Music is a word whose accepted definitions vary with time, place and culture.
It is said to be an art, or form of entertainment, it is also often defined
by contrast with noise or speech. Some definitions of music place it explicitly
within a cultural context by defining music as what people accept as musical.
|Music produces a kind of pleasure
which human nature cannot do without.
Confucius (c.551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher
most common definition of music takes it to
be self-evident: music simply is. However,
what this means is the subject of wide discussion.
Broadly there are three groups of definitions:
those that define music as an external fact,
for example "organized sound", those that label
it as a social construction, and those that seek
a platonic or quasi-platonic ideal of music which
is not rooted in specifically physical or mental
definition of music as sound with particular
characteristics is taken as a given by psycho-accoustics,
and is a common one in musicology and performance.
In this view, there are observable patterns to
what is broadly
labeled music, and while there is understandable
cultural variations, the properties of music
are the properties of sound as perceived and
processed by people.
Cage is the most famous advocate of the idea
that music is strictly
is no noise, only sound." According to musicologist
Jean-Jacques Nattiez: "The border between music
and noise is always culturally defined - which
even within a single society, this border does
not always pass through the same place; in short,
there is rarely a consensus... By all accounts
there is no single and intercultural universal
concept defining what music might be."
traditional or classical European aspects of
listed are those elements given primacy in European-influenced
classical music: melody, harmony, rhythm, tone
color, and form. However, a more comprehensive
list is given by stating the aspects of sound:
pitch, timbre, intensity, and duration. These
aspects combine to create secondary aspects including
structure, texture and style.
Other commonly included aspects include the spatial
location or the movement in space of sounds,
gesture, and dance. Silence is also often considered
an aspect of music, if it is considered to exist.
mentioned above not only do the aspects included
as music vary, their importance
varies. For instance,
melody and harmony are often considered to be
given more importance in classical music at the
expense of rhythm and timbre. John Cage considers
duration the primary aspect of music as, being
the temporal aspect of music, it is the only
aspect common to both "sound" and "silence".
is often debated whether there are aspects
of music which are universal.
The debate often hinges on definitions, for instