprehensive list of all known musical instruments, mostly because new instruments are constantly being invented and discovered, and the definition of what constitutes a “musical instrument” can be subjective. However, many resources are available that provide extensive lists of musical instruments from different cultures and time-periods. This paper provides several examples, but if you’d like a glossary of musical instruments, here are a few resources:
Preservation and Restoration
Musical instrument preservation and restoration is an important aspect of music history and culture, and it involves many different and challenging steps and requires specialised knowledge and skills, particularly on instruments that may be hundreds or even thousands of years old.
One of the primary challenges is determining the original construction and design of the instrument, many of which were constructed using materials and techniques that are no longer used today, and it is not easy to replicate these methods without extensive research and experimentation. The present condition of the instrument must be carefully assessed to determine the extent of any damage or deterioration.
Restoration efforts often involve a combination of conservation and repair techniques. Conservators work to stabilise the instrument’ condition, while repair specialists focus on fixing specific issues or damage. In some cases, the restoration process may involve creating replicas of missing parts or sections of the instrument.
Preservation and restoration efforts are particularly important for instruments that are unique or have historical significance. These instruments may be associated with famous musicians or composers or represent a particular period or cultural tradition. Museums, universities, and other institutions often have collections of historic musical instruments that require ongoing preservation and restoration efforts.
The field of musical instrument restoration has grown in recent years, with many specialists now trained to repair and preserve historic instruments. Also, new technologies and materials have been developed that can help in the restoration process, such as 3D printing and laser scanning. Nevertheless, preserving and restoring historical musical instruments remains a complex and ongoing challenge, requiring ongoing research, experimentation, and expertise.
Different Cultures and Societies/Use for Ceremonial, Religious, or Entertainment Purposes
The history of musical instruments spans thousands of years, with evidence of primitive instruments dating back to prehistoric times.
Over time, musical instruments have undergone significant changes in design, materials, and playing techniques, reflecting technological advancements, cultural exchange, and social and political contexts. As a result, musical instruments have played a crucial role in the development of different genres and styles of music, and have served as tools for communication, entertainment, religious and ceremonial purposes, and political or social activism.
Looking to the future, innovations in design, materials, and playing techniques, as well as the impact of technology, will undoubtedly shape the future of music and the evolution of musical instruments:
- Technological advances in the development of musical instruments: Technological innovations have driven the evolution of musical instruments since ancient times. For example, the introduction of metalworking techniques allowed for the creation of brass and percussion instruments, while the development of fretted strings enabled the creation of guitars and other plucked instruments. In more recent times, electronic amplification has revolutionised the sound of modern music, and digital technologies have led to the creation of entirely new types of musical instruments.
- The cultural exchange and cross-pollination of musical instruments: Throughout history, different cultures have interacted and exchanged musical ideas, resulting in the cross-pollination of musical instruments across other regions and continents. For example, the sitar, a stringed instrument from India, was adopted by Western musicians in the 1960s and became a key element in the sound of psychedelic rock. Similarly, the African djembe drum has been embraced by percussionists worldwide, and the Chinese guzheng has inspired new forms of music in the West.
- The role of musical instruments in the development of different genres and styles of music: Musical instruments have played a key role in the development of different genres and styles of music, from classical to jazz to rock and hip hop. For example, the piano has been a central instrument in classical music for centuries, while the saxophone has become synonymous with jazz. The electric guitar has been instrumental in developing rock and roll, and the drum machine has been a key element in the sound of electronic dance music.
- The social and political context of musical instruments throughout history: Music has often been a tool for political or social activism, and musical instruments have played a key role in this. For example, the guitar became a symbol of protest in the 1960s, as folk singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez used their music to speak out against war and social injustice. In South Africa, the anti-apartheid movement embraced mbira music, a traditional African thumb piano, as a symbol of resistance.
- The future of musical instruments: Advancements in technology and new materials will likely continue driving innovation in the design and creation of musical instruments. For example, 3D printing is being used to create custom-made instruments with complex shapes and designs, while new materials like graphene may lead to the creation of instruments with unique properties. In addition, using artificial intelligence and machine learning will likely lead to new musical expressions and forms of performance.
