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A musical instrument is an instrument created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be a musical instrument - it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.
The date and origin of the first device considered a musical instrument is disputed. The oldest object that some scholars refer to as a musical instrument, a simple flute, dates back as far as 67,000 years. Some consensus dates early flutes to about 37,000 years ago. However, most historians believe that determining a specific time of musical instrument invention is impossible due to the subjectivity of the definition and the relative instability of materials used to make them. Many early musical instruments were made from animal skins, bone, wood, and other non-durable materials.
Musical instruments developed independently in many populated regions of the world. However, contact among civilizations caused rapid spread and adaptation of most instruments in places far from their origin. By the Middle Ages, instruments from Mesopotamia were in maritime Southeast Asia, and Europeans played instruments from North Africa. Development in the Americas occurred at a slower pace, but cultures of North, Central, and South America shared musical instruments. By 1400, musical instrument development slowed in many areas and was dominated by the Occident.
Musical instrument classification is a discipline in its own right, and many systems of classification have been used over the years. Instruments can be classified by their effective range, their material composition, their size, etc. However, the most common academic method, Hornbostel-Sachs, uses the means by which they produce sound. The academic study of musical instruments is called organology.
A musical instrument makes sounds. Once humans moved from making sounds with their bodies - for example, by clapping - to using objects to create music from sounds, musical instruments were born. Primitive instruments were probably designed to emulate natural sounds, and their purpose was ritual rather than entertainment. The concept of melody and the artistic pursuit of musical composition were unknown to early players of musical instruments. A player sounding a flute to signal the start of a hunt does so without thought of the modern notion of ,,making music".
Musical instruments are constructed in a broad array of styles and shapes, using many different materials. Early musical instruments were made from ,,found objects" such a shells and plant parts. As instruments evolved, so did the selection and quality of materials. Virtually every material in nature has been used by at least one culture to make musical instruments. One plays a musical instrument by interacting with it in some way - for example, by plucking the strings on a string instrument.
Researchers have discovered archaeological evidence of musical instruments in many parts of the world. Some finds are 67,000 years old, however their status as musical instruments is often in dispute. Consensus solidifies about artifacts dated back to around 37,000 years old and later. Only artifacts made from durable materials or using durable methods tend to survive. As such, the specimens found cannot be irrefutably placed as the earliest musical instruments.
Found in Slovenia, the Divje Babe Flute is considered the world's oldest known musical instrument
In July 1995, Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Turk discovered a bone carving in the northwest region of Slovenia. The carving, named the Divje Babe Flute, features four holes that Canadian musicologist Bob Fink determined could have been used to play four notes of a diatonic scale. Researchers estimate the flute's age at between 43,400 and 67,000 years, making it the oldest known musical instrument and the only musical instrument associated with the Neanderthal culture. However, some archaeologists and ethnomusicologists dispute the flute's status as a musical instrument. German archaeologists have found mammoth bone and swan bone flutes dating back to 30,000 to 37,000 years old in the Swabian Alps. The flutes were made in the Upper Paleolithic age, and are more commonly accepted as being the oldest known musical instruments.
Archaeological evidence of musical instruments was discovered in excavations at the Royal Cemetery in the Sumerian city of Ur. These instruments, one of the first ensembles of instruments yet discovered, include nine lyres ( the Lyres of Ur), two harps, a silver double flute, sistra and cymbals. A set of reed-sounded silver pipes discovered in Ur was the likely predecessor of modern bagpipes. The cylindrical pipes feature three side-holes that allowed players to produce whole tone scales. These excavations, carried out by Leonard Woolley in the 1920s, uncovered non-degradable fragments of instruments and the voids left by the degraded segments that, together, have been used to reconstruct them. The graves these instruments were buried in have been carbon dated to between 2600 and 2500 BC, providing evidence that these instruments were used in Sumeria by this time.
Archaeologists in the Jiahu site of central Henan province of China have found flutes made of bones that date back 7,000 to 9,000 years, representing some of the ,,earliest complete, playable, tightly-dated, multinote musical instruments" ever found.
Scholars agree that there are no completely reliable methods of determining the exact chronology of musical instruments across cultures. Comparing and organizing instruments based on their complexity is misleading, since advancements in musical instruments have sometimes reduced complexity. For example, construction of early slit drums involved felling and hollowing out large trees; later slit drums were made by opening bamboo stalks, a much simpler task.
German musicologist Curt Sachs, one of the most prominent musicologists and musical ethnologists in modern times, argues that it is misleading to arrange the development of musical instruments by workmanship, since cultures advance at different rates and have access to different raw materials. He maintains, for example, that contemporary anthropologists comparing musical instruments from two cultures that existed at the same time but differed in organization, culture, and handicraft cannot determine which instruments are more ,,primitive". Ordering instruments by geography is also not totally reliable, as it cannot always be determined when and how cultures contacted one another and shared knowledge.
Sachs proposed that a geographical chronology until approximately 1400 is preferable, however, due to its limited subjectivity. Beyond 1400, one can follow the overall development of musical instruments by time period.
The science of marking the order of musical instrument development relies on archaeological artifacts, artistic depictions, and literary references. Since data in one research path can be inconclusive, all three paths provide a better historical picture.
Source: Wikipedia

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