History of Music

This article is still under completion and the information presented is non-exhaustive.

Music is usually classified in three main periods. Prehistorical music, Ancient music, Classical music, and Modern Music.

Prehistorical Music

The earliest music likely originates from our ancestors replicating naturally occurring sounds and rhythms. Music was used in spiritual (shamanistic) practices, for entertainment purposes, and for hunt (luring animals). The earliest instrument was probably the human voice, which can produce a vast array of sounds (humming, whistling, clicking, coughing, yawning). The first rhythm instruments or percussion instruments most likely involved the clapping of hands, stones hit together, or other things that are useful to create rhythm. The earliest known built instruments are flutes, made from bones, and originate from Europe. The Divje Babe Flute is the oldest known instrument discovered so far (in a cave in North Western Slovenia). It is between 50.000 to 60.000 years old, and was made from a bear femur bone by either Neanderthals, or Cro-Magnon Aurignacian people. Similar flutes have been found in other caves across Slovenia, and later items in caves in Germany (35.000 years old) and Ireland.

Divje Babe Flute By dalbera from Paris, France – Flûte paléolithique (musée national de Slovénie, Ljubljana)


Ancient Music

Chinese Music

Egyptian Music

To be completed

Greek Music

To be completed

Etruscan Music

To be completed

Roman Music

Music was an integral part of Roman culture from the earliest times. Etruscan music had an early influence on Roman music. Song was a part of almost every social occasion. Music was customary at funerals, religious rites and sacrifices, spectacles and events, dances, hunting (to drive out prey), and for military uses. Music contests were also quite common.


Woodwinds: tibia/aulos (a two double-reed with a clarinet-like sound), askaulos (a type of bagpipe), flute, panpipe

Brass: Roman tuba, cornu

Strings: lyre, cithara, lute (pandura/monochord)

Percussion: scabellum (foot clapper), rattles, bells, tambourines, timpani, castanets, Egyptian sistrum, brazen pans, cymbala

Other: hydraulis (hydraulic pipe organ)

Musical notation:

To be completed

Classical Music

Classical music roughly refers to the period from the Middle Ages until the present day. The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, so it is important to note that the classification offered here is a current way of viewing things, which hasn’t always been prevalent throughout history.

Although earlier traces of notated music have been discovered (as noted earlier), the classical period marks the beginning of staff notation in Western music.

Medieval music (400-1400)

Both vocal and instrumental music. Gregorian chant and choir music. Both notated and improvised. Church music was usually notated. In early period, Gregorian chant was monophonic. Developed into first heterophonic then polyphonic.

Early Medieval music is different than subsequent western classical music in that is has no modern harmony, so-to-speak. It has a through-composed feel to it. It’s just melody which cannot be properly described in terms of chords and modern harmony.

Also instrumental music, in the context of theatre, and court.

The Middle Ages laid out the foundations for music notation and theory as well still know and use it today.

Woodwinds: wood flute, recorder, gemshorn, pan flute, fiddle,

Brass: sackbut (early trombone)

Strings: lute, mandore, gittern, citole, psaltery, dulcimer (plucked), lyra (bowed)

Keyboards: early organ

Other: jaw harp, singing bowls

Notable Composers: (in chronological order): Kassiani, Notker the Stammerer, William IX of Aquitaine, Abelard, Marcabru, Hildegard von Bingen, Jaufre Rudel, Bernard de Ventadorn, Léonin, Beatriz de Dia, Arnaut Daniel, Blondel de Nesle, Vaqueiras, Pérotin, Gaucelm Faidit, Walther van de Vogelweide, Peire Vidal, Gautier de Coircy, Peire Cardenal, Neidhart van Reuental, Theobald 1 of Navarre, Alfonso X el Sabio, Guiraut Riquier, Adam de la Halle, Franco of Cologne, Dinis, King of Portugal, John Kukuzelis, Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut, Jacopo da Bologna, Francesco Lardini, Jacob Seneches, Solage, Johannes Ciconia, Ovon Wolkerste, Leonel Power, J Dunstable





Liturgical drama

Renaissance period (1400-1600)

Many new instruments were invented during the renaissance period. Some of the instruments used include

String: viol, lyre, irish harp, hurdy-gurdy, cittern, mandore, and lute, harpsichord, virginal

Woodwinds: double reed shawm, reed pipe, hornpipe, bagpipe, panpipe, transverse flute, recorder

