Scientists now believe that modern humans emerged from Africa 100-160,000 years ago. Around 50,000 years ago these humans began to disperse from Africa reaching all the habitable continents. Since all people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, scientists conclude that music must have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. Consequently music must have been in existence for at least 50,000 years and the first music must have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life.
If you travel to the African bush, the Australian outback places where indigenous people have lived for a long time, you will hear music that dates from past millennia. Ancient rhythms that really -- if you are open -- touch something primitive inside you.
Music was soon accompanied by instruments, drums, made from gourds or skins tightened over gourds, strings made from animal intestines. People organizing into circles, chanting and dancing, to ward off animals, bad weather or shocks to the Earth. A three-holed flute, 18.7cm long, made from a mammoth tusk (found near Ulm, in the southern German and dated to 30,000 to 37,000 years ago, was discovered in 2004, and two flutes made from swan bones excavated a decade earlier (from the same cave in Germany, dated to circa 36,000 years ago) are among the oldest known musical instruments. The image on the left is where the ancient instruments were discovered.
I happen to believe that a number of what we think of today as being religious ceremonies, are the formalization of pre-religious rituals. I believe this is especially true of holidays that coincide (roughly) with the four solstices, with the moon phases and other natural phenomena.
The prehistoric era is considered to have ended with the development of writing.
"Ancient music" is the name given to the music that followed. The "oldest known song" was written in cuneiform, dating to 4,000 years ago from Ur. It was deciphered by Prof. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer (University of Calif. at Berkeley), and was written using a Pythagorean tuning of the diatonic scale. Th image on the left is a cuneiform stone and the header image in this page is an example of cuneiform writing, called "Amagi". Note the similiarity -- at least conceptually -- with both asian languages and modern musical notation.
Ancient writings (such as in Aristotle: Problems, Book XIX.12") described musical techniques of the time. These included double pipes, and ancient bagpipes, as well as stringed instruments. Reviews of ancient drawings on vases and walls, etc., show an extensive use of pipes in what we would know as double flutes. These likely served as a drone or "keynotes," while other instruments were used played to play melodic passages.
Other Instruments, such as the seven holed flute and various types of stringed instruments have been recovered from the Indus Valley civilization archaeological sites.
Indian classical music (marga) can be found from the scriptures of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four vedas describes music at length. The history of musical development in Iran [Persia] Persian music, dates back to the prehistoric era. The great legendary king, Jamshid, is credited with the invention of music. Music in Iran can be traced back to the days of the Elamite Empire (2,500-644 B.C). Fragmentary documents from various periods of the country's history establish that the ancient Persians possessed an elaborate musical culture. The Sassanian period (A.D. 226-651), in particular, has left us ample evidence pointing to the existence of a lively musical life in Persia. The names of some important musicians such as Barbod, Nakissa and Ramtin, and titles of some of their works have survived.
The term Early music era may also refer to contemporary but traditional or folk music, including Asian music, Persian music, music of India, Jewish music, Greek music, Roman music, the music of Mesopotamia, the music of Egypt, and Muslim music.