When it comes to the history of inventions, have you ever wondered who might have invented the first song? It feels like an odd question to ask, as singing has been around for as long as humankind existed. The idea of the very first song might seem strange at first, but just like any other human invention, there’s a process to the whole thing.
To talk about the very first song is to also talk about singing itself. The history of the first song is an interesting one, as every culture — modern or otherwise, will have singing as a part of the repertoire. Here’s a quick look into the invention and timeline of the first song.
Who invented the first song?
When it comes to the very first song, there’s a Sumerian clay tablet that holds instructions and the tuning for a hymn. As far as the meaning of the song goes, it’s supposed to honor the ancient ruler Lipit-Ishtar. It is both the first song, and the first archaeological example of singing.
The first song’s key contributors (and evolution)
- SumeriansThis ancient culture developed the first song
The honoring of Lipit-Ishtar includes the hymn as well as instructions and tuning for the song.
- HurriansThe oldest surviving song
Called the Hurrian Hymn No. 6, it’s the oldest surviving song and is an ode to the ancient goddess Nikkal. The cuneiform itself was excavated in the 1950s, and was quite the find.
- GreeksCreators of the Seikilos Epitaph
The interesting thing about the Seikilos Epitaph is it is the earliest song that could be recreated note-for-note. Marking a gravesite, it states:“I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”
- Malek JandaliAn orchestral rendition of the Hurrian Hymn No. 6
Syrian composer Malek Jandali managed to perform the Hurrian Hymn No. 6 in an orchestra, about 3300 years later.
- Today’s song makersThe song making process will never die
There’s no doubt that the song making process is a trend that will never die.
When was the first song invented?
The hymn to Lipit-Ishtar, known as the earliest musical notation, was dated around 2000 BC. Despite that, there’s no denying singing has been around for much earlier. The only issue is the lack of recorded songs from earlier time periods.
A brief history of the first song
The attempt to figure out the age and inception of singing is undoubtedly an incredible endeavor, as singing has been around since the dawn of man. Such is the reason why the very first step on the road to the first song starts with ancient fossils — specifically the presence of the hyoid bone in a certain position. What the specific position of the hyoid bone represents is the capability to sing, at least in a way that modern humans might. The earliest fossils were recorded to be around 530,000 years old, which was an incredible find.
The record of the first song is the hymn to Lipit-Ishtar. It’s a musical notation written in a clay tablet, and holds instructions regarding the tuning of the hymn. The song itself is dated around 2000 BC. Around 1300 BC, the Hurrians created the Hurrian Hymn No. 6, which many people have attempted to recreate, though we’ll get to that in a bit.
One of the most interesting discoveries in the world of songs is the Seikilos Epitaph, found in a gravesite in Turkey. It holds the distinction of being the earliest recorded song that can be recreated note-for-note. It’s undoubtedly a piece of history, marking an ancient milestone in the world of singing.
As for the Hurrian Hymn No. 6, it was recreated by Malek Jandali, a Syrian composer. It’s funny how the ancient Syrians are credited for the first song, and a Syrian composer would attempt to recreate one of the oldest hymns using an orchestra. There’s no doubt that songs are a part of human culture, and it’s an evergreen trend!
The first song timeline
- 528,000 BCThe discovery of the hyoid bone
With the hyoid bone in a specific position, it shows that the body is capable of singing the way modern humans do. It marks the era when humanity had the capacity of singing.
- 2000 BCThe Sumerian ode to Lipit-Ishtar
This ancient Sumerian hymn is known as the very first song. It’s an ode to the ancient ruler, Lipit-Ishtar, and the clay tablet even holds instructions.
- 1300 BCHurrian Hymn No. 6
This ode to the Goddess Nikkal is the next example after the Sumerian ode to Lipit-Ishtar.
- 1st centurySeikilos Epitaph
“I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.” This song is considered to be the oldest song that can be recreated note-for-note.
- PresentThe development of songs in the modern era
When you look into just about every aspect of the modern age, songs are never far behind. Songs are a part of history, they’re a part of the present, and a part of the future.
Where was the first song invented?
The ancient ode to Lipit-Ishtar was conceived in Sumeria. It’s undoubtedly the earliest example of musical notation, and the first song.
The importance of the first song
- Songs are a part of humanity’s culture since the beginning
The importance of songs can’t be understated, as they mark crucial parts of our history. When you’re looking into different cultures, listening to their songs can open up a new avenue for understanding.
- An understanding of how we lived
The first song isn’t just there to be an interesting little aspect of history. It’s also there to help people understand how the ancient civilizations used to live.
- The importance of singing for the human body
Considering that singing is one of the purest forms of expression, there are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to sing or compose songs. It can help deal with symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- More examples yet to be discovered
The search for the oldest songs is an ongoing process. There are likely many more examples yet to be discovered, which means the ode to Lipit-Ishtar could very well be dethroned as the oldest example.
Songs by the numbers
- 800The number of musicians it takes to play Havergal Brian’s composition, The Gothic Symphony No. 1. That’s quite a lot of talent in a single place!
- 840Erik Satie’s Vexations is a song with 180 notes that has to be played 840 times repetitively.
- 8Franz Schubert’s symphony no. 8 is an unfinished symphony that has enraptured many musicians over the years.
- 5It’s said that the song “Sweet Child of Mine” was written in 5 minutes.
Five facts about songs
- Closing Time
Most people are big fans of Semisonic’s hit, Closing Time. While the lyrics talk about closing a bar, the actual meaning behind the lyrics is about the birth of the lead singer’s daughter.
- How Will I Know
Whitney Houston was undoubtedly a musical legend, but did you know that her song, How Will I Know, was intended for another artist? The song was written for Janet Jackson rather than Whitney Houston.
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds might seem like a song about LSD due to the title, but the Beatles have always been known to toss curve balls with song meanings. The song is actually about the painting John Lennon’s son made for him.
- I Shot the Sheriff
When it comes to songs by popular artists, just about every song means something in the life of the artist in question. For example, I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley is about birth control. He didn’t want his girlfriend to take them, and the doctor who prescribed the pills is the sheriff in the song.
- Hollaback Girl
Some songs have deep, hidden meanings, while others are spontaneous and simple. For example, Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl was written in response to what Courtney Love had to say about her in a magazine.
FAQ about songs
- What is the oldest band still playing?
Music is undoubtedly timeless! The Golden Senior Trio of Japan is the band with the oldest average age (90). Just goes to show that age is just a number.
- Any tips when writing lyrics for a song?
The primary tip is to write from the heart. Write about the things that are important to you, and the things that get a rise out of you. If you aren’t feeling the lyrics, the song’s not going to come out well no matter the scenario.
- I don’t know where to start with song composition!
All you have to do is take the first step. Look for inspiration wherever you can, and try to write down the lyrics that you feel speaks to you. It’s a good idea to take your time, but ensure that you’re making progress however little. It’s better to release a subpar song than to never release a song at all!