Where Did Music Come From?
Is music a happy accident? Is this glorious organization of sounds the product of millennia of chance discoveries, trial and error, and so-called evolutionary development? Did vocal music originate from prolonged grunts of early human-like beings? Did instrumental music develop accidentally from a prehistoric hunter becoming fascinated with how his bow twanged after an arrow was unleashed?
The greatest human minds in musicology cannot answer this most basic question: What is the origin of music?
The answer is as inspiring as it is little understood.
Most music historians begin their study of music around the third century a.d. at the earliest, overlooking four millennia of music history—and completely ignoring music’s origin.
The history of “ancient” music needs rewriting, because the greatest source available has been rejected: the Word of God.
Even many professed Bible scholars, though they may reject evolutionists’ happy-accident theory, believe music originated with a descendent of Cain named Jubal (Genesis 4:21). Because they view the Bible as a valid yet flawed historical resource that is not superior or more special than any other historical text, they lend no special credence to what the Bible (and its supposedly biased Jewish authors) says over any other historian’s work.
But if we proclaim to follow Christ, we should—as He said—live by “every word … of God” (Matthew 4:4). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God …” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Bible actually indicates that the first man knew and practiced music. What’s more, music existed long before Adam.
Music Before Man
When God was talking to Job, putting this wise man in his place in comparison to the creative feats of God Almighty, He asked a question that gives insight into history before Earth’s creation. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God asked, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7).
This reveals that God created angels before He created Earth, that they witnessed this magnificent moment, that they shouted for joy, and that they were singing!
Consider how sound exists in this spirit realm. Ezekiel heard the “noise” of the great cherubim (Ezekiel 1:24). The book of Revelation records the lyrics of the angels’ shouting and singing around God’s heavenly throne, not to mention that they are playing instruments in this spiritual dimension.
The Bible reveals that God sings (Zephaniah 3:17). He has always existed—without beginning of days or end of life (Hebrews 7:3). The question then arises, since God has always existed, wouldn’t His attributes—His eyes, hair, hands and voice—have always existed, as well as His infinite wisdom? (see Proverbs 8:22). Surely, therefore, music—or at the very least, the capacity for music—has always existed.
Now, there was a moment when music took on a more institutionalized form. That was with the creation of angels. In them, God created innate musical ability. The chief of this angelic (and musical) creation was the archangel Lucifer.
Ezekiel 28:12-13 relate: “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.”
This is not a physical king, or else the notion of musical instruments being created “in” him makes no sense. This refers to a magnificent, beautiful, wise spirit being, an angel, who was in Eden.
This being’s “tabret” is very similar to a timbrel, or percussion instrument of the Hebrews (the tabret). The phrase “thy pipes” comes from a root meaning something “hollow,” but it is not the word used to describe the typical Hebrew pipes. In fact, the word neqeb is used only here in the Hebrew Bible. It appears this was a unique spirit instrument that required a unique Hebrew word, though similar to the pipes.
The great cherub Lucifer was endowed with musical talents beyond human capability. God told Job the morning stars “sang together.” This means there was ensemble, community and cooperation in music, and Lucifer was of course included. How this must have changed, though, when he rebelled! Imagine how distorted and warped Lucifer’s music became when he turned from God’s way. Just before the description of Lucifer’s fall, Isaiah 14:11 talks about the “noise” of his neballim—another instrument, perhaps like bagpipes—being brought to the ground.
Harmony of the Spheres
After God created angels, He created the material universe. Did you know that music was built into this physical realm? The Hebrews have long understood the idea of the “harmony of the spheres.” This harmony refers to the planets actually being analogous to each other as musical pitches—philosophically in the sense that their distances held the same ratios as between pleasing musical intervals, and literally in the sense that the planets, or spheres, resounded in actual tones.
This belief is now attributed to Pythagoras. Aristotle said that, to the Pythagoreans, “the whole heaven [was] a musical scale and a number.”
In his book Music of the Spheres, science writer Jamie James explained, “Here, in our first encounter with the concept of the musical universe, it is clear that the Pythagoreans did not simply discern congruities among number and music and the cosmos: They identified them. Music was number, and the cosmos was music. … The Pythagoreans conceived of the cosmos as a vast lyre, with crystal spheres in the place of strings.” The spheres were known to be spaced according to the same ratios that existed between frequencies in the musical scale.
King David had this understanding. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” he wrote. “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun” (Psalm 19:1-4). The word for line in verse 4 can mean rope or musical string. In fact, when the Apostle Paul quoted this verse to the Romans, he used a Greek word for “line” that actually translates into “musical sound.” “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18).
The ancient Hebrews, who were well aware of this astronomical reality, undoubtedly applied it to their understanding of music theory. Man did not start with a one-, three- or five-note scale and slowly decide that seven tones work better together mathematically. God gave His people understanding in science, astronomy and the use of stringed instruments—and a seven-tone scale whose relationships parallel the solar system!
In addition, the Hebrews believed, as the Bible indicates, that the movement of these celestial bodies produces certain sounds.
Aristotle believed this as well. James continued, “[T]he motion of bodies of that size must produce a noise, since on our Earth the motion of bodies far inferior in size and speed of movement has that effect. Also, when the sun and the moon, they say, and all the stars, so great in number and in size, are moving with so rapid a motion, how should they not produce a sound immensely great? Starting from this argument, and the observation that their speeds, as measured by their distances, are in the same ratios as musical concordances, they assert that the sound given forth by the circular movement of the stars is a harmony.” Plato believed that “the celestial logic, once it was understood, would be reconcilable with a sublime system of mathematical harmony.”
Now modern science is supporting what the Hebrews believed. Sound can occur anywhere pressure waves can travel, meaning that sound waves can echo through the atmospheres of the planets and even the gas surrounding an enlarging black hole. The universe contains the equivalent of rhythmic pulses, like a percussion section, as well as low drones, like a bass section.
Science has also discovered “heavenly music bellowed out by the sun’s atmosphere” (Space.com, April 18, 2007). These frequencies, at a thousandth of a hertz, are too low for human ears to hear (we can hear between 20 and 20,000 Hz). The sun’s corona carry magnetic sound waves similar to those of musical instruments. “[E]xplosive events at the sun’s surface appear to trigger acoustic waves that bounce back and forth between both ends of the loops, a phenomenon known as a standing wave,” the Space.com article stated. Standing waves are “exactly the same waves you see on a guitar string,” said Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen of the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Center at the University of Sheffield (ibid.).
By flying through space, celestial bodies are emitting sound. Deeper study of the heavens indicates that those sounds are working together much like a musical composition.
The Bible indicates that God created sound waves to emanate from all creation in an organized fashion to make a certain music—perceptible at least to Him. 1 Chronicles 16:33 states that “the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord.” Isaiah 44:23 reads: “Sing, O ye heavens … shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein ….” Isaiah 55:12 says, “[T]he mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The other obvious natural music would be that of the animals, which also sing (Song of Solomon 2:12; Ecclesiastes 12:4; Psalm 104:12).
God sees His creation as a musical composition. And perhaps even the smallest particles are vibrating and resounding in lovely music that God can hear and enjoy.
Music in Eden
Now we come to the first man and the Garden of Eden. Surely the Almighty Creator and Musical Expert would have wanted to instruct His creation in the science of sound and how it could be managed and organized for such magnificent purposes! After all, God enjoys music and possesses great capacity for it. He created innate musical ability in His angelic handiwork, the chief of which was a musical genius.
A glance through the Bible—the Psalms in particular—shows that music is vital in the proper worship of our Creator. God in fact commands the use of music as part of the worship act, especially on the weekly Sabbaths and annual festivals. God then would have instructed the first man in the basic principles of music, or at least have guided him in finding the fundamental facts in this field for himself.
Since God created man on the sixth day and used the seventh day to teach him these essential spiritual truths, would this first “worship service” have been without worship music? Or would it have been the ideal time to show man that it is “a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High”? (Psalm 92:1).
Consider that Psalm just quoted. The inscription—part of the original divinely inspired Hebrew text—reads: “A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day.” The title occurs in the Jewish Targum as “A Psalm and song which Adam uttered on the Sabbath day.”
The Jews teach that Adam “uttered” it on the Sabbath. That doesn’t mean he composed it, but rather that he sang it. Perhaps the Creator God—ready to instruct Adam on that first Sabbath day—had a hymn for the first man and woman to sing. How appropriate this hymn would be, which actually teaches that it is a “good thing” to give thanks and sing praise to the Lord and the Most High.
If Psalm 92 is, in fact, that first hymn for the first man and woman, then we have some incredible insight into Eden!
Verses 2-3 read, “To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, Upon an instrument of ten strings [literally: “the tenth”], and upon the psaltery [Hebrew nebel]; upon the harp [Hebrew kinnor] with a solemn sound.” The term “solemn sound” is from a Hebrew word that implies meditating or musing. Music—singing hymns especially—was given to humans largely to draw our minds closer to God, especially on the day He has set aside for special worship of Him.
Consider, though, how musical instruments are named in this ancient psalm—what’s more, stringed instruments, which are more complex in design than simple wind or percussion instruments.
Could musical instruments have been in Eden? God had just created much more complex creations—for example, the human body. And God designed the garden to be where His presence was. God’s heavenly presence is surrounded by music—not just vocal but instrumental as well (see Revelation 5:8). Would God not have created or revealed the design for physical manifestations of these heavenly instruments?
In the 1920s, excavations in Megiddo uncovered approximately 20 floor stones dating to 3,300-3,000 b.c. The carvings on one of them depicted a female harpist with a triangular shaped instrument having eight or nine strings—quite an advanced instrument.
Archaeologically, this harp appears out of nowhere, especially if it had to evolve from a one-stringed instrument. It is possible that mankind’s musical and instrumental advancements were washed away in the Flood. But God could have revealed the fundamentals of sound science to man, just as He revealed the fundamental principles of farming. Adam could have started with a multi-string harp. If God patterned Eden after the heavenly design, then why not?
Clearly Eden’s garden pictured God’s presence. The Bible reveals that, wherever God’s presence is, there is music: the heavenly throne room, the ark of the covenant, the first and second temples (which housed the ark), and the area in question here—the Garden of Eden.
Isaiah 51 contains a prophecy of how the world will look upon the Messiah’s return in power and glory: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (verse 3).
This verse is about Earth being restored to the way things were in Eden. So it supplies clues of what life was like for Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the Garden! There was, in fact, music: “the voice of melody.” The Hebrew for melody means psalm, and comes from the root “to pluck.” Again, would God not have given Adam a psalm to sing on the first Sabbath day? Could God have given him an instrument and taught him how to pluck it as he and his wife sang praises?
Music did not originate clumsily and serendipitously from prehistoric brutes. Nor did it originate nine centuries into the biblical record with Jubal, who fathered the mishandling of music. The capacity for music had no beginning—like the God who is surrounded by it, who created it in His angelic creation, the physical universe, and into the garden sanctuary where He planted the first human beings.
By being given the ability to understand, appreciate, enjoy and produce music, mankind can partake of something with an eternal past—the very mind and greatness of the Creator God!