S t a g e s
in the Evolution of
Melody, Scales & Harmony
After 20-30 years of new studies and archeological finds, it is now possible to move the subject of the origin of music out of the realm of mostly theory into a new phase of physical reality. The first physical evidence pointing to an understanding of how music probably arose came with Helmholtz' 1877 Sensations of Tone and his advance of acoustic science after Pythagoras. But little new was added until the 1970's.
By then, an extreme reaction had deeply set in among some music circles which believed that no physical "universals" governing an "evolution" of music were acceptable ideas. ‘Creativity could not be standardized or quantified; any attempts were ethnocentric, possibly even repressive' was the feeling.
Not all is known or knowable that we'd like, but an overall picture can now be drawn of actual stages in the progression of music from its earliest beginnings, based on the new and now sufficient evidence. This picture does suggest an evolutionary process that proceeds within a lawful or clearly definable historic, acoustic, physiological, and psychological framework. This picture is always tempered, even obscured, by some creative impulses that cannot be, & may never be, quantified, or that are bred within any given culture and its own conditioned internal aesthetic growth.
This overall picture confirms the theories that were laid out in the views first published privately as Music & Materialism by Bob Fink in the 1950's, developed further into the 1970 book The Universality of Music, later in 1981 titled The Origin of Music.
The newer evidence that has emerged over the recent past -- but not without most of the same music circles & other factions rushing to stridently dispute each item of evidence itself & its significance -- involves:
* Deciphering of the oldest known & diatonic song (Kilmer & co. 1974);
* the study by Trehub & Co regarding the effect of consonance & dissonance on infants;
* The discovery of 9,000 year-old Chinese flutes (one still playable) showing a 1,200 year evolution of flute scales from 5 notes to 7 and 8 notes, not unlike the scales in wide use today; and last but not least,
* the discovery of the Neanderthal Flute & Bob Fink's controversial, famous & award-winning internet essay: The Neanderthal Flute.
The controversy has given the subject a bit more ongoing drama (and even some humour) than what the usual run of academic research articles develop.
-- 2oo2 © Greenwich Publishing       

About author Robert Fink: Fink has been cited in many journals, including articles in Science magazine; Scientific American; Archaeologia Musicalis; the published proceedings of the September 2000 music archaeology conference: Archaeology of Sound, and innumerable news articles [Globe & Mail; The Times of London; Ottawa Citizen (Oct 28,2002 in the "Enchanted Ear"); Some magazine cover stories (e.g., Alberta's newsweekly: "Western Report," May 5, 1997), etc]. He has several citations in the recently published Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) book of a collection of writings titled: Origins of Music.

Update Mar.2003-- Two New Books: On Music Origins & Music Archaeology
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By Bob Fink
The stages (without assigning any length of time for a "stage" to play itself out) begin with rhythm and may include various forms of bodily movement, ranging from the rocking of a baby to social dancing. Rhythm is produced by banging on things and the noises become organized in various meters.
In this period, noise serves rhythm. Noise, as different from musical tones, probably was not fully separated to distinguish any kind of "consonance" from "dissonance." Again, there is no way of knowing how long any "stage" could take or last.
While rhythm implements evolved to have purer and purer pitch qualities, banging sticks and logs would originally be done without much regard to tone qualities. Thus the banging out of rhythms on drums or logs, or on shells and the like, will produce many simultaneous pitches (e.g., organized noise) -- but it would not be reasonable to call this any kind of deliberate "harmony" because the pitches chosen for this simultaneity are a product of the chance or spontaneous nature of materials at hand. There is little consistency regarding choices of tone where rhythm dominates in any musical culture. The focus is rhythm, not pitch tones nor the nature of the mix of these tones.
The earliest separations of pitch made from rhythmic noise or cries would have been the octave, fifth and fourth. Melodies could not be readily formed from these pitches, but these pitches would automatically appear inside the hollow bores of signaling flutes, or from such things as ram's horns, etc., caused by accidental or deliberate overblowing or under-blowing, creating octaves and fifths. The human voice (such as humming to a child by a mother) can also break tones into these pitches on many occasions, again, accidentally or deliberately.
Such pitches and tones become part of the fabric of ceremony and religious events, often appreciated as separate, or single, tones. Many early gongs, chimes and other instruments are found as single tones, unrelated to other tones (and sometimes represent single ideas -- such as a gong for moon, or sun, or death, etc). Pictures of single gongs are well-known & plentiful, and so not needed to be shown. But older single stone chimes are shown below. [First top illustration from Smith, World's Earliest Music, p.161. 2nd illus: Source not available.]
After a while, a sense of consonant pitches usually found in the earliest pentatonic scales, such as C,D,F,G,A,C -- [based on cumulative overtones from the use of the fourth, and fifth and "tonic" -- See Origin of Music or see http:// www.greenwych.ca / natbasis.htm] -- would become the basis of melodies and "motifs" (or segments of melodies), and likely would be noted very separately from just the arts of dance rhythms or noises. Instruments and chimes will reflect this set of related pitches more, and less and less be used just to produce single tones. In the illustration below an ancient set of stone chimes is seen as well as a single chime -- or possibly a "key note." (Illustration source not available).
At this stage, there is the adding, to the art of rhythm, of the art of early melody.
We can see that for the musician, the connotations of a single pitch give way to a greater importance to the connections between pitches, or the "links" between one pitch (or note) and another (which we nowadays call "tonality" or "key"). It is at this point that, as happened in widely differing cultures, the gaps in the pentatonic melodies are more and more filled with tones that are known today as "leading tones" (usually, the 3rd and 7th notes of the diatonic scale) and which turn a pentatonic melody more and more into a diatonic one.
Note here that melodies are not made from scales. The reality is almost invariably vice versa. Scales come into being because scales must eventually be deduced in order to produce instruments that will play the existing melodies. And as shown in the colour illustrations [top & bottom], instruments derive from objects at hand, such as bones, the Ram's horn, the hunter's bow, going from basic tones to additional notes and scales.
Instruments made to reflect this acoustic influence would sometimes, on flutes, exhibit unequal hole spacings. Such spacings are now found in some of the recently announced find of Chinese 9,ooo year old flutes, one of them still playable, and clearly found in the Neanderthal flute.
The reports given on the ancient Chinese flutes, at a 2000 conference of music archaeologists, indicate that over a thousand year period, the scale appears to have moved from 5-note scales to 7-note scales, with sounds that appear somewhat pentatonic and later diatonic. See Update
Without giving detail, there is also the work by Professor Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, et al, that interprets the 4,ooo year old cuneiform song from Ugarit (oldest song known) also having used the acoustic diatonic scales. These scales are hardly "Western," after all.
The significance of the development of this growing sense of "melodicism," tonality and key, is that we can answer a fundamental question about how and why harmony evolved and explain some related historic phenomena.
To do this, let's return to a simple acoustic description of matters of tone now.
The simplest tone in nature is a single note (albeit, even these "single" notes have overtones, but we'll put that aside for now).
When any harmony is added to a given note, it is a huge demand on our senses to acclimate themselves to not perceiving the combination as dissonant (in comparison to the non-harmony of single tones). That's because each tone added will produce its own additional audible overtones, each conflicting with those of other notes, producing an increasing movement back toward the dissonant properties of noise, as each new note or harmony is added. The single note is always more consonant than harmonies and chords.
Noise may serve rhythm, but when tones or pitches become increasingly the objects of musical interest, then noise and dissonance are assigned a limited and specific role and are usually avoided for the most part in melody.
So why did humanity bother with development of harmony at all??
The answer is that there are relationships of overtones between the notes of a melody, even in a rudimentary pentatonic melody. That is the heart of any "scale." [A full pentatonic or diatonic scale can be called the 'first' tonal melody -- or better: The 'essence' of melody].
The Role of Harmony
The role of harmony in a melodic musical culture is this: Harmony tends to overtly reveal between the notes of a melody what is hidden (in overtone relationships) by playing some of these overtone relationships out loud. This -- in the hands of a harmonicist/composer can either aid the perception of the connection between a melody's notes as they unfold through time, or even deliberately obscure those connections -- all to aesthetic effect. [To hear an example, click here.Another: Here.]
The dissonances of harmony now become tolerable once a musician is concerned with the connections between notes of a melody. As said, a musician in an "earlier" stage, prior to such melodic practices, is concerned more with the aesthetics effects of single or pure tones, and so would avoid the dissonances of deliberate harmonies [with the possible exception of using octaves and fifths, which are assigned to different voice ranges as a form of "unison"].
Therefore, we can so far explain from this why, in the limited data existing of the most ancient music, we likely will never find any deliberate harmonic practices existing unless and until the diatonic scale (or perhaps a pentatonic that includes occasional leading tones) has been established. (See Evidence.)
Of course, as history unfolds, it never progresses in a neat & tidy manner to suit any theory of "stages." The stages can overlap or often be interrupted by a cessation of communication of, or inability to hand-down, past practices to a later community, and so the stages may end up beginning again in a later culture.
In my studies into music's origins (The Origin of Music), I published a hypothesis on the evolution of the scale, going a step or two beyond the landmark acoustic information provided us by Pythagoras and Helmholtz.
As many of us may know, a "cycle" or circle of fifths can produce all the notes we use, and return approximately to the original tone (much higher), missing it only by what Pythagoras called a "comma," about an eighth of a tone. However, this cycle does not produce the notes entirely in the order in which history seems to have added them to the scale. This perplexed Helmholtz, who wondered, with two halftones already in the diatonic scale, why the ancients didn't go further and add more (available from this cycle) into their scales.
