Bluntly, the noise that goes into a trumpet, say, or a nice mellow french horn (Buzzing your pursed lips together) is nothing like what comes out the other end.
How’s that work exactly? And seeing as how making a long narrow metallic tube is no mean feat, who would have come up with the idea in the first place? Surely some dude didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I know what I’m gonna make today!” and hey-presto: a bugle! Some sources say the Egyptians came up with copper pipes 5,000 years ago–could it have been some ancient plumbers just horsing around and then the idea progressed from there?
As hogarth points out, people were already used to playing actual horns by the time metallurgy came around. It wouldn’t have taken a great leap to try forming some rudimentary pipes into a horn shape to see what happened. And people would have noticed that longer horns make lower notes, so it wouldn’t have been hard to build a slide mechanism and then you’ve got something like a trombone.
We knew how to make valves as early as the ancient Romans, but I think the kind of delicate valves on musical instruments didn’t really start showing up until the middle ages.
So if we’re starting with like a ram’s horn I suppose that would be prehistoric enough that it wouldn’t really be clear WHY someone thought, " Wow, that was some dee-lish mutton. Think I’ll saw that awkward loopy thing off its skull, hollow it out, and try & work out just how to blow into the small end to make a peculiar note before I get bored of the whole ordeal and just go out and get me some more mutton."
I mean, I can maybe see getting to a flute from sucking the marrow out of a long bone–do that process repeatedly over many generations and it’s only a matter of time until a hole in the opposite end makes a whistling noise for someone predisposed to “A-HA!” moments. But–there’s no really good reason to modify an animal horn like you’d have to in order to get a note out of it. Unless maybe it was first a drinking vessel and then the bottom broke off and then someone thought it’d be funny to use the result to blow water at someone and this happened so often that eventually someone noticed a brief note if you blew too hard after the water was all out…
Inventions, especially prehistoric ones, are like advantageous mutations. It only takes one moderately clever caveman to discover it once. And we’ve been sticking random crap in our mouths and blowing for a long time.
Ever make a grass whistle? Or blow into a tube of any kind? Or blow across a narrow-mouth bottle? Children love making these sounds; my guess would be people have been enjoying making noise with their breath + an object since long into prehistory. Reed pipes are ancient and any shepherd can make one, given some reeds and a knife. If you have clay, you have the means to an ocarina. Given a goat or cow horn, wouldn’t you blow into it? C’mon, we’re just like that.
These “I just can’t imagine why the first person to make (fill in the blank) would have thought to do it” questions always puzzle me. People fool around with stuff, constantly, that’s what we do. Then we build on those discoveries.
As a cite you need only view 15 years or so of internet documentary of weird shit people do, right now. Alright, I guess this is about as concise as it gets, and so I thank you for your patient omission of, “…The question is, why wasn’t it done sooner?”
I often forget that much of the “Why?” of human history is best answered with “Why not?”
Inigo Montoya: to try to address how the horns came to be played with, we can try to guess that they may have started as an attempt to make a drinking vessel from the horn. We’ve all heard the idiom, “The American Indians used all parts of the animal” – why assume the prehistoric human was wasteful?
Basically, I once was looking up how how drinking horns were made, and the website on the topic humorously said pretty much what you said, “You want a drinking horn? Go out to your fields and saw one off one of your cows. She’ll probably complain. So you might as well kill her and eat her first.” Drinking horns often have the tip cut, then plugged with something, so you can drink from it with the tip plugged, or empty it, unplug the tip, and rally the troops by blowing through it.
[James Burke]Originally, the hunting horn was a drinking horn. The idea was the barmaid would plug the small end, fill the vessel with mead, ale, spirits, blood or what-have-you; and when you’d finished, you’d unplug the small end, sound a note, and the barmaid would take that as an indication another round was being ordered. When the evening was going particularly well, the numerous soundings would alert those local gents who’d opted to stay in for the evening that there was a hell of a good time to be had down at The Barfing Leprechaun. Once it was established the sounding of a horn meant “good times” it was a simple stretch to make it apply to hunting or a battle with the next invading group of barbarians.[/James Burke]
To a more limited extent, other critters also “fool around with stuff” and make elementary discoveries, but are less likely to build on those discoveries. Dolphins and great apes are especially famous for this, and they do, occasionally, build on their discoveries a little bit.
Horses fool around with gates and latches, and some become accomplished escape artists. (Cite: Seen it with my very own eyeballs.)
The REALLY BIG thing that happened different with humans (well, among other really big things) was the development on language, by which discoveries and knowledge could be transmitted (strictly verbally, long before writing was invented) from generation to generation, and thus built upon over generations as well. So it was no longer necessary for every generation to makes all its own elementary discoveries from scratch.
The linguist Roger Brown made this point long ago, in a published article that I’ve cited various times over the years in college-level English essays – but I can’t find the cite for it any more. Sorry about that. (So much for transmission of knowledge across generations via language :smack: )
This part of the OP hasn’t gotten much love. A long tube is an acoustic resonator. It selectively reinforces one frequency and multiples (harmonics) thereof. This interacts with the lips to help select the note being played. By varying the air pressure and muscle tension on the lips, the various harmonics can be selected to get the various notes on a animal horn or a bugle. With valving or a slide, the tube length is changed, which changes the resonance, allowing a different harmonic series to be played.
Frequencies of the buzzing lips that are outside of the resonance of the horn are greatly attenuated, giving the horn a much purer tone than the “raspberry” sound the lips generate.
Some brass instruments have a nearly cylindrical bore with an acoustic impedance matching bell at the end. A trumpet and trombone are good examples of these. Other instruments have a nearly conical bore, a french horn and coronet. being good examples. For a given length, a conical instrument will have it’s fundamental resonance one octave higher than a cylindrical bored instrument.
When the notes sounded are among the lower harmonics in the series, the resonant notes are fairly widely spaced, and it is much easier for the musician to control her lips to get the desired note. When higher harmonics are used (French Horn being a prime example) then the musician must exercise much finer control of her lips, as the notes of the harmonic series become very closely spaced, and not all of them will be valid within the key chosen.
In order to get far up the harmonic series, it is important that the horn be made of hard, springy material that does not absorb the sound energy. The vuvuzela is made of plastic, which gives fairly high damping. Thus it does a poor job of sustaining the higher notes of the harmonic series, and is only really works at the first resonance. A brass horn of the same shape as the vuvuzela could probably be played like a bugle.
Funny how the horn favored brass while the hollow reed preferred wood. Maybe the mini-vibrations formed in horns were ideal for thin metal, whereas regulated airflow whistles preferred wood and stiff metal.