Did humans discover music, or did humans invent music?Did humans discover music, or did humans invent music? This question has been bouncing around my head recently. Did we discover or invent...

Did humans discover music, or did humans invent music?

Did humans discover music, or did humans invent music? This question has been bouncing around my head recently. Did we discover or invent music? Obviously we discovered the principles of simple harmonic vibration and the properties of certain objects that produce pleasant notes (including our vocal chords). But did we invent music? Did we invent the dancing, spinning, beautiful combination of those basic sounds? Is music a property of the universe or is it a creation of our minds?

Perhaps this is a silly question. I don't know. But I am going round and round and can't find an answer. What do you think?



What do you think?

Expert Answers
e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is going to depend on how we define music, as pointed out above. 

The answer, for me, is that human music was invented by humans.

If we want to expand our definition of music to include bird song, whale song, and plethora of rhythmic and melodic aspects of nature, I think we would end up saying that music was discovered but we'd also be washing out our definition of music. We'd just be talking about pleasant sounds...

I think the point made suggesting that music is a combination of invention and discovery, a recombining and  ordering of pre-existing elements of our world is an interesting one. But isn't invention always, by necessity, an act of novel recombination and ordering of pre-existing elements? 

The wheel was an invention even if it was made out of materials that already existed, right? There is an element of discovery to all invention. Yet, because the product of that invention brings into being something that did not exist in its final form before, we call this an originary act, a creation, an act of invention. 

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that it is a little of both.  Humans discovered the sounds of nature but they also invented their own music.  We invented terms and conditions for music.  We discovered that different objects make different sounds.  That discovery led to the invention of musical instruments.  I don't think the  two can really be separated.  It has to be a little bit of both.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that they invented it.  Sure, the world is full of sounds.  Some of them are pretty and some aren't.  But none of them conform to the kinds of formalized systems of sound that we call music.  Bird calls are beautiful, but they're not music.  There are lots of sounds in the world, but only humans make music.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A little of both, I think. Humans probably "discovered" that certain sounds and rhythms were pleasant, possibly by accident. Then they probably started experimenting with different ways to make music, which led to the invention of instruments, and then things became more and more complex after that.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think people imposed order on sounds to make music in the same way we imposed order on images to make art. They were there already, but people order them in such a way as to create music. As others have pointed out, this is a fantastic discussion question.

lucy26423 | Student

I believe humans did both because as following years music was discovered by pleasent sounds to the human ears and as time progressed we invented styles of music as jazz, clasical, marches, rock, country, etc.

thommyberlin | Student

The process of composing music is synthesizing various sounds, rhythms, arriving somewhere new. A very HUMAN activity. Chimpanzees can't dance, for instance.
And Math before Music? I think not. Quite the other way 'round. ;)

nice question!

overworked | Student

This comes back to the old debate, creation or evolution.

Personally i believe that humans discovered music, but God created it. In the bible in the book of Genesis 4:21 "And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ".

This is what the bible says.

nikitasingh | Student

i think they first discovered the numerous sounds in their surroundings and then tried to create or invent their own musi . it is seriously a little of both of them . i dont think humans could have invented music without listening or discovering it.

frizzyperm | Student

Wow, what a question. Does the babbling brook make music? Do the singing birds make music? Who knows? 

You linked to a beautiful Mozart concerto. I will reply with a link that shows that people are not equally gifted in music. We are not all the same. An elephant stepped on most peoples' ears, but a few people are surrounded by with music. And a very few people have music simply welling up inside them. 


But where does it come from? Do they create it independently or do they pluck it from the air around them? Sheesh. I have no idea. Maybe we don't have the right vocabulary to find the answer. But if I had to give an instinctive answer, then I think they take it from their surroundings. I think music is part of mathematics. It is part of the universe's structure and some peoples' minds simply reverberate with nature's patterns. They are in tune with the universe.

Lucky, lucky them.