At the risk of stating the obvious, a musical instrument is designed to play music. The history of written music (music notation) goes back, at least to the ancient Greeks, who used a system of letters and symbols to indicate melody and rhythm. In medieval Europe, a system of neumes (small symbols above the words) was used to indicate the melody, but it wasn’t until the 9th century that musical notation began to resemble what we use today.
In the Renaissance period (15th and 16th centuries), the modern music notation system was developed, with notes representing specific pitches and durations and symbols for dynamics (loudness) and other musical expressions. This system allowed for much greater precision in musical notation and made it possible to write down complex polyphonic music in which multiple melodies were sung or played simultaneously.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw further refinements to music notation, with the addition of more symbols and conventions, such as tempo markings (indicating the speed of the music) and markings for phrasing and articulation. During this time, Western classical music reached its peak of complexity and technical sophistication, and music notation played an essential role in creating and disseminating this music.
In the 20th century, composers began experimenting with new forms of notation, including graphic notation (in which symbols and shapes are used to represent sounds and musical gestures) and aleatoric (chance) music, in which the performer is given some degree of freedom to interpret the score. With the advent of electronic music, entirely new systems of notation and sound production were developed, and music notation continues to evolve to this day as new technologies and musical styles emerge.
The Influence of Technology on Musical Instrumentation
Technology has had a significant impact on the development and evolution of musical instruments, such as:
- Electronic instruments: One of the most significant ways technology has influenced musical instruments is through the development of electronic instruments. These instruments use electronic circuits and digital technology to produce sound, rather than relying on traditional acoustic methods. Electronic instruments have expanded the possibilities of sound and allowed for the creation of entirely new types of music.
- Amplification: The development of amplification technology has allowed musicians to increase the volume of their instruments, making it possible to play for larger audiences and in larger venues. Amplification has also led to the development of new instrument designs, such as electric guitars and basses.
- Recording: The ability to record and reproduce music has had a significant impact on the development of musical instruments. Musicians can now record and distribute their performances to a wider audience, allowing for greater exposure and recognition. Additionally, recording technology has allowed for the development of new techniques and styles of playing.
- Digital music production: The rise of digital music production has transformed how musicians create and produce music. Software programs and digital tools make it possible to create and manipulate sounds in ways that were previously impossible, leading to the development of new types of instruments, such as MIDI controllers and virtual instruments.
- Manufacturing: Advances in manufacturing technology have made it possible to create instruments with greater precision and consistency. This has improved instrument quality and affordability, making it easier for more people to access and learn to play instruments.
Electronic Instruments and Specialised Computer Software
The creation of electronic instruments and the use of computer software to compose and produce music have revolutionised the field of music in many ways:
- Electronic instruments were first developed in the early 20th century with the advent of electronic oscillators and synthesisers. These early instruments, such as the Theremin and the Ondes Martenot, produced unique sounds that were unlike anything that had been heard before. The use of electronic instruments continued to grow in popularity throughout the 20th century, with the emergence of instruments such as the Moog Synthesiser and the Roland TR-808 drum machine.
- Computer software has also had a significant impact on musical composition and production. Often, digital audio workstations (DAWs) have replaced traditional recording studios, allowing musicians to record, edit, and mix their music entirely within a computer program. Using MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) has made it possible to create music simply within a computer program, using virtual instruments that simulate the sound of traditional instruments.
- One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the use of AI to compose and produce music. AI can analyse existing musical compositions and use that information to create new pieces of music in a similar style. Some AI programs can even improvise and create music in real-time.
Musical Instrument Traditions in Non-Western Cultures
Musical instrument traditions in non-western cultures are diverse and rich. They vary greatly across different regions of the world and often reflect the unique cultural, religious, and social practices of the communities from where they originate. Here are some examples of musical instrument traditions in non-western cultures:
- Indian classical music: India has a long and rich tradition of classical music, with a wide variety of instruments used in different styles of music. Some of the most well-known instruments include the sitar, tabla, sarod, and bansuri.
- Chinese classical music: Chinese music has a history that spans thousands of years, and the classical music tradition features a wide variety of instruments, including the erhu, pipa, and guzheng.
- African music: African music is incredibly diverse, with a vast array of instruments used in different regions and cultures. These include the djembe, kora, mbira, and balafon.
- Middle Eastern music: Middle Eastern music has a long history and features a variety of instruments, including the oud, ney, and qanun.
