A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the beginnings of human culture. The purpose of early musical instruments was ritual: a hunter might use a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a shaman might use a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures later developed the processes of composing and performing melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.
The date and origin of the first device considered a musical instrument is disputed. The oldest object that some scholars refer to as a musical instrument, a simple flute, dates back as far as 67,000 years. Consensus begins to form about early flutes dating to about 37,000 years old. However, most historians believe that determining a specific time of musical instrument invention is impossible due to the subjectivity of the definition and the relative instability of materials that were used in their construction. Many early musical instruments were made from animal skins, bone, wood, and other non-durable materials.
Musical instruments developed independently in many populated regions of the world. However, contact among civilizations resulted in the rapid spread and adaptation of most instruments in places far from their origin. By the Middle Ages, instruments from Mesopotamia could be found in Maritime Southeast Asia and Europeans were playing instruments from North Africa. Development in the Americas occurred at a slower pace, but cultures of North, Central, and South America shared musical instruments. By 1400, musical instrument development slowed in many areas and was dominated by the Occident.
The classification of musical instruments is a discipline in its own right, and many systems of classification have been used over the years. One may classify musical instruments by their effective range or their material composition; however, the most common method, Hornbostel-Sachs, uses the means by which they produce sound. The academic study of musical instruments is called organology.