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A Brief History of Music

Heather DunlopGem McintoshCaseyella McQuillan

Music is a form of art in which ideas, sentiments, and emotions can be expressed. It includes a vast array of components, such as texture, timbre, melody, harmony, and rhythm. In various cultures and circumstances, music serves different roles and functions. It can be employed for social connection, therapeutic objectives, cultural identification, artistic expression, amusement, and ritualistic ceremonies. Music has continually evolved and expanded out into many genres, forms, and traditions, reflecting the technological, social, and cultural advancements of many periods in history. Despite its diversity, music continues to be a universal language with the ability to connect people across boundaries and provoke emotions.


Overall, the evolution of music is complex and spans millennia, showcasing its deep-seated connection to human expression, communication, and cultural identity.

Joan Goodnick Westenholz, Maurey, Y. and Seroussi, E. (2014). Music in Antiquity The Near East and the Mediterranean. Berlin, Boston De Gruyter.

Music also holds a prominent place in various ancient cultures, with evidence of musical practices found in civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China.

The earliest musical instruments discovered by archaeologists, such as flutes made from animal bones, date back tens of thousands of years, indicating that music likely played a significant role in early human societies.

The bone flute was discovered in 1995 in the cave of Divje babe near Cerkno during an exavation led by Ivan Turk

(web.archive.org, 2017)

The origins of music are deeply rooted in human history, and its beginnings date back to prehistoric times. While the exact origins of music are challenging to pinpoint, evidence suggests that early humans likely developed rudimentary forms of music through vocalizations, rhythmic movements, and the use of simple instruments such as percussion and flutes.

Texture is the amount of activity throughout a piece of music at any particular time. For instance, the music's texture could be thick or thin, or it could have several layers or none at all.

Timbre refers to all of the characteristics of a musical sound that are unrelated to pitch, loudness, or duration e.g. the difference of note between a violin and trumpet. Each note produced by a musical instrument is an intricate wave made up of several frequencies, which causes timbre.

Rhythm has numerous meanings. It can refer to the basic, repeating tempo of the song or a recurring rhythmic pattern. It can also describe the timing of a single, small ensemble of notes.

Melody is a series of notes with varying pitches arranged in a recognisable, consecutive pattern – i.e. horizontally.

Harmony primarily refers to the arrangement and structure of chords and their relation to one another – it is when more than one pitch sounds simultaneously – i.e. vertically

(Kennedy, M. and Kennedy, J.B., 2012; Schmidt-Jones, C., 2012).


Basic Music Elements

Western classical traditional first, began with music created by the early Christian church, Mediaeval time, spanning between 500 and 1400 AC was dominant with the plain song or Georgian chant which took a dominant position from 1100 AC by Christian monks developing the first forms of the musical notation in Europe to standardise throughout the church. The Renaissance era lasted from 1400 to 1600 and was recognised for greater use of instrumentation, enter melodic lines, and even the earlier forms of bass instruments, along with social dancing. During this time, the notation of music on a staff and other elements began to take form an invention that was made possible by separating the composition of a piece of music from its transmission which was oral and subject to change every time it was transmitted. due to the invention of the musical score, a piece could be from performed without the composers presence.

Beethoven - Für Elise

Blanchard, B. and Cynthia Blanchard Acree (2009). Making Music and Having a Blast! Indiana University Press.Donald Jay Grout (1973). A history of Western music. New York: W.W. Norton.Rice, T., Porter, J. and Goertzen, C. (1999). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music : Europe. CT: Taylor and Francis.

Classical music refers to a style of music that emerged in the Western world during the Baroque period (1600-1750) and continued to thrive through the Classical (1750-1820), Romantic (1800-1910), and Modern (1900-present) periods. It encompasses a wide range of styles and forms, including symphonies, sonatas, concertos, chamber music, and operas. Classical music is often characterized by its complexity, rich melodies, and use of orchestral instruments. Some well-known composers of classical music include Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert.

Western classical music (also called “art music”, “canonic music”, “cultivated music” “serious music” and even-wryly, “real music” and “normal music”). (Nettl, 1995, p3)

Classical Music : Intro

Philip Glass - Opening

Maurice Ravel - Bolero

Schubert - Serenade

Mozart - Lacrimosa

Antonio Vivaldi - Storm

Albright, D. (2004). Modernism and music : an anthology of sources. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Swafford, J. (1992). The Vintage guide to classical music. New York: Vintage Books.

Donald Jay Grout (1973). A history of Western music. New York: W.W. Norton.

Kirgiss, C. (2005). Classical music. North Mankato, Mn: Smart Apple Media.

