History of Music- A Complete Guide

Music: A Complete Guide

The art of assembling sounds with time to create a composition is called music. To put it simply, music is a celebration of sounds in the form of melodies, harmonies, and symphonies. It is one of the few common elements to all societies and all civilizations across the world. For a long time, music has been used across the globe as a mode of transcending emotions and feelings through sounds. Music has been used as a means of story-telling, as seen repeatedly through musical theatre and Broadway productions; a means of entertainment, of poetry through melodies; music has prevailed in all cultures and all societies since the beginning of time. This article is all about the History of Music.

Music: The Word

The word music has its origins from the Greek word ‘Mousike,’ which means the art of the Muses, which indicates that the word has its roots in ancient Greek mythology, where the Muses were the goddesses of literature, science, and arts. They were thought to be the source of all knowledge personified as poetry, songs, and myths. 

Elements of Music

To give a particular definition to music, it is essential to be aware of the aspects of music, such as creating a musical composition, its criticism, the study of the history of music, and the aesthetic examination of the composition. Since each musical composition is an individual entity and different from others in the inspiration that led to its creation, emotions, and aesthetics, it is very difficult to describe music in one definition. To make this somewhat more manageable, music is understood in terms of its key elements that are common to all compositions. These elements are the pitch; rhythm, including the qualities like tempo, meter, and expression; sonic qualities that are also sometimes called the color of the composition, like timbre and texture, and also the dynamics of the musical composition, that is to say, whether it is soft or loud.

  1. Pitch: This is the quality that makes it possible to judge the sounds as high or low. The higher sounds have a more fantastic pitch than the softer sounds. 
  2. Rhythm: Derived from the Greek word rhythms that means regularly periodic motion or symmetry, rhythm is the aspect of music related to but is also different from the meter, beats, and pulse. Rhythm could be defined as the pattern or how one or more than one beat is compiled together in a group. A relation can be established between a strong beat and two or more weak beats (polyrhythm). The musical compositions are created with several different kinds of rhythmic patterns. The rhythm is simplified into the definition that states them to be a pattern of musical sounds and silences, dance steps,, and even the poem’s meter.
  3. Tempo: To put it simply, the tempo is the number of beats per minute in a composition. It is the speed or the pace of a musical composition. A metronome is a device that helps musicians to keep track of the tempo.
  4. Meter: The recurring patterns of beats in a musical composition is referred to as its meter. It measures the number of pulses between one or more repeatedly regular accents like bars and beats.
  5. Articulation: An essential musical parameter, articulation defines how a single note is sounded. It refers to the shape of the sound’s envelope, determining how the sound changes over time and its length. The articulation of the sound has its effects on the dynamics of the musical composition.  
  6. Dynamics: The dynamics of musical composition are referred to as the variations in its loudness and softness. However, musical dynamics extend beyond just the loudness and the softness of the music. They include the qualities like texture and timbre.
  7. Texture: The texture of a composition determines how melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are combined to put together a musical composition.
  8. Timbre: The sound quality of a musical note that distinguishes one sound from the other is called the timbre of the musical note. Often said to be the tonal quality of a sound or the tonal color of a note, timbre is the quality that distinguishes a vocal or choir sound from a sound produced by a musical instrument.
  9. Tempo Rubato: Also known as the rhythmic freedom of a musical composition, tempo rubato is the quality of a composition that allows the speeding up or slowing down of the rhythm of a composition by the will of the performer or the soloist or the conductor to bring out a different expression from the composition.

Musical Compositions

Musical compositions are of various kinds. These can be categorized as songs, tunes, and symphonies, etc. All musical compositions involve melodies and harmonies. Melodies or singular melody or the tune is a linear arrangement of musical notes that a listener perceives as an individual identity. Finally, harmony is said to be the process by which individual sounds or the superpositions of those unique sounds are analyzed while hearing. This is usually using concurrently occurring frequencies, pitches, tones, and chords. 

Musical compositions are of varying kinds. In more modern and traditional music, compositions revolve around the process of songwriting, wherein poetry was set to music and rhythm to be sung in a particular melody. Classical music, however, involves orchestration or large ensembles wherein the composer or other musicians perform the musical compositions. In classical music, the compositions involve composers arranging an array of musical notes in the form of notations as sheet music or a music score. The musical arrangement may or may not vary for different instruments, having a foreground melody and accompanying sounds that express the composition. Musical compositions can be solely instrumental, solely vocal, or involve instrumentation and vocal sounds such as songs.

Musical Theory

Music theory is concerned with describing how music or musical compositions are made. This involves knowledge of the musical notations, tuning systems, and other sonic phenomena, including silence related to the musical composition. Music theory also includes the methods and concepts used by the composers while creating the musical compositions.

History of Music

History of Music is the discipline that studies music from a historical point of view. The study focuses on the evolution of music and the different musical genres with time.

  • Western Classical Music

With its cultural roots set deep in Europe, western classical music is known for its beautiful and complex compositions. The composers of western classical music have composed large orchestral ensembles with several instrumental and vocal arrangements. 