- Native American music: Native American music has been an important part of the cultural traditions of indigenous communities for thousands of years. Traditional instruments include the flute, drum, and rattle.
In many non-western cultures, music is closely tied to spirituality and ritual, and instruments are often seen as a way of communicating with the divine. Certain instruments may be restricted to certain groups or contexts, and playing them may involve specific techniques and traditions passed down through generations. In addition, many non-western musical traditions rely on oral transmission, with music being taught and learned through listening and imitation rather than notation.
The Role of Musical Instruments in Different Musical Genres
Musical instruments have played a crucial role in the development of different genres and styles of music. Here are some examples:
- Classical: Classical music is a genre that has been around for centuries and has a rich history of instrumentation. Orchestras are a hallmark of classical music, featuring instruments like the violin, cello, clarinet, flute, trumpet, and piano. These instruments are often used to create intricate and complex pieces of music that showcase the musicians’ technical skill and the composition’s beauty.
- Jazz: Jazz music is a genre that is heavily influenced by improvisation, and as such, instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, and piano are often used to create spontaneous melodies and solos. Jazz music also features a rhythm section, including instruments like the bass guitar, drums, and percussion, which provide a driving beat for the music.
- Rock: Rock music is characterised by using electric guitars, bass guitars, and drums. These instruments are often used to create powerful and energetic music that appeals to a wide audience. In addition to these core instruments, rock music may also feature keyboard or piano parts, as well as additional percussion instruments like tambourines or maracas.
- Hip-Hop: Hip-hop music is heavily influenced by electronic instrumentation and relies heavily on the use of samplers and drum machines to create beats and rhythm tracks. However, traditional instruments like the electric guitar, bass guitar, and keyboard may also be used to create melody lines and hooks.
- World Music: World music is a broad genre that encompasses music from a wide variety of cultures and regions. As such, the instruments used in world music can vary greatly depending on the style and tradition being represented. For example, traditional African music may feature percussion instruments like djembe drums and shakers, while Indian music may feature stringed instruments like the sitar and tabla drums.
The role of musical instruments in different genres of music is diverse and constantly evolving, reflecting the creative ingenuity of musicians and composers around the world.
The Physics and Acoustics of Musical Instruments
The physics and acoustics of musical instruments are essential to understanding how these instruments produce sound and create the music we hear. The properties of sound waves, resonance, and harmonics all play a significant role in the science of musical instruments. Sound waves are produced by vibrations in the air, which cause pressure changes that propagate through the air as a wave. The frequency of these waves determines the pitch of the sound we hear. Musical instruments create sound waves by vibrating various components, such as strings, reeds, or membranes, which produce pressure changes in the air that correspond to specific frequencies. Resonance is a crucial concept in musical instrument physics. Resonance occurs when an object vibrates at its natural frequency, which amplifies the sound produced by the instrument. Different materials and shapes can affect resonance in instruments, leading to different tones and timbres.
Harmonics, or overtones, are additional frequencies produced by an instrument along with the fundamental frequency. These frequencies contribute to the timbre of the sound and give each instrument its unique character. The physics of harmonics can be complex, and researchers continue to study the acoustics of musical instruments to understand these principles better. Advances in physics and engineering have contributed to the development of new and innovative musical instruments, such as the electric guitar, electronic synthesisers, and digital audio workstations. These instruments use technologies like transducers, amplifiers, and digital signal processing to produce and manipulate sound.
Understanding the physics and acoustics of musical instruments is essential for musicians, instrument makers, and researchers in the field. By studying the scientific principles that underlie musical instruments, we can better appreciate the art and beauty of music and continue to innovate and develop new instruments in the future.
Genres and Styles
The development of musical instruments has played a significant role in the evolution of various musical genres and styles. The invention and adoption of new instruments, as well as the modification of existing ones, have led to the creation of new sounds and musical techniques that have transformed the way we think about music.
One example of how an instrument has shaped a genre is the electric guitar and its impact on rock and roll. The introduction of the electric guitar in the 1930s allowed for louder and more sustained sounds, enabling musicians to experiment with new sounds and techniques. The emergence of artists such as Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton in the 1950s and 1960s ushered in the golden era of rock and roll, which relied heavily on the electric guitar for its driving sound and virtuosic solos.