Therefore, ancients had to arrive at their scales by some other method, especially when we note the consideration that this cycle was not technically producible when scales and music began and evolved.
I started to think in terms of the effects of the three most commonly used intervals, the "tonic" or starting tone with its octave, and the fifth and the fourth intervals of that starting tone. This "trio" of intervals would have been an everyday pervasive occurrence in the making of musical sounds in all cultures.
Fourths and fifths can be simply shown as C-F and C-G [or a fourth: C-F and fifth: C-G.] C has the role of the "tonic."
The most audible overtones of these notes can be heard easily by normal ears -- somewhat subliminally, but, for example, their effect easily allows us to distinguish the same note sung by a person from one played on a flute or string. Over time, overtones also influence the addition of other notes to fill the gaps between the C-C' octave.
The overtones, say of the notes C, and of the F (a fourth up) and of the G (a fifth up) when recognized (by a long historical process of using octaves, 5th and 4ths) and relocated within the range of an octave, will produce the most commonly known scales in the world: Diatonic, Pentatonic, and the minor scale.
Using the most audible DIFFERENT overtones [repeats & octaves omitted] of the tonic, fifth and fourth, you get C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C, the major scale.
This simple chart below shows how this happens:
C (tonic) -- its audible overtones are:
G,      E,      Bb
F (fourth) -- its audible overtones are:
C,      A,      Eb
G (fifth) -- its audible overtones are:
D,      B,       F
[From left to right, the loudness of the overtones of each of the trio of notes generally decreases.]
But as the E and B are also among the less audible overtones of our "trio" of the tonic, fourth and fifth, then leaving them out of the scale produces the pentatonic scale: C,D,F,G,A,C.
The "A" remains because it forms no half-tones with the other scale-notes. As Helmholtz wrote, "many nations avoided the use of intervals of less than a tone."(On the Senstaions of Tone, Dover, 2nd Ed., 1954 p.257)
But people would add halftones -- only if they were justified by being a melodic "leading-tone" to an important interval. The E above -- in the full diatonic scale -- therefore "leads" to the important cadential fourth (F), and the B is a leading-tone to the octave (C). The Chinese had the name "pien" for these tones, meaning "becoming," and would add them occasionally into their pentatonic. And in Scotland, Ireland and in pentatonic Celtic music, the notion of these tones was described as "on the way to," or "crossing over" tones. And in Africa, these tones are often tuned in a "neutral" compromise between being major or minor, which in jazz are called "blue" notes.
In the earliest times, before any concepts of melodious "flow" may have existed -- such as using blue notes, or leading tones, or when melody was very rudimentary -- these notes could have been left out of songs and even preclude any notions of a "scale." [Note: When instruments like flutes are made, then what holes to put in them often will eventually force peoples to seek some kind of concept of a general "scale" over time.]
Finally, being weakly audible, these overtones (E and B) could be confused with the next audible overtones (of this trio of basic tones), which are Bb and Eb -- thus producing (with use of an Ab) the common minor scale -- when these flatter tones replace the E, A, and B in the scale.
Thus all the scales most widely used throughout history are accounted for in these acoustic parallels.
Finally, as additional evidence for the source of the scale coming from this trio of notes, the advent of harmony, especially in the West, has generally seen a harmonization scheme that assign chords to any particular note of the scale (or a melody) based on how that note arose within the scale.
The notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C, you might think, could "logically" each be harmonized by a chord of the same letter name, that is, the C harmonized by a C chord;
The D harmonized by a D chord;
The E harmonized by an E chord;
And so on -- but it was never done that way.
Instead, as history and practice shows, the method evolved is that the notes are usually harmonized by only three chords [or derivatives of them], those of the tonic, fourth and fifth -- the same "trio":
The C is harmonized by the C chord;
The D is harmonized by the G chord (because it was the G in the trio of notes that gave rise to the D in the scale or in melody);
The E is harmonized by the C chord;
The F is harmonized by the F chord; And so on: The G by the G chord; the A by the F chord; the B by the G chord, and the octave by the C chord.
These parallels of scale evolution and harmonic practice with the fundamentals of acoustic principles of consonance are difficult to accept being dismissed as simply massive "coincidence."
* Origin of Music
* The 7-Note Solution -- Why so many 5 & 7 note scales found?
* The Role of the Drone in Evolution of harmony
* Harmony in Ancient Music
* Natural Basis to Scale
* 4o,ooo Year-Old Neanderthal Flute Matches Notes in Do, Re, Mi Scale --by Bob Fink
* Oldest Song in the World
* The Nature of Ethnomusicology
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Updated Mar 2003-- Two New Books on Music Origins & Music Archaeology
All art, writing © Greenwich / Bob Fink March 1999
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