Classical music has several subgenres, each with its own unique characteristics and historical contexts. Some of the major subgenres of classical music include:1. Baroque: This period (1600-1750) is known for its ornate and elaborate compositions, characterized by intricate melodies and rich harmonies. Key composers include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.2. Classical: The Classical period (1750-1820) emphasized clarity, balance, and symmetry in musical compositions. This era featured well-known composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven.3. Romantic: Romantic music (1800-1910) is characterized by its emotional expressiveness, use of rich orchestration, and strong emphasis on individualism. Composers such as Franz Schubert, Richard Wagner, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Johannes Brahms were prominent figures in this period.4. Impressionist: This subgenre emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, featuring composers like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Impressionist music is known for its use of color, atmosphere, and non-traditional scales and harmonies.5. 20th Century and Contemporary: This subgenre encompasses a wide range of experimental and innovative styles, including neoclassicism, serialism, minimalism, and electronic music. Composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass have made significant contributions to this period.

Classical Music : Subgenres

Steve Reich, is a highly influential American composer associated with the minimalist music movement. Known for his innovative use of repetitive patterns and phase shifting, Reich's compositions often explore rhythm, pulse, and musical process concepts.

Maurice Ravel, was a French composer known for his exquisite craftsmanship and innovative approach to music. He is celebrated for his use of rich harmonies, vivid orchestration, and incorporation of elements from diverse musical traditions.

Joseph Haydn, born in 1732, was a prominent Austrian composer of the Classical period. He is celebrated for his vast musical output, which includes symphonies, chamber music, operas, and choral works. Haydn's significant contributions to the symphony and the string quartet genres have earned him the titles "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet."

George Frideric Handel, was a prominent Baroque composer of German descent who later became a naturalized British subject. He is known for his contributions to various musical forms, including opera, oratorio, and instrumental compositions. Handel's enduring works include the oratorio "Messiah," the Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, and numerous operas and oratorios.

Richard Wagner was a 19th-century German composer known for his operas. He is particularly famous for his epic and innovative operas such as "The Ring Cycle" and "Tristan und Isolde." Wagner's works often feature intricate leitmotifs and lush orchestration, pushing the boundaries of traditional operatic form and harmony. His influence on the development of Western classical music is significant, and his operas continue to be performed worldwide.

Classical music has undergone several major changes throughout its history. The transition points between different stylistic periods in classical music are often marked by significant shifts in musical language, techniques, and forms. Some of the key transitional periods include:1. The transition from the Baroque period (1600-1750) to the Classical period (1750-1820), marked by changes in musical forms, such as the development of the sonata and symphony, and a shift towards clearer, more balanced compositions.2. The shift from the Classical period to the Romantic period (1800-1910), characterized by changes in musical expression, emphasizing emotion and individualism, and a departure from the formal structures of the Classical era.3. The 20th century saw radical changes in classical music, with the advent of new compositional techniques, including atonality, serialism, electronic music, and minimalism. This period brought about a diversification of styles and approaches to composition.Each of these transitions represents a pivotal moment in the evolution of classical music, reflecting changes in cultural, social, and artistic contexts.

Classical Music : Changes

Classical Music : Today's Composers

Kaija Saariaho - Ballade

Thomas Adès - Traced Overhead

Gubaidulina: Offertorium - Concerto For Violin And Orchestra

Arvo Pärt- Spiegel im Spiegel

Adams: Common Tones in Simple Time

Identifying the "top" classical composer of today can be subjective, as there are numerous contemporary composers who have made significant contributions to the genre. Some well-regarded contemporary classical composers include: 1. John Adams: Known for his minimalist and post-minimalist compositions, Adams has created a diverse body of work, including operas, symphonies, and chamber music. 2. Arvo Pärt: A renowned Estonian composer known for his minimalist and spiritual compositions, Pärt's works often explore themes of spirituality and silence. 3. Sofia Gubaidulina: A Russian composer known for her unique blend of modernist and spiritual elements in her compositions, Gubaidulina has received international acclaim for her works. 4. Thomas Adès: An English composer, pianist, and conductor known for his innovative and eclectic style, Adès has gained recognition for his operas, orchestral works, and chamber music compositions. 5. Kaija Saariaho: A Finnish composer known for her electronic and spectral music, Saariaho's works often explore the relationships between sound, space, and timbre. These are just a few examples of contemporary classical composers who have received widespread recognition and have had a significant impact on the genre. It's important to note that the "top" composer may vary depending on individual perspectives and specific areas of interest within classical music.

Ragtime is defined as an assortment of piano music with three or four sections, each with sixteen measures. The composition features a syncopated melody paired with a steady, even duple rhythm.

(Jasen, D.A. and Tichenor, T.J., 2013)

Early Ragtime: 1897-1905The Joplin TraditionPopular Ragtime: 1906-1912Advanced Ragtime: 1913-1917


American pianist and composer Scott Joplin is known as the "King of Ragtime." Joplin's works played a significant role in the late 19th-century popularisation of ragtime music. Joplin wrote many well-known pieces, among of those are "Maple Leaf Rag," "The Entertainer," and "The Easy Winners." These compositions have persisted as American music classics (Reed, A.W., 1973).