Another example is the role of synthesisers in developing electronic dance music (EDM). Synthesisers, which generate sound electronically, were first introduced in the 1960s and became widely used in the 1980s, allowing the creation of new and innovative sounds that were impossible with traditional instruments. As a result, EDM emerged as a new genre incorporating these synthetic sounds, giving rise to subgenres such as techno, house, and trance.
Other examples include the use of brass instruments in jazz music, the role of the piano in classical music, and the influence of the drum machine in hip-hop music. In each case, the instrument has played a crucial role in shaping the sound and style of the genre, demonstrating the close relationship between musical instruments and the development of music as an art form.
Musical Instruments in Popular Culture
Musical instruments have played a significant role in popular culture and have been featured in movies, television shows, and other forms of media for decades. In some cases, musical instruments have even become iconic symbols of certain genres or eras of music. For example, the electric guitar has become synonymous with rock music, while the turntable and mixer are emblematic of hip-hop culture.
Musical instruments have also been used to create memorable and iconic theme songs and soundtracks for movies and television shows. The theme from Jaws, composed by John Williams and played on a tuba, is a classic example of how a musical instrument can add tension and suspense to a scene. Similarly, using a harmonica in the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly became iconic of the Western genre.
In addition to their use in creating soundtracks, musical instruments have also been central to the storytelling and character development in movies and television shows. For example, the guitar played by the character of Willie Nelson in the film Barbarosa serves as a symbol of his outlaw status, while the piano in the movie Casablanca is a powerful reminder of the love affair between Rick and Ilsa.
Musical instruments have also been used in advertising, with companies using catchy jingles and memorable tunes to promote their products. From the McDonald’s jingle “I’m Lovin’ It” to the classic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” Coke ad, music has created memorable and effective marketing campaigns.
Musical instruments have played a significant role in popular culture, and their use in movies, television shows, and advertising has helped shape how we think about music and its impact on our lives.
The Psychology and Neuroscience of Music
The psychology and neuroscience of music is a fascinating field that explores how music affects the brain, behaviour, and emotions. Research in this area has shown that music has a profound impact on our physical and emotional well-being, and can be used as a powerful tool in therapy, education, and even marketing.
Studies have shown that listening to music can have a range of effects on the brain, including the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Different types of music can also activate different areas of the brain, with classical music, for example, being linked to increased activity in the areas responsible for memory and attention.
The use of music in therapy is a growing field, with music therapy being used to treat a range of conditions, from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and autism. The therapeutic effects of music are thought to be related to its ability to engage multiple areas of the brain and promote relaxation and positive emotions.
In recent years, advances in neuroscience have also shed light on how musical training can impact brain development, with studies showing that musical training can enhance cognitive abilities and lead to structural changes in the brain.
Finally, the psychology of music has also been studied concerning marketing, with music used to influence consumer behaviour and shape brand identity. The use of music in advertising, for example, is a common strategy used to create emotional connections with consumers and build brand recognition.
Online Resources about the History of Musical Instruments
The following are examples of the many online resources available for researching the history of musical instruments:
- British Association for Music Therapy: a professional organisation for music therapists in the UK. Their website includes resources and information on the history of music therapy in the UK. https://www.bamt.org/
- Oxford Music Online: a comprehensive resource for music history and theory, including articles, biographies, and music examples. It requires a subscription, but many libraries offer free access to this resource. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/
- Royal College of Music Archives and Collections: archives and collections relating to the history of music in the UK, including manuscripts, letters, and other materials. Some of these resources can be accessed online. https://www.rcm.ac.uk/library/collections/
- Smithsonian Folkways: This nonprofit record label, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is dedicated to preserving and sharing traditional music from around the world. Their website includes information about the history and cultural significance of many musical instruments, recordings, and educational resources. Visit their website at https://folkways.si.edu/
