The Evolution of Music

If we think about it, the urge to express our feelings arises from our innate need to identify with each other. By projecting our creative and emotional principles through a particular form of expression, such as music, painting or dance, we seek to relate with people and yearn to identify with them. The evolution of music in turn, is being channeled through this need for identification. The very basis of the evolution of music has been our inherent advancement in the understanding of music, as well as our advancement in proficiency and technical aspects of music consumption and composition. The conception of music as a form of expression dates back to our most primitive ancestors. This bears testament to the fact that music has been an integral part of our lives from our primal beginnings itself. The urge to produce music itself has been attributed to our innate need to portray our feelings and emotions through some form of expression.


Early musical forms

The most apparent source of inspiration for the creation and conceptualization of music can be cited to be the sounds of nature and everyday life that was around early human beings. Sounds such as those of singing birds, the wind singing in the trees, the sound of waterfalls, rivers, and the sea, are some of the sources of inspiration from where music has been cited to have originated. Out of these, animal sounds have been one of the prominent sources of inspiration for musical sounds as a whole. The first forms of music were almost undoubtedly produced through the vocal chords, as our ancestors started to understand and manipulate their voices in such ways so as to produce pleasing organized/non-organized series of notes.

 There have been several evidences of the ways in which our ancestors started understanding and using music as forms of expression. There have been cave paintings dating back to hundreds and thousands of years, which depict dancing and other community gatherings (which would never have been possible without the presence of music in some form or the other). There have been evidences of crude wind instruments (hollow sticks and bone flutes) to percussion instruments made of substances like wood and animal skin. Early civilizations may have discovered new ways to make musical sounds, through the invention of instruments as well as through their body parts (limbs, mouth). Maybe, what our ancestors did was discover the immense musical potential that nature has, replicating and using it to create their own sounds and interpretations of the same.

Music and community

Most of the music of the ancient times can be attributed to some form of community gathering or some activity which promotes social cohesion. This aspect can also be clearly seen in the way communities and civilizations all over the world use music as a way to promote the feeling of connectedness among members of the community. This influence can also be seen in the present day world, with music generally being approached from the perspective of a group activity. This indicates the innate attribute that music has in bringing people closer, be it in the form of people coming together to make music or to enjoy it as audience. This aspect of social cohesion that exists in music has been integrated into various cultures in sexual, religious as well as ceremonial practices and rites.

Tripped Out Fact: Charles Darwin believed that music actually had a role to play in evolution, even though it had more to do with “sexual selection” than “natural selection”. That is just another way of saying that musicians are more likely to attract a “mate” than others.

Music was respected and pondered upon by our ancestors, who were as perplexed by its enigmatic qualities as we are that they attributed supernatural qualities to it. The immense mystery and awe that we have for music today has been greatly influenced by the high degree of respect and mystery that our ancestors attributed to music as a whole. They considered music to be something that is responsible for higher states of consciousness, which could be used for transcending to other realms of existence and to communicate with higher beings or spirits. This is the crux of the practice of including music in ceremonial practices as well as rituals.

Music and the advent of writing

There were heavy and irreplaceable changes in the way music was produced as well as consumed, with the advent of language and written forms of expression. Our evolutionary advancement (or not) through the conception of language and writing influenced the way music was seen as and produced. Language and writing were used as tools to further the hold and understanding that humans had on music, with the birth of lyrics as well as written music in the form of notes. This was synonymous with the birth of music theory and set standards, such as the advent of scales and ragas (in case of Indian Classical music). These scales, tempos and other standards that were set with regards to music, with the advent of language and writing, were arranged on the basis of their degree of listenability and the innate pleasure it gave to the listener. Musicians could now manipulate these notes and their arrangements in order to produce musical epics and extensively complex song structures. This meant that the people started to understand and manipulate musical tastes and styles, in accordance to the advancements of that age (interpretation of music through language and writing), resulting in the birth of complex patterns and intricate time-signatures in the song-structures. On the other hand, due to the constraints of language and written forms of expression, music has been restricted to a large degree from the completely raw form that used to be expressed in ancient times by our ancestors and previous civilizations.

Music in the age of digitization

The modern age of music was essentially brought about with the advent of mass media and other forms of communication and digitization. Firstly, with the advent of radio, televisions and phonograms, people could watch and listen to their favorite artists without actually having to be present at their concerts. This ultimately led to the commercialization of music as a commodity, with artists vying for the most screen-time or air-time in order to earn money. This has resulted in lowering of respect that humans had for music as a whole, wherein it is treated just like any other normal commodity whose value can be measured by some printed pieces of paper. This is a great fall from the supernatural and social attribution that was associated with music in early times.

 One of the most important changes in consumption as well as creation of music happened with the advent of the internet. Due to the immense amount of information that is available on the internet, it is no longer necessary for people to gather at a particular place in order to reap the pleasure of music, thereby decreasing the social cohesion that can be attributed to music. The internet also gave birth to unnecessary and damaging side-effects such as illegal downloading and piracy. On the other hand, the internet helped in causing a revolution, wherein anyone could access the music of their choice, or learn the instrument of their choice, without having to deal with the pressures of literary proficiency and academic qualifications which have been attributed to music in today’s world. This means that the internet has given us a chance to rekindle the social cohesion and mystery associated with music, instead of treating it like a measurable commodity which can be traded. We have a chance to use the technological advancement that we have achieved to revive the innate respect and mystery that we once associated music with. Maybe, it is time for us to rediscover music and the inherent aspects of social cohesion and supernatural elements which our ancestors knew and respected.

Further Tripping…

{An interesting take on how the evolution of music has been affected by the development of various types of architecture}

The Music Instinct, by Philip Ball (2012) {one of the most comprehensive books on the evolution as well as awesomeness of music} {Check this out if you want to know how musical notations came into being}

{A beautiful take on the uses of music in rituals and in social cohesion as a whole}

About Ashwin Ramesh

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