Classical music is divided into several eras throughout the time. These eras are as follows.

  • Medieval Era (1150 – 1400): The medieval era represents the music from medieval times or the Middle Ages. The first and the longest recorded musical era of western classical music. The medieval era is divided into three sub-periods, early medieval, high medieval, and late medieval periods. The music composed during this period was largely written to be played at church. The music notations find their origin in the medieval era of music, which allowed the composers to write the music on a music sheet to easily record their compositions.

  • Renaissance (1400 – 1600): This era saw the development of musical compositions that were free from medieval restrictions and constraints. The music in this era was permitted more musical freedom in terms of varying harmonies and rhythmic variations. However, the rules regarding melodic counterpoints became more and more restrained. Music in this era became a means of personal expression and not just of religious significance. Secular music, though, derived inspiration from the sacred musical compositions and vice versa. The courts employed composers and virtuosos to compose the music for the recreation of the royals. Several genres of music, such as masses, dances, songs, etc., flourished during this era of music.

  • Baroque (1600 – 1750): This era in the history of western classical music saw the rise in the practice of writing musical compositions in a specific key signature, which continued to be used excessively in the creation of musical compositions for ages. The professional musicians in this era were expected to be excellent improvisers of both solo and accompanying melodies. Therefore, baroque concerts primarily involved instruments such as violin or harpsichord; and brass instruments like cello, double bass, and viola.

    During the Baroque era of music, the composers expanded musical compositions in terms of complexity, size, and extent. The compositions now included mixed vocal and instrumental performances in operas, which were the earliest versions of what today is known as musical theatre. These compositions also included cantatas and oratorios. The solely instrumental arrangements were called concertos and sonatas. The composers, however, still composed symphonies with added musical techniques and details. The Baroque era is one of the significant musical eras that is popularly studied and performed. Among the many notable composers from this era are Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Dieterich Buxtehude, Schutz, Handel, Tartini, Henry Purcell, etc. The most famous of their compositions include:
    • Bach’s Cello Suite
    • Bach’s Well-Tempered
    • Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
    • Handel’s Water Music
    • Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata
    • Schutz’s Seven Last Words 
    • Buxtehude’s Nineteen Organ Preludes
    • Henry Purcell’s Abdelazer Suite
  • Classical Era (1750 – 1830):  

The era that falls between the Baroque and the Romantics era of music, the classical era saw the musical compositions become lighter and more conspicuous than the compositions from the Baroque period. The music from this period usually has clear melodies with accompanying subordinate chordal arrays. The size of the orchestra grew as the length of musical compositions expanded with the addition of more instrumental variety and contrasting arrangements within a composition. In addition, instruments such as the harpsichord were replaced by better-sounding pianos that used leather-covered hammers instead of quills to pluck the strings, producing a louder, clearer and better-projecting sound. 

The compositions during this period also included instrumental symphonies, concertos, and sonatas, along with new styles such as string quartets, quintets, and octets that were performed only by using string instruments such as the violin, cello, viola, and double bass. Virtuosos in their instruments performed solo concertos. Concertos were being written for all instruments, from pianos to string instruments like the violin and the viola and even the wind instruments like flute and clarinet. The vocal compositions included choir performances and opera.

Some notable composers from this era of music include great names such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was not only a child prodigy but also one of the best-known musical geniuses. He wrote his first composition at the age of six that he performed at two imperial courts. Despite his early death, Mozart was a brilliant composer who wrote over 600 compositions, including several symphonies, concertos, and sonatas for violin, piano, and the wind instruments, string quartets, quintets, and octets, and several brilliant operas, Don Giovani and Figaro’s wedding being his most celebrated operas. Among other notable names are Ludwig Van Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Antonio Salieri, Clementi, etc.

Some of the most famous compositions from this period are as follows.

  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart
  • Mozart’s Don Giovani overture
  • Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart
  • Mozart’s symphony number 25
  • Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata
  • Fur Elise by Beethoven
  • Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
  • Haydn’s surprise symphony
  • Schubert’s 8th Symphony 
  • Paganini’s 24 Caprices
  • Romantic Era (1830 – 1920):

This era in music is divided into two periods. Early Romantic (1830 – 1860) and Late Romantic (1860 – 1920). The music from the Romantic era of music represents musical intellect and artistry. The composers from this era of music created emotional, individualistic, dramatic compositions. They often had an underlying theme to the music. These compositions were often inspired by literature, nature, and even fine arts like paintings and sculptures. The notable composers from this era are Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bruckner, Brahms, Liszt, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky Korsakov, and many more. Their compositions were frequently inspired by nature, poetry, and even art. For example, Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee was inspired by the bees, as the name of the piece suggests. Similarly, Debussy’s Claire de Lune was inspired by the moon, and Finland inspired Sibelius’ violin concerto. 

Some notable compositions from this period are as follows.

  • Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake
  • Debussy’s La Mer
  • Debussy’s Claire de Lune
  • Sibelius’ Violin Concerto
  • Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
  • Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Number 2
  • Verdi’s Nabucco
  • Rimsky – Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee
  • Brahms Hungarian Dance
  • Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 
  • Post-World-War Era (1920 – Present): The post-world-war era saw the rise in compositions inspired by more modern musical forms and styles, however, still holding to the spirit of classical music. Composers like Philip Glass tried to incorporate elements inspired by modern music into his symphonies. The composers of today compose independent compositions and compose movies for soundtracks for cinematic productions; for example, Hedwig’s theme by John Williams for the soundtrack of Harry Potter films is an example of classical music in film culture. Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack for the game of thrones series is another example of the same, with the light of the seven being one of his most famous pieces from the game of thrones soundtrack.
  • Modern Music

With time classical music of the past eras evolved while still adhering to some of its traditional methods and techniques of putting poetry to music and rhythm to make songs. While many genres grew around songwriting, instrumental music flourished with artistic improvisation and brass instruments to create light-hearted music for entertainment in the post-world war as jazz. With the advent of new electronic technologies, radio broadcasting, and mass marketing of musical recordings and devices like gramophones and cassette players, a significant increase was noticed in people listening and making new music. The newly available technologies also lead to the formation of new styles and genres of music. A musical genre or style can simply be defined as a category where musical pieces that have a similar set of principles and conventions can be put together and be identified as one. 

Some of the popular genres in music today are:

  • Rock: Originally called Rock and Roll, Rock is one of the most popular genres of music. The genre started to develop around the 1940s around the second world war. It later flourished into a range of intermediate styles around the 1960s, mainly in Britain and the United States. Many subgenres developed from Rock in the later years. These are:
    • Blues-Rock
    • Alternative Rock
    • Country Rock
    • Folk Rock
    • Raga Rock
    • Indie Rock
    • Punk Rock
    • Jazz-Rock
    • Psychedelic Rock
    • Rap Rock 
    • Progressive Rock
    • Grunge etc.

Some of the prominent artists of the Rock genre are The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Band, Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Queen, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hozier, etc.

  • Pop Music: This genre of music originated across the United Kingdom and the United States around the mid-1950s. Pop music developed from Rock music, a form that was more accessible, transient, and commercial. The songs from this genre were short to a medium length, about three to four minutes long. Repeating hooks and choruses are an identifying characteristic of this genre. Some of the most famous pop artists are Bing Crosby, Michael Jackson, Cher, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, etc. Pop music also influenced many subgenres like Latin pop and K-pop in the later years. Artists like Shakira put Latin pop on the map with great songs such as Suerte. With songs like ‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY K-pop or Korean pop made it to the music front. The Korean boy groups like BTS have kept that up, currently the most prominent band globally, along with other K-pop artists like BLACKPINK, NCT, SHINee, EXO, etc.

  • Hip Hop Music: Popularly known today as rap music, hip hop developed from its parent genre of Disco. However, it became an independent genre of its own. It originated among the African American and Latin American communities of the eastern states of the United States, specifically around the Bronx, New York City, in the 1970s. The characteristic elements of Hip Hop music include features like sampling beats and basslines from originally existing records, beatboxing, etc. Some essential artists of Hip Hop culture include groups like Tupac Shakur, N.W.A, D-12, Biggie, aka The Notorious BIG, etc. 

  • Jazz: Originated amongst the African American community of New Orleans, Louisiana, around the late 19th and early 20th century, jazz music is characterized by complex chords, polyrhythms, blues and swing musical notes, and quick improvisations. Jazz music combined brass bands with Biguine, quadrilles, and polyphonic improvisations Jazz has since been recognized as one of the major forms of musical expressions. Some notable jazz artists are Eubie Blake, Albert Gleizes, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Chet Baker, Count Basie, etc.

  • Reggae: This style was invented in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The song ‘Do the Reggae’ by Toots and the Maytals was the first to use the word reggae, giving the genre its name. Reggae combines the musical elements of other genres such as jazz, R&B, Blues, etc. Some notable artists from this genre are Jackie Jackson, Bob Marley and The Wailers, The Upsetters, etc.

Some other genres of modern popular music are:

  • Soul Music
  • Country Music
  • Reggae
  • Blues
  • R & B 
  • Folk Music
  • Electronic Dance Music
  • Gospel Music
  • Disco
  • Trance etc.


  1. What are some potential careers in the music industry? One can pursue the following careers in the music industry.
    • Singer
    • Instrumentalists
    • Songwriter
    • Sound producers
    • Composers
    • Conductors
    • Recording Technician
    • Publicist etc.

  2. How much do orchestra musicians get paid?
    Orchestra musicians, on average, make about $75,000 annually.

  3. Who are the highest-paid musicians in the orchestra?
    The soloists and the conductors are usually the highest-paid musicians in the orchestra. The concertmasters are the second-highest-paid musicians. The first chair violinists are usually concertmasters.

  4. How many hours of practice do professional musicians need?
    Professional musicians usually practice for about six to eight hours a day.

  5. What is the essential instrument in an orchestra?
    Violins are usually considered the essential instruments in an orchestra. They have a bright sound that is best suited to play the melodies.
History of Music- A Complete Guide

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