Rhythmic Impulses and Evolution of Musical Instruments

  November 17, 2021   Read time 1 min
Rhythmic Impulses and Evolution of Musical Instruments
In a second stage of evolution another elementary rhythmic impulse began to seize on instrument playing —repetition. It resulted first in the pairing of notes, then in the contrasting of their tones, and finally in their arrangement in a series.

The same process is found in language as reduplication. The speech of children and primitives has a tendency towards combinations such as papa, mamma, tamtam. The two syllables of a pair become one strong, one weak; moreover, they often are differentiated by a vowel change: ding-dong , sing-song, tick-tock. This is exactly what happens when two stamping tubes of slightly different size are pounded by the same player in a rapid succession, and the beat of one of them is answered by a second, darker beat which contrasts with the clear sound of the first.

The two tubes in the hand of a player were sometimes called “the father” and “the mother.” Such associations with the two sexes occur with pairs of bull-roarers, slit-drums, shell trumpets and skin drums. When the sexes are thus attributed to pairs of instruments, the primitives base their decision upon one of two qualities—the size or the sound. If size is the determining factor, the bigger instrument is the man and the smaller the woman; if the sound is considered, the smaller one, having a more active and energetic sound, is masculine, the larger one, having a hollower, duller sound, is female. Sound as the determining factor seems to be much more recent.

The pairlike beating of two notes of contrasted accent and pitch is the first step towards an instrumental melody; this ancient practice is preserved in the two kettledrums of the modern orchestra. Several thousands of years may have elapsed before instrumental music progressed to three-tone patterns. Though stamping tubes were united to form sets of three and even more, they did not reach the further stage of a strict scalelike accordatura. This was the destiny of the xylophone.

Write your comment