People have been captivated by music for as long as anyone knows. Due to this fascination the push to advance music has always been strong. That said, not every musical invention has been a huge hit, but a select few have made major leaps forward.
So, which music inventions top the list of of the all time most important? Ask around and you’ll probably get a wide variety of opinions. While there’s no definitive answer, we thought we’d get our two cents in too. Without further ado here are our top picks for the best music inventions of all time.
Okay, this may not be the obvious choice, but the printing press did have a significant impact on the world of music. Invented in 1440 by Johanes Gutenburg, the printing press made it much easier to pass music onto others. Prior to printed sheet music, songs had to be written out by hand, or taught to someone one-on-one.
As any budding musician knows, a metronome is essential for learning how to keep time. In 1694 Etienne Loulié invented the chronomètre which was basically the metronome’s long forgotten ancestor. Used to mark the tempo of a composition, the chronomètre led to one of the most used instruments in musical history.
Before the phonograph, if you wanted to listen to some music you had to either perform it yourself or find someone to perform it for you. With Thomas Edison’s 1877 invention of the foil-cylinder phonograph people were finally able to bring music into their homes without hiring a band for the evening.
It’s hard to imagine a world without radio, but prior to around 1920 that’s exactly how things were. The popularity of music owes a lot to radio. Once musicians could get their songs played on the radio they had a way to get their work out to a much larger audience.
Where would musical performances be without the microphone? Imagine how much smaller concerts would have to be if there were no microphones. There’s only so far a performer can project. While there are differing theories about who truly invented the microphone (David Edward Hughes, Thomas Edison, Emile Berliner) there’s no denying the microphone’s importance in music history.
Records may be just something for collectors and hard core vinyl fans now, but there was a time when they were in practically every home. In 1930, RCA introduced the first 33 ⅓ record players, but they weren’t a big hit. Then, in 1948 Columbia Records took a stab at it and the technology took off.
While it was originally just intended as a means of playing back recordings, in the 1970s the turntable got a whole new life. DJs started using two turntables and a mixer to create a brand new sound. They could blend two songs or completely rework the sound of one.
While CDs may not be that impressive to us nowadays, they were a major breakthrough in musical playback. Records had their own unique set of sounds that had nothing to do with the music on them. They were also easily scratched and broken. Though they still have a loyal cult following, records needed a sound upgrade and got one in the 1980s when Philips and Sony brought the first CDs to the market. In comparison to listening to music on vinyl or on a cassette tape, the sound of a CD was clean and pure… also you didn’t have to flip it over half way through.
The 90s was a wild time where music files were widely available for the taking, and take people did… much to the frustration of musicians who were used to getting royalties for their work. In 2001 Apple changed that landscape when they introduced the first iPod. The iPod allowed users to legally download music files and keep them all organized and close at hand.
There’s no denying that music has changed a lot over the years and many of these evolutions owe their successes to the amazing inventions that came before them. No doubt there will be many more music inventions to come—some barely perceptible in the grand scheme of things and others thoroughly momentous.