What is the earliest piece of music?

What is the earliest piece of music that we actually know?

I understand we have knowledge of scales used the ancient Greeks and Romans, but we couldn’t hum any of their songs.

I’m looking for the earliest music someone today could hum, or pick out on a piano. (This description implies that it would actually be a melody, so I guess I should not rule out that it might be a purely rhythmic work).

I’ve heard the Welsh song (or whatever form it is) called “Summer is Acoming In” is old enough to be a contender.


Sumer is icumen in is a thirteenth-century young whippersnapper. Sacred chants have elements that go back thousands of years - Gregorian chant, a mainstay of Catholic chant, puportedly originates with Gregory the Great, c.600AD. This in turn was derived from older Roman chant. Orthodox and Jewish musics have similar ancient roots.

Beyond monody, the earliest ‘composed’ polyphonic music we can perform with confident accuracy is that of the Notre Dame school, of the late 12th century, with the two important composer being Leonin and Perotin - take a listen to some of it here.

The reason that these composers are the first we can recover more than single-line melodies is the notation of music was becoming more advanced. To combine several lines needs a notation of both pitch and of rhythm, something not present in earlier music.

My God, GorillaMan, thank you for that link! How incredibly beautiful!

ISTR there is an Egyptian (?) chant called Chadouf, which is sung by workers on treadmill waterpumps (which is what a chadouf is), and which puts all this johnny-christian-come-lately music in the shade.

We used to sing Sumer is icumen in in primary school. I can still smell the duplicator ink :slight_smile: