Prehistoric drawing in the Magura cave, Bulgaria. Photograph in Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Magura_-_drawings.jpg
Prehistoric drawings on cave walls depict both animals and people. These are in the Magura cave in Bulgaria. Image by Nk.

Music is everywhere. We can’t escape it. We listen to it on the radio while driving around doing errands. We hear it in the background sound effects at the movie theater or on the television. Commercials use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) music to catch your attention and try to make a sale. Music is in grocery stores, public buildings, work-out facilities, recreation centers, and schools. Perhaps the only place you might be able to escape it is in the library.

Do we really want to escape music? Have you ever thought about abolishing it? Is it possible to eliminate it from our lives? It has been embedded into our psyche since the day we were born. It soothes, relaxes, inspires, controls, and manipulates – all that and much more. Life is music. So, when did music begin?

Early Humans and Music

It’s difficult to say when music began. We can find references in various religious texts to singing and making music. We see evidence in cave paintings that depict people dancing. (You have to admit that the presence of dancing strongly suggests the presence of music.) It has been suggested that the first musical instrument might have been a roughly constructed hollow stick through which one could blow and make sound – the precursor of wind instruments.

Sticks to beat out a rhythm? Simple, yes; crude, perhaps, but doesn’t music include even that type of crude instrument? What about the feet and the hands that tap or stamp out a rhythm? Doesn’t music involve rhythm and some semblance of a beat? And what about the human voice? Isn’t that a musical instrument too? The voice has certainly been around since the first humans walked this earth.

What is Music?

To determine the beginning of anything, one must define it. What is music? There are various definitions that offer suitable interpretations. Here’s a definition from Dictionary.com:

“Music – an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and colour. The tones or sounds employed, occurring in single line (melody) or multiple lines (harmony), and sounded or to be sounded by one or more voices or instruments, or both.”

Yahoo.com goes further: “an aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or combination of sounds: the music of the wind in the pines.”

In What is Music?, Philip Dorrell describes music scientifically as a “super-stimulus of perception.” A more aesthetic interpretation from Annie Lennox, writing in Resurgence & Ecologist (July/August 2008), defines it as as “pure magic.”

Click to Read Page Two: Nature is Music