What was the First Instrument in History?

The first instrument in history is a topic that has intrigued musicians and music enthusiasts for centuries. From the earliest civilizations to the modern era, humans have been creating and playing musical instruments to express themselves and bring joy to others. But what was the very first instrument to be invented? Join us as we explore the fascinating history of music and uncover the answer to this intriguing question.

Quick Answer:
The first instrument in history is believed to be the bone flute, which was discovered in the cave of Hohle Fels in Germany and is estimated to be around 40,000 years old. It is a small flute made from a bird’s wing bone, and it has five finger holes and a V-shaped mouthpiece. The bone flute is the oldest known musical instrument in the world, and it represents a significant milestone in the history of human musical expression.

The Emergence of Musical Instruments

The Importance of Music in Early Societies

Religion and Spirituality

Music has always played a significant role in religious and spiritual practices throughout history. In early societies, music was often used as a means of communication with the divine, and it was believed to have the power to heal, protect, and bring people closer to their gods. Many early instruments were used in religious ceremonies and rituals, such as the Egyptian sistrum, which was used to invoke the goddess Hathor, and the Chinese sheng, which was played in honor of the gods.

Social and Cultural Significance

Music also played an important role in the social and cultural life of early societies. In many cultures, music was used to mark important events and celebrations, such as weddings, festivals, and harvest ceremonies. It was also used as a form of entertainment, with traveling musicians and performers often being welcomed into communities to provide music and dance for the people. Music was also used as a means of communication, with songs and chants being used to transmit stories, histories, and cultural traditions from one generation to the next.

The Earliest Known Instruments


The ocarina is a wind instrument that has been around for centuries, with evidence of its existence dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and the Greeks. It is a simple instrument made from clay or ceramic, and it has a distinctive shape that resembles a small, curved horn. The ocarina is played by covering and uncovering holes along its surface, which produces different musical notes.


The drum is one of the oldest known musical instruments, with evidence of its use dating back to prehistoric times. Early drums were made from hollow logs or animal skins stretched over a frame, and they were used for a variety of purposes, including communication, ritual, and entertainment. The drum has a distinctive, resonant sound that can be used to create rhythm and melody, making it an essential component of many traditional music styles around the world.

The Evolution of Instruments throughout History

Ancient Civilizations and Their Musical Innovations

Sumerians and the Lyre

The Sumerians, who lived in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) around 3000 BCE, were among the first civilizations to develop a sophisticated musical culture. They are credited with inventing the lyre, a stringed instrument that consisted of a soundbox, two arms, and a crossbar. The lyre was played by plucking or strumming its strings, and it soon became a popular instrument in many parts of the ancient world.

Egyptians and the Oud

The ancient Egyptians, who lived from around 3100 BCE to 30 BCE, also made significant contributions to the development of musical instruments. One of their most famous creations was the oud, a stringed instrument that is still played in many parts of the Middle East today. The oud is similar in shape to a guitar, but it has a distinctive sound that is produced by its long, thin strings and resonant body.

Chinese and the Guqin

The ancient Chinese also developed a number of musical instruments that have had a lasting impact on global music culture. One of the most famous of these is the guqin, a plucked instrument that has been played since at least the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). The guqin has a unique sound that is produced by its flat, wooden body and silk strings, and it is often played in traditional Chinese music ensembles.

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Europe and the Development of Stringed Instruments

During the Middle Ages, the use of stringed instruments was widespread throughout Europe. These instruments were primarily used in religious settings, and included the lute, mandolin, and the development of the piano.

The Lute and the Mandolin

The lute, which originated in Europe during the 13th century, was a popular instrument during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was typically made of wood, with a body shaped like a pear or a half moon, and had a neck and a fretted fingerboard. The lute was played with the fingers or a plectrum, and was commonly used in court and chamber music.

The mandolin, which is a member of the lute family, also originated in Europe during the 18th century. It has a similar shape to the lute, but is smaller and has four strings. The mandolin is played with a plectrum or fingers, and is commonly used in folk and classical music.

The Development of the Piano

The piano, which was invented in Italy during the 18th century, also played a significant role in the development of stringed instruments during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The piano is a keyboard instrument that is played by pressing keys, which are connected to hammers that strike strings. The piano’s design evolved over time, with improvements made to the keyboard, soundboard, and strings. By the end of the 18th century, the piano had become a popular instrument in Europe, and its popularity continues to grow to this day.

The Modern Era and the Birth of Electronic Instruments

The Theremin and Early Electronic Music

The theremin, invented in the 1920s by Russian inventor Leon Theremin, was one of the first electronic instruments and is considered a pioneer in the field of electronic music. The theremin uses electromagnetic fields to produce sound, and its unique and eerie sound can be heard in many early electronic music compositions.

