Stone Musical Instruments? They Could Be The First Musical Instruments

We’ve talked about all the great uses of stones – from construction to industrial to energy generation. But have you ever thought about stones being used to create music?

It may sound weird, even unbelievable, but stones could well have been the earliest musical instruments man has ever used.

Long before man has invented brass musical instruments like the saxophones here at, our pre-historic ancestors have actually played music by striking on rocks. Stones were certainly not the ideal material for musical instruments. Compared to the tone produced by wood, the versatility and durability of metal, stones seem impractical. But the different special qualities of stones actually allowed man to turn it into musical instruments.

Archaeologists have discovered ringing rocks on different sites across the planet, usually close to rock paintings. In Africa, rock gongs have been found in different parts of Uganda, Nigeria, and Sudan. Meanwhile, in India, stones are continued to be used by certain minorities as substitute to drums.

Some of the earliest known tuned percussions have been found in Vietnam and China. Archaeologists have discovered sets of stones in Vietnam, in which each stone plays a different pitch. These tuned stones date back to over three thousand years, and some are even used in ceremonies. The use of stones for music continues in this Southeast Asian country. Some musicians use modern tuned lithophones, which are actually xylophones made of stone.

Similar tuned stones have also been unearthed in other parts of the world. In Central Africa, specifically in Togo, small flat stones producing different tunes are laid on the ground and struck to produce music. These are used in ritual performances that signal changes in the seasons.

In other parts of Asia, the stone chime bars are still used in ceremonial music. This tradition is believed to have originated in China where an ancient musical instrument called bian q’ing, a lithotope composed of sixteen to thirty two stone bars and suspended on a frame, can be found. The chimes are made of different stone types like marble, jade, and others. These chimes are arranged in L-shape and are played by striking with a hammer. This stone musical instrument is used in other cultures in the Far East such as in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The use of stones for music has reached the Western World during the 19th century. It was in 1785 when Peter Crosthwaite invented the very first lithophone, a xylophone-type instrument made of stones. But it was Joseph Richardson who actually popularized the stone musical instrument. Inspired by the work of Crosthwaite, he built a much larger instrument known as the Rock Harmonicon. He, along with his family, toured the world and played his stone musical instrument along with its ensemble of drums, steel bars and bells. They have even performed in front of Queen Victoria herself. Other performers followed suit. Some of the successful names include William Till, who eventually moved to the USA and performed with Till Family Rock Band.

Today, there are still musicians that accept the challenge of playing music on stones. It’s amazing how the stone tunes can actually blend well with other wind musical instruments that can be found at Truly these musical stones attest to the ingenuity of man!