Musical instruments evolution from 12th century to modern times

Musical instruments have always dominated human culture since time immemorial. Practically they arose by chance from the observation of some acoustic properties of materials. The first instrument being a pair of sticks which when struck together, produced a rhythmic sound to songs and dances.

With time, more sophisticated forms were made. Wind instruments being one of them. Early humans used bamboo tubes which when clapped together imitated the songs of birds. The evolution continues today with other possibilities in the future.

The 12th century, the time of Marie de France creative work, was the transition era from plainsong to polyphony. Many french composers are also famous in the epoch, such as Adam de la Halle (c1237-c1288) (probably the most famous of the French trouvère composers and poets), Guillaume de Machaut (c1300 – April 1377) and others. The era was followed closely by the Bronze Age. The low boiling point of bronze allowed it to be cast into different shapes. Rounded forms formed the gong which could produce high pitch sound. Ultimately, the gong gave rise to heavy bells which produced sustainable sounds. These bells were rung by a selected group of men in the village. During the 16th century, the single-player carillon was developed from the keyboard mechanism.

The medieval musical instruments can be devided into 3 big parts:

  • woodwind
  • percussion
  • and string instruments
As you can see there are no keyboards in the list, real keyboard musical instruments appeared some time later. Organs can be included into woodwind category. Organetto (portative organ) appeared in 13th century. And regal organ first appeared in 14th century.

The bow and the arrow was the next military tool to be developed into a musical instrument. When struck by a finger, the string on the arrow produced a definite pitch. Several strings of different lengths were tied on a flat board to increase the radiation of the sounds. This ultimately formed the harp.

A keyboard with a set of strings then gave birth to the harpsichord during the 15th century. Since then there has always been a revival of this instrument. The modern version being the guitar. The string could also be plucked using a hard piece of metal to produce even more magnified sounds. This led to the evolution of the clavichord, followed the forte-piano and eventually the pianoforte, which stands as the most common of all modern musical instrument available today.

A better technique was then developed after observing that all the available instruments produced decaying rhythms. Strings of one bow were joined across the strings of another bow to produce a variety of sustained sounds. This later gave rise to the �stringed bow’ which made an easier access of the instrument by attaching only a few strings. Finally, there was an instrument which imitate today’s guitar. With a soundboard and strings running across and a bridge-like structure linking the strings. These formed the viols which has evolved to modern violins, cellos and violas.

Next came the wind instruments which were available in three varieties all of them involving at least a tube and a horn. Initially, a flaring horn of corn shell was blown through a small hole using vibrating lips to produce a musical sound. This later evolved to form the brass horns and the trumpets. This were later refined by adding valves inside to produce a controlled pitch.

A natural bamboo pipe was by itself a musical instrument. With one of its ends closed by the natural partition, produced musical tunes by blowing across the top of the open tube. A keyboard and a few more bellow blowers were introduced to form the tube organ. Today tube organs can comprise of more than 10,000 different pipes. Adding holes on the side of the pipes later formed the recorder and ultimately the flute. One end of the bamboo pipes could also be partially closed using a thinner object usually a bamboo reed to form a forerunner which is today's clarinets and instruments such as the oboes.

The 19th century saw the evolution of the percussion. The kettledrum being the original percussive instrument. It arrived in the early 13th century as war drum. It was often used to complement the bass sound of the trumpets. In the 18th and 19th century, more percussion instruments were introduced. Common ones being the cymbals or the triangles. The 20th century became dominated with percussion instruments. They play a fundamental role even in modern society. For instance, in military parades, a strike on the bass drum holds the soldiers at a common step and uniform movement.

The modern techniques being electronically operated creates room even for greater possibilities in the future. The cochlear implant being on the front line. It will allow sounds to be converted into electrical signal that is fed to the auditory nerves that leads to the brain.

Possibilities can be far outreaching to the extent that humans will be simply linked together by a simple radio that allows the listener to enjoy music directly from the conveyor without necessarily being converted into sound.