The Synthesizer and the Digital Age

The synthesizer, first introduced in the 1960s, revolutionized the world of electronic music and paved the way for the digital age of music production. The synthesizer allowed musicians to create a wide range of sounds, from imitations of traditional instruments to entirely new and unique sounds.

The synthesizer has evolved significantly over the years, with new technologies and innovations constantly being introduced. Today, there are countless different types of synthesizers available, each with its own unique features and capabilities. The digital age has also brought about new forms of electronic music, such as techno, house, and hip-hop, which have become some of the most popular genres in the world.

The evolution of electronic instruments has had a profound impact on the world of music, and their influence can be heard in countless different genres and styles of music today. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that electronic instruments will continue to play a major role in the world of music, and will continue to shape and influence the way we create and experience music.

The Impact of Globalization and Technology on Musical Instruments

The Influence of Western Music on Non-Western Cultures

The spread of Western music around the world has had a profound impact on the development of musical instruments in non-Western cultures. As Western music became more widely known and appreciated, traditional instruments in non-Western cultures began to be studied and analyzed by Western musicians and musicologists. This led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the unique qualities and capabilities of these instruments, and in some cases, to their incorporation into Western classical music.

The Adaptation of Traditional Instruments for Modern Use

Advances in technology have also played a significant role in the adaptation of traditional instruments for modern use. For example, electronic devices such as amplifiers and synthesizers have been used to enhance the sound of traditional instruments, making them more suitable for use in modern musical genres such as rock, pop, and hip-hop. Additionally, advances in materials science have led to the development of new instruments and the improvement of existing ones, allowing for greater precision and versatility in sound production.

However, the adaptation of traditional instruments for modern use has not always been without controversy. Some purists argue that the use of technology in traditional music is a form of cultural appropriation, and that it detracts from the authenticity and integrity of the music. Others argue that the use of technology is simply a natural evolution of the instrument, and that it can be used to preserve and promote traditional music in the face of cultural homogenization.

The Enduring Importance of Musical Instruments in Human Culture

Preserving Traditions and Celebrating Diversity

Musical instruments have played a vital role in preserving cultural traditions and celebrating diversity throughout history. Each culture has its unique musical instruments, which reflect its history, customs, and beliefs. For example, the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, is often used to perform traditional Japanese music, such as Min’yō, which are folk songs that have been passed down through generations. Similarly, the djembé, a West African drum, is an essential instrument in many traditional African music genres, such as djembefur, a type of drumming ensemble that originated in the Mandinka people of West Africa.

Moreover, musical instruments have played a significant role in promoting cultural exchange and understanding between different communities. For instance, the sitar, a stringed instrument originating from India, has gained international recognition and has been adapted by musicians from various cultural backgrounds. Similarly, the guitar, which originated in Spain, has become a global instrument, with various styles of music being played on it across the world.

The Future of Musical Instruments in a Changing World

As the world continues to change, the role of musical instruments in human culture remains enduring. However, the future of musical instruments is not without challenges. The increasing use of technology in music production has led to concerns about the preservation of traditional musical instruments and the skills required to play them. Furthermore, climate change poses a significant threat to the production of some traditional musical instruments, such as the rosewood used in making the koto.

Despite these challenges, the importance of musical instruments in human culture is unlikely to diminish. Musical instruments have the power to bring people together, promote cultural exchange, and preserve cultural traditions. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that traditional musical instruments and their associated skills are preserved and passed down to future generations.


1. What is the first instrument in history?

The first instrument in history is believed to be the human voice. Humans have been using their voices to create music and tell stories for thousands of years. The use of the human voice as an instrument dates back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where singing and choral music were highly valued.

2. When was the first instrument invented?

It is difficult to determine the exact date of the invention of the first instrument, as the history of music is long and complex. However, it is believed that the first instruments were created by humans as a way to imitate the sounds of nature, such as the rhythm of a drum or the melody of a bird’s song. Some of the earliest known instruments include drums, flutes, and lyres.

3. Who invented the first instrument?

The identity of the person who invented the first instrument is lost to history. It is likely that the invention of musical instruments was a gradual process that occurred over many generations, as humans experimented with different materials and techniques to create sound. The earliest instruments were probably simple and rudimentary, and their creators may not have even considered them to be true “instruments” in the way that we think of them today.

4. How did the first instrument evolve over time?

As humans continued to experiment with musical instruments, they began to develop more complex and sophisticated designs. Early instruments were often made from natural materials such as wood, bone, and shell, and were often quite basic in their construction. Over time, however, humans developed more advanced techniques for creating and crafting instruments, such as the use of metal and other synthetic materials. This allowed for greater versatility and precision in the sound that could be produced.

5. What was the purpose of the first instrument?

The purpose of the first instrument was likely to create music and enhance human expression. Music has been an important part of human culture for thousands of years, and the development of musical instruments allowed for greater creativity and artistic expression. Early instruments were likely used in religious and ceremonial contexts, as well as for entertainment and personal enjoyment.

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