Brass: slide trumpet, wooden cornet, valveless trumpet, sackbut

Percussion: triangle, Jew’s harp, tambourine, bells, rumble-pot, various kinds of drums

Notable Composers: Oswald von Wolkenstein, Leonel Power, John Dunstable, Gilles Binchois, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, Walter Frye, Antoine Busnois, Loyset Compère, Alexander Agricola, Jacob Obrecht, Josquin des Prez, Heinrich Isaac, Jean Mouton, Pierre de La Rue, Martin Agricolan, Antoine de Févin, Antonius Divitis, Antoine Brumel, Philippe Verdelot, Clément Janequin, Nicolas Gombert, Thomas Crecquillon, Adrian Willaert, John Taverner, Constanzo Festa, Cristóbal de Morales, Christopher Tye, Thomas Tallis, Hans Newsidler, Pierre de Manchicour, Claude Goudimel, Jacob Clemens non Papa, Cipriano de Rore, Gerard van Turnhout, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Claude Le Jeune, Orlande de Lassus, Andrea Gabrieli, Giaches de Wert, Johannes de Fossa, Ivo de Venton, William Byrd, Balduin Hoyoul, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Giovanni de Macque, Luca Marenzio, Giovanni Gabrieli, Philippe Rogier, Carlo Gesualdo, John Dowland, Thomas Campion, John Cooper, Michael Praetorius, Orlando Gibbons


Baroque period (1600-1750)

Strings: violino piccolo, violin, viol, viola, viola d’amore, viola pompous, tenor violin, cello, violin, bass violin, contrabass, lute, theorbo (which often played the basso continuo parts), archlute, mandora, bandora, angélique, mandolin, cittern, Baroque guitar, harp and hurdy-gurdy.

Woodwinds:  Baroque flute, chalumeau, cortol (cortholt), dulcian, musette de cour, Baroque oboe, rackett, recorder, bassoon

Brass: cornett, natural horn, Baroque trumpet, tromba da tirarsi, flatt trumpet, serpent, sackbut, trombone

Keyboards: clavichord, tangent piano, fortepiano (an early version of the piano), harpsichord, pipe organ

Percussion:  timpani, snare drum, tambourine, castanets

The Baroque period saw the development of opera

Notable Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, Tomaso Albinoni, François Couperin, Giuseppe Tartini, Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel



Classical period (1730-1820)

Music in the classical period tends to be much more standardised (string quartets). The remarkable development of ideas in science and philosophy (Descartes’ rationalism, and theories such as Newton’s physics) were already established in public consciousness and perfectly illustrate this socio-cultural trend: structures should be well-defined and be both well-articulated and ordered.


Strings: violin, viola, cello, double bass

Woodwinds: basset clarinet, basset horn, clarinette d’amour, Classical clarinet, chalumeau, flute, oboe, bassoon, recorder

Brass: buccin, ophicleide (a replacement for the bass serpent, the precursor of the tuba), natural horn, trombone

Keyboards: clavichord, fortepiano (the harpsichord fell out of use towards the end of the 1700’s)


Notable Composers: Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Luigi Boccherini, Muzio Clementi, Antonio Salieri, Leopold Mozart, Johann Christian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Luigi Cherubini, Carl Maria von Weber


sonata, trio, string quartet, symphony, solo concerto


Romantic Period (1820-1910)

Strings: violin, viola, cello, double bass, orchestral harps

Brass: ophicleide, tuba, euphonium (tenor tuba), saxophone

Keyboard: modern piano

Woodwinds: basset clarinet, basset horn, clarinette d’amour, classical clarinet, chalumeau, flute, oboe, bassoon, contrabassoon (or kontrafagott), recorder, piccolo, bass clarinet

Percussion:  xylophones, snare drums, celestes (a bell-like keyboard instrument), bells, triangle

Other: wind machines (for sound effects)

Notable Composers: Johann Strauss II, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Antonin Dvořák, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Giacomo Puccini, Jean Sibelius


Modern Music (1910-present time)

amplified electric guitar, electric bass, ondes Martenot


Popular music

Popular music (or: music of the people)


Blues, originated around the 1870s in the Deep South of the United States, from African Music traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals.

The first reports about Blues music emerged in the early 20th century, the first sheet music was published in 1908. The invention of the phonograph in 1877, and radio further expanded its influence.