Who Invented Music?

Yesterday my son asked, “Who invented math?”

I explained that math isn’t invented – it’s discovered. Having 2+2=4 is a symbolic representation of something real in the world: say, picking apples.

The symbols were invented and evolved over time in various cultures, but the core of mathematics is true whether you can represent it or not. Pi was pi before we gave it a Greek letter.

The thing is, exactly the same is true for music. Consonant intervals sound that way because of fundamental physical laws and our sensation of them. Certain rhythms have a power over us that suggests they are universal.

It’s not as easy to visualize as apples, but it seems to me that music is as fundamentally true as mathematics. When you see a box of donuts and a mathematical representation (3×4=12), you see that the math is true. When you hear Beethoven, your brain is confirming his truth in just the same way.

Does this mean we aren’t inventing music, but discovering it? Does it mean that the music which stands the test of time does so because it is more musically true or elegant? (Musicians and mathematicians both prize elegance.)