Scott Joplin

Tom Turpin

The Joplin Tradition

While the label "folk rag" has been misused in the past, there seems to be a legitimate sub-tradition within the ragtime genre that belongs more in the category of traditional folk art. In addition to written rags, this also includes a collection of performance recordings that provide a far more varied expression than the specific literature of Classic rags (Jasen, D.A. and Tichenor, T.J., 2013).

Early Ragtime: 1897 - 1905

Tin Pan Alley

Ragtime music peaked in popularity and cultural impact from 1906 to 1912. Ragtime was at its peak at this time, when its upbeat melodies and rhythmic syncopation won over listeners from all over America and beyond. James Scott, Joseph Lamb, and Scott Joplin were among the ragtime performers and composers who carried on creating the genre's signature pieces. "The Ragtime Dance," a piece by Scott Joplin that perfectly captured the joy and syncopation of ragtime music, was published in 1906. During this time, Joplin also released "Maple Leaf Rag," which went on to become a classic and a representation of ragtime (Berlin, E.A., 1976)

Irving Berlin

Scott Joplin

Popular Ragtime: 1906 - 1912

Ragtime's popularity peaked about 1912, yet it was not quickly abandoned like contemporary musical trends are. In 1913, ragtime remained immensely popular not just in the United States but also in England and Europe. The magic word rag was still appearing in a lot of the songs that Tin Pan Alley was producing. (Jasen, D., 2020)

Advanced Ragtime: 1913 - 1917

The initial wave of bebop players left a lasting musical and cultural legacy, and they also permanently altered preconceived notions about jazz. The Bebop movement established the pure jazz artist, who was free to follow his interests without being constrained by a readily recognised genre or even a strong, danceable beat, by taking their music out of dance halls and recasting jazz as concert music. In response to Charlie Parker's criticisms, jazz made a formal debut into postmodernism in the 1950s. Before the 1950s, a teleological model of jazz history could be applied pretty easily and accurately; but, by the year 1955, it was almost hard to identify a single trend among jazz musicians (Meeder, C., 2012).

Jazz styles thrived throughout the second half of the 1920s, both in quantity and diversity. The emergence of the popular song style and dance bands of New York, the ragtime and stride piano of the East Coast, the classic New Orleans style of King Oliver, and a repackaging of jazz techniques and approaches to European art music are all suggested by prominent recordings from the 1920s.

Jazz originates from African American communities within 19th century New Orleans. Features of jazz include improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and expressive qualities. Jazz draws from diverse musical traditions including, blues, ragtime and spirituals.

Ragtime music is as important as, if not more influential than, the blues as a precursor to early jazz. In fact, the distinction between jazz and ragtime was so thin in the early years of New Orleans jazz that they were frequently used interchangeably (Gioia, T., 2011).


The African American communities in the southern United States, especially those of the Mississippi Delta area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are where the blues first originated. African Americans' experiences, hardships, and feelings were reflected in the blues, a musical expression that arose from their history of enslavement, injustice, and discrimination.

The Blues originate from African American communities in southern America. Its depressing lyrics convey themes of resiliency, loss, and melancholy. Blues music uses "blue notes" to add emotional depth and typically has a 12-bar or 8-bar chord pattern. The guitar, harmonica, piano, bass, and drums are examples of common instruments. Blues singers are known for their passion and rawness in voice. The genre is still important in culture today and has impacted jazz, rock and roll, R&B, and soul.


(Daniels, D.H., 1985)

Simple melodic structures, catchy lyrics, and passionate vocal delivery defined the early blues. It was frequently played by lone performers using acoustic instruments such the banjo, guitar, and harmonica. The blues gave rise to a number of regional variations over time, each with unique traits and inspirations, such as Delta blues, Chicago blues, and Texas blues. The blues had a significant influence on jazz, rock & roll, rhythm and blues, and soul music, among other musical genres. The blues is still regarded as a significant and influential musical genre today because of its deep emotional resonance, extensive history, and cultural significance.

The blues evolved as a result of several important influences: African Musical Traditions: West African musical traditions, such as call-and-response singing, improvisation, and rhythmic patterns, greatly influenced the development of the blues. The melodic and rhythmic components of the blues derived from these African roots. African American spirituals and work songs, performed by Africans held in slavery on plantations, were the precursors of the blues. These songs provided the blues' lyrical and emotional foundation by frequently expressing themes of grief, hope, and perseverance in the face of hardship. Folk Music and Ballads: The blues were also influenced by European folk music and ballads that were brought to America by European immigrants and settlers. The blues are a musical style that was created by fusing African American musical traditions with elements of European musical forms, such as song structure and instruments. Urban Migration and Industrialization: The blues were greatly influenced by the Great Migration, a large-scale African American migration from the rural South to urban areas in the North at the beginning of the 20th century. The blues flourished in urban settings in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Memphis, where African Americans took their musical traditions with them.