- The American Musical Instrument Society: This nonprofit organisation is dedicated to the study and preservation of musical instruments, with a focus on American-made instruments. Their website includes articles and resources about the history and construction of many different types of instruments. Visit their website at https://www.amis.org/
- The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments: a collection of over 2,000 musical instruments from the Western classical tradition. Their website provides information and offers virtual tours. https://www.bate.ox.ac.uk/
- The British Library Sound Archive: one of the largest sound archives in the world, with over 3.5 million recordings of music, spoken word, and environmental sounds. Their website offers access to many of their collections, including historical recordings of musical instruments. https://sounds.bl.uk/
- The British Museum: The British Museum’s collection of musical instruments spans cultures and periods, from ancient Egyptian harps to modern-day synthesisers. Their website includes detailed information about the history and cultural context of many different types of instruments, along with images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/dept/AOA
- The Horniman Museum: This London-based museum has a collection of over 8,000 musical instruments from around the world and a range of other cultural artefacts. Their website offers information about the history and construction of many different types of instruments, along with images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://www.horniman.ac.uk/explore-the-collections/objects/music
- The International Society of Bassists: This nonprofit organisation is focused on studying and performing the double bass, one of the largest and most versatile instruments in every orchestra. Their website includes resources about the double bass’s history and construction, performance tips, and other educational materials. Visit their website at https://www.isbworldoffice.com/
- The International Trumpet Guild: This nonprofit organisation promotes the study and performance of the trumpet, one of the most popular and versatile brass instruments. Their website includes articles and resources about the history and construction of the trumpet, along with performance tips and other educational materials. Visit their website at https://www.trumpetguild.org/
- The Library of Congress: This US research library has a vast collection of written and recorded music, as well as over 6,000 musical instruments from around the world. Their website includes information about the history and cultural context of many different types of instruments, along with images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://www.loc.gov/rr/perform/
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Met’s collection of musical instruments spans centuries and continents, from ancient Greek lyres to modern-day electric guitars. Their website offers detailed information about the history and construction of many different types of instruments, including images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://www.metmuseum.org/to/explore/departments/musical-instruments
- St Cecilia’s Hall, Concert Room & Music Museum: St Cecilia’s Hall is home to the University of Edinburgh’s collection of historic musical instruments, which ranks among the world’s most important collections of musical heritage. It has an official Recognised Collection of National Significance to Scotland status. https://www.stcecilias.ed.ac.uk/
- The Musical Instrument Museum: located in Phoenix, Arizona, this museum has a collection of over 7,000 musical instruments from around the world. Their website offers information about the history and construction of many different types of instruments, along with images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://mim.org/
- The National Centre for Early Music: a music venue and museum in York that houses a collection of historical musical instruments. Their website provides information about their collection and offers virtual tours. https://www.ncem.co.uk/
- The National Museum of Scotland: another museum in Edinburgh that houses a collection of musical instruments from Scotland and around the world. Their website offers virtual tours. https://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-scotland/
- The National Music Museum: Located at the University of South Dakota, this museum houses over 15,000 musical instruments from around the world. Their website offers information about the history and construction of many different types of instruments, along with images and audio clips. Visit their website at https://www.usd.edu/fine-arts/music/nmm
- The Royal Academy of Music Museum: a museum in London that houses a collection of musical instruments from the 16th century to the present day. Their website provides information and offers virtual tours. https://www.ram.ac.uk/museum
- The University of Edinburgh Musical Instrument Collection: The University of Edinburgh Musical Instrument Collection is a collection of over 500 musical instruments from around the world. Their website provides information and offers virtual tours. https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/collections/musical-instrument-collection
- The Victoria and Albert Museum: a museum in London that houses a collection of musical instruments from around the world. Their website provides information and offers virtual tours. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/m/musical-instruments/
Please note that some museums and collections may have limited online resources, and access to some materials may require a fee or registration.
