top of page
  • Writer's pictureArashk Azizi

Which one came up first, music or language?

It can not be said with total confidence that which was the first, music or language. Though much evidence shows that music actually was first and the language added later as a simplified version of communication.

Charles Darwin in his book “The Descent of Man” from 1871 says: “Musical notes were first acquired for the sake of charming the opposite sex”. Of course, the music that Darwin talks about is more like the sounds that animals make to attract the opposite sex or scare a rival, or even feast a victory, not the classical symphonies or 70's rock music.

Though in almost any definition of music, those sounds, especially the singing of the birds will be considered music. it is safe to say that the first music that we humans as a species created would have been something like the sounds that animals create.

But regardless of how the first music sounded, here, I'm trying to indicate if humans first came up with language, or was it the music that we first used to communicate!

Music as a way of communication:

Around 60,000 years ago, humans made a cultural leap and started to produce cave paintings and use jewelry. Probably they started producing music with the same meaning that we have in mind from this era. There is no evidence if humans were able to talk at that time or not.

There is a theory that suggests humans used pitch instead of words to communicate. African and East Asian languages still use pitch to change the meaning of the words today. This can lead us to the time when the pitch was not just a tool to change the meaning of the word, but it was actually the main tool for communication.

The biggest and foremost advantage of using pitch instead of words is communicating from far away. Pitched percussion instruments and ancient flutes and horns, could make sound several times louder than a normal human throat. So they could be used to carry information between farther distances.

What we do know is that from the time humans could record history they had music. Musicians in ancient societies were sacred, they had the task of playing music for rituals, whether religious or medical.

Music in ancient society:

The other task of the musicians in the ancient world was to tell stories in the shape of songs. Music was one of the main ways for people to memorize stories. Music was a way to channel traditional knowledge like legend, myth, and history through the generations.

For primitive humans, music was an essential element in rituals and ceremonies that bound the society to its dead ancestors and its totemic animals or plants. It was used as a means of communicating with the benign or malevolent spirits that controlled the fate of society or individuals.

Music as a hobby in ancient society:

Music in the stone age societies was limited to specialists. Shamans were the only ones who could perform a ceremony or ritual. But there were also many other occasions that would have had music.

There were songs of love, praise, was and satirical songs that a wider society could participate in it. Unison group singing and rhythmic clapping would often accompany the performance of an individual soloist.

First Instruments:

Most probably the first instrument was the human throat. People would use their ability to make sounds and noises to create musical phrases and show their feeling by it. Whether it was fear, love, or anger.

Humans found their first musical instruments in the nature around them. Wood, stone, horn, and bones of the dead animals or humans were the first instruments that humans could make a musical sound out of them.

Eventually, such objects were shaped and elaborated to develop their musical potentials. Around 35,000 years ago, Stone Age people living in today’s south Germany made holes in a vulture’s wing bone and made some kind of flute.

Archeologists have found Paleolithic flutes carved from bones in which lateral holes have been pierced. The Divje Babe flute, carved from a cave bear femur, is thought to be at least 40,000 years old. This is one of the oldest musical instruments discovered till today.

After the human body, percussive instruments were probably the first instruments used by humans, wind and string instruments followed this development of musical instruments.

Every day new discoveries take place around the world. Maybe someday we find enough evidence to make sure which was the first, music or language. But as of today, we can just guess that music has come first!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page