Jazz, country, gospel, and rhythm and blues were the main musical influences on American rock & roll when it first emerged in the early 1950s. Though its exact beginnings are unclear, this is the period when it became recognised as a separate genre.

The beginnings of rock and roll signified a major shift in popular music throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. Developing from a variety of genres that originated mostly on the country's musical margins, it eventually contested social norms as well as prevalent cultural habits. Originally seen as music of teenage rebellion, it gradually came to control American society and symbolises a radical shift in the country's popular music.Rock & roll emerged partly because of radio. Electronic entertainment underwent a significant transformation due to post-war technology advancements (Hall, M.K., 2014).

Rock and Roll

During these formative years, a focus on youth culture, rebellion, and energy emerged, along with the convergence of numerous musical influences and the rise of electric guitar-driven instrumentation. Rock & roll swiftly rose to prominence in popular music and developed further throughout the 1960s and beyond, giving rise to a plethora of subgenres and inspiring performers of all stripes.

Several notable events and performers linked to the origin of rock & roll include:

Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show


The television performances of Elvis Presley, such as his performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," catapulted him into superstardom and cemented rock and roll's status as a phenomenon in popular culture.

Maybellene Chuck Berry


1955 saw the big hits "Maybellene" by Chuck Berry and "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard, which cemented the sound and aesthetic of rock and roll.

That's All Right | Blue Moon of Kentucky Elvis Presley


These tracks contributed to the growth of the rock and roll genre's popularity.

Rocket 88 Ike Turner


This track is sometimes recognised as one of the first rock & roll singles. The song, which has a powerful tempo and distorted electric guitar, is regarded as a turning point in the evolution of the genre.


Musicology means the study of music, with aspects of historical periods and cultures in music. It focuses on how music is structured as a text which to do so, can require a specific language that people involved in pop music wouldn’t understand. Tonic, octave, minim, harmony, flattened fifth, . Musicologists can study music in multiple ways focusing on a part of history, in order of period, the style of music, its structure etc. Musicologists tend to study and analyse classical music as there is more to work with. Pop music can be described as general and basic therefore musicologists tend not to work with this genre.

Adorno was a German philosopher focusing some of work toward musicology, and studied at the Frankfurt School where he was run out of Germany during World War 2 by the Nazis due to his Jewish heritage from his father however returned to his studies at the Frankfurt School, becoming a philosophy professor in 1949. Adorno focused a lot of his writing on the pop culture and pop music as well as the works of radio music as he worked in an office for radio research in his time, this involved his interest. As previously stated, musicology focuses on many aspects of analysing music and Adorno concentrated on the historical and systematic dimensions.


Musicology condemned or ignored pop. Adorno has specific views on popular music as a philosopher of music and has written papers on this subject ‘On Popular Music’. He feels classical music is superior to pop music and stressed that “the whole structure of popular music is standardized” (Adorno, Leppert and Gillespie, 2002). He felt that pop music wasn’t something serious and that it was very uninteresting. He mentioned that the 32-bar chorus, continuous themes, roughly 3-minute long and the typical dance music is repetitive, uncreative and rigid.

Popular Music

In conclusion, we can see the different aspects of music and how this can be analysed, pop out of all genres are hardest to work with due to it's standardization however Jazz, Rock n Roll, Blues etc, we looked closer at their background, where it originated, culture based music, as well as time frames and other details. We have also learnt about classical music and the subgenres that lie with it, which makes for an interesting analysis as well as the changes that classical music have faced.


Any Questions?


Adorno, T.W., Leppert, R.D. and Gillespie, S.H. (2002). Essays on music. Berkeley, Calif.: University Of California Press. Albright, D. (2004). Modernism and music : an anthology of sources. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. American Musicological Society (2020). What is musicology? - American Musicological Society. [online] Amsmusicology.org. Available at: https://www.amsmusicology.org/page/whatismusicology Berlin, E.A., (1976). PIANO RAGTIME: A MUSICAL AND CULTURAL STUDY. City University of New York. Blanchard, B. and Cynthia Blanchard Acree (2009). Making Music and Having a Blast! Indiana University Press. Daniels, D.H., 1985. The significance of blues for American history. The Journal of Negro History, 70(1-2), pp.14-23. Donald Jay Grout (1973). A history of Western music. New York: W.W. Norton. Gioia, T., (2011). The history of jazz. Oxford University Press.Hall, M.K., (2014). The emergence of rock and roll: Music and the rise of American youth culture. Routledge.


Author's Name

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Schmidt-Jones, C., (2012). The basic elements of music. Connexions.