Sources and Further Reading
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments: From All Eras and Regions of the World (Hardcover), by Bozhidar Abrashev (Author), Vladimir Gadjev (Author), published by Konemann (2006), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Illustrated-Encyclopedia-Musical-Instruments-Regions/dp/3833121955/
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (hardback, 29 volumes) published by OUP USA (2001). This is a comprehensive reference work on music and musicians, covering musical instruments from all periods and regions of the world. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Grove-Dictionary-Music-Musicians/dp/0195170679
- A History of Western Music by Donald Jay Grout, Claude V. Palisca, and J. Peter Burkholder (multiple editions). Published by WW Norton & Company (2014). This textbook on the history of Western music covers musical instruments from ancient times to the present day. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Western-Music-Peter-Burkholder/dp/0393937119
- The Oxford Companion to Music edited by Alison Latham (multiple editions). Published by OUP Oxford (2002). This is a reference work on music and musicians, covering musical instruments from all periods and regions of the world. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Oxford-Companion-Music-Companions/dp/0198662122
- Music in the Medieval World by Albert Seay. Published by Prentice Hall (1965). This book provides an overview of medieval music, including the instruments used during this period. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Music-medieval-world-History-music/dp/B0000CMQMK/
- The History of Musical Instruments by Curt Sachs, paperback and illustrated. Published by Dover Publications Inc. (2006). This book provides a comprehensive overview of the history of musical instruments, covering their development and usage in different cultures and periods. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Musical-Instruments-Dover-Books/dp/0486452654/
- The Story of Musical Instruments: From Shepherds’ Pipes to Symphony Orchestra by Harry Wayne Schwartz (Author). Published by Literary Licensing, LLC (2012). Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Musical-Instruments-Shepherds-Symphony/dp/1258410648
- Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments by Robert Dearling. Published by Carlton Books Limited (1999). This book traces the evolution of the traditional families of instruments from the earliest times and also profiles the world’s instruments past and present. Available at: https://www.wob.com/en-gb/books/robert-dearling/encyclopedia-of-musical-instruments/9781858686271
CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.
Bud Freeman, New York City, 1947 [Cropped].
Attribution: William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bud_Freeman,_Marty_Marsala_(Gottlieb_02951).jpg
End Notes and Explanations
Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Source: https://shinemusicschoolonline.com/2020/09/the-first-musical-instruments/ ↑
- Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18196349 ↑
- Source: https://www.nms.si/en/museum ↑
- Explanation: The lithophone is still considered a unique and distinct instrument today, and there are modern versions that have been created by various artists and instrument makers. These modern lithophones are often made using a range of different materials, such as stone, metal, or even glass, and they can be played using mallets or other percussion instruments. Some modern lithophones also incorporate electronic components or other technologies to produce unique and innovative sounds. However, it is worth noting that the lithophone is not considered a direct precursor to any modern instrument, including the piano, as its design and function are quite distinct. ↑
- Source: https://www.oldest.org/music/musical-instruments/ ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullroarer ↑
- Source: https://meteoritesound.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-bullroarer/ ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullroarer ↑
- See also: https://www.britannica.com/art/stone-chimes ↑
- Source: https://www.oldest.org/music/musical-instruments/ ↑
- Commentary: During my working career, I met Bud Freeman and, for a time, acted for him professionally. See picture above. ↑
- Explanation: Timbre is French in origin, which is apparent in its pronunciation: it is often pronounced \TAM-ber\ and, with a more French-influenced second syllable, \TAM-bruh\. The French ancestor of timbre was borrowed at three different times into English, each time with a different meaning, each time reflecting the evolution that the word had made in French. The first two meanings timbre had in English (it referred to a kind of drum and to the crest on a coat of arms) are now too obscure for entry in this dictionary, but its third meaning survives. Timbre in modern English generally refers to the quality of a sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument; timbre is useful in being distinct from pitch, intensity, and loudness as a descriptor of sound. Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/timbre ↑
- Explanations: (i) Techno is a genre of electronic dance music (EDM) which is generally produced for use in a continuous DJ set, with tempo often varying between 120 and 150 beats per minute (bpm). The central rhythm is typically in common time (4/4) and often characterised by a repetitive four on the floor beat. Artists may use electronic instruments such as drum machines, sequencers, and synthesisers, as well as digital audio workstations. Drum machines from the 1980s such as Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909 are highly prized, and software emulations of such retro instruments are popular.
(ii) House is a music genre characterised by a repetitive four-on-the-floor beat and a typical tempo of 120 beats per minute. It was created by DJs and music producers from Chicago‘s underground club culture in the early/mid 1980s, as DJs began altering disco songs to give them a more mechanical beat, and
Trance music is characterised by a tempo generally lying between 135–150 beats per minute (BPM), repeating melodic phrases and a musical form that distinctly builds tension and elements throughout a track often culminating in 1 to 2 “peaks” or “drops”. Although trance is a genre of its own, it liberally incorporates influences from other musical styles such as techno, house, pop, chill-out, classical music, tech house, ambient and film music. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techno, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_music, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trance_music ↑