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The Evolution of Music: How Music has Changed

Updated on February 13, 2015
Music has been composed and recorded in books for thousands of years. This shows humanity's appreciation for music.
Music has been composed and recorded in books for thousands of years. This shows humanity's appreciation for music. | Source

Is Music an Organism?

First it started off with our ancestors attempting to create music with their voice or simple instruments. Now, there are numerous genres of music all over the world in every culture. How did this happen?

Music is like an organism: both are constantly evolving, adapting and changing. When a special artist with a unique style starts topping the charts, others will try to imitate and mimic in order to pursue success. After a while, this style becomes a large genre with various artists involved in the industry. As this starts happening, music keeps evolving sprouting out into different branches of styles, genres and types. This is the evolution of music.

However, it was only in the last few centuries that music rapidly changed. Before, it took centuries for music to make a noticeable change. Now, it only takes a few years before the style of popular music became obviously different. How has music changed?

1400 BC - Hurrian Hymn No.6

The Hurrian Hymn No.6 is the oldest known melody. It was discovered in the 1950s in Ugarit, Syria. It was preserved for 3400 years on a clay tablet. Not much else is known about it hence its elderly age.

Musically, this piece only uses one type of instrument. The melody is fairly simple and repetitive. Glissando (a rapid slide through a series of consecutive tones) was commonly used, along with "drum role" effects. Towards the end, there was a difference in volume. More than one sound was playing at the same time which showed that this piece may have been a duet. This hints how music may have had a social impact even in those times.


700 AD - Jieshi Diao Youlan (Solitary Orchid)

This piece is the oldest known Chinese composition. It is composed during the Tang Dynasty. It is possibly the oldest surviving piece in the Far East. This piece is written for the "guqin" (a chinese instrument).

This piece is known for its mysterious sound which sounds modern to new listeners. Its use of microtone also makes it memorable. Like the Hurrian Hymn No.6, it is fairly simple and repetitive. It also contains occasional glissando, but lacks the drum role effect that the Hurrian Hymn had. In 2,000 years, the music remained fairly similar but there was a wider range in tone and volume. Some features were kept such as simplicity, repetition, etc.

1700 AD - Invention No.1 by Johann Sebastian Bach

Invention No.1 is perhaps the most famous Baroque song. The Baroque period is a period of time where art was exaggerated and clear details were used to create drama and tension. Bach is one of the most famous composer from this period of time who composed many songs including Invention (No.1-15), Fugue and Toccata and Minuet in G.

This music is a lot more busy and fast compared to the previous pieces. This piece definitely uses a lot of repetition, a lot more than the other pieces. It has a more definite beat. This piece is played with a Harpsichord, a much larger and complex instrument. Some musical effects were used such as Mordents and inverted Mordents which made the pace of the song faster and more rapid.

1800 AD - Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven

Für Elise is perhaps one of the most recognizable song in the world. This melody was composed in the Classical period, by Beethoven. Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert were the most notable composers during the Classical period.

Für Elise was written for the Violin but Piano covers were also very popular. Instruments were gradually more complex with wider ranges in tone and volume. Rhythm, pitch and tempo were varied throughout the whole song which makes the whole song more complex. However, repetition was still kept. There was an obvious mood change halfway through. Trills, glissando and rapid increase in pitch were some musical effects that were introduced. Many of these effects were not present in the previous pieces.

1965 AD - Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan

One of the greatest hits of all time, this song has voice unlike the previous tracks. However, most of the singing is more like talking. There is also simple harmony. The melody still remains quite repetitive. Not many instruments were used. A constant beat was kept. The overall piece was still busy and fast.

1975 - Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

This is when music really gets upbeat and energetic. Hence the use of computers and software, some noises are distorted which can create a special effect which other songs lack. This also make the overall piece sound less organic. This effect is maintained even until today. There are a lot more mood changes. Meanings and messages are conveyed rather indirectly. The interpretation is less clear. 90s songs usually hide a deep and powerful message. Many instruments were used.

1992 - I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

Although this song is originally by Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston's cover was much more famous. This song was a huge hit well known for the unbelievable power.

Musically, this song contains a lot more power and pure voice than the other songs. The message is a lot clearer and repeats certain phrases frequently. The mood remained the same, although it started off with no instruments. The use of instruments was straightforward and simple. We can see that music gained a deep meaning at this time.

2000 - Say My Name by Destiny's Child

From this point, music changes very rapidly. The beat is much faster and it's much more busy. As technology starts developing, music is bound to start changing too. Lots of sound effects and overlapping vocals. This song uses the same phrase over and over, repeating the same message again and again.

2005 - Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani

This song is not a new tune to music enthusiasts of 2005. The song is known for the neat and addicting rhythm and beat. The music is noted to lose meaning and it is definitely faster and busy. Many moments of repetition and not a deep message is conveyed through the song. The lyrics are very random and do not communicate any clear meaning.

2007 - Irreplaceable by Beyoncé

This song is a beautiful song sung by Beyoncé. It is the biggest hit in 2007, according to the Billboard End Year Chart. The tune boasts strong vocals. The guitar-driven melody and the catchy hook earns its place in the charts and has received many positive feedback and reactions. The message in the art is much stronger than the more recent songs.

2008 - TiK ToK by Ke$ha

This song was the biggest hit in 2008. There is a massive change in this song. This song received both positive and very negative reviews. Some described it as "infectious and begs to dance" whilst many other describe it as "irrelevant", "annoying" or "lacked vocal skills". The song had no real meaning and most of it was simple singing with some dramatic talking accompanied by a very busy computer-generated track.

2010 - Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye

This song changed massively. The chart-topper features a very quiet intro with minimal backing track which sprang in volume as the chorus approached. The song was sang with emotion and passion and was laced with a good melody and message which made it a cherished piece amongst music critics.

2012 - Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

This controversial song received mixed reviews with some describing the track as, "fun and cheerful", whilst some complained that the track "didn't demonstrate any meaning or vocal skills". You may notice that music changed rapidly as it started to lose meaning and morals. The music was faster and busier.

2014 - All About that Bass

This song generally received positive reviews. At this point, music is a lot faster, busier; there is less meaning but lyrics are fun and playful which the younger generation seem to enjoy.

We can see that music has changed massively over time. It was a simple or fairly easy piece that evoked emotions and feelings that told stories and taught lessons but over time, it has lost meaning and the later generations are making music that are more fun and playful, and less artistic. The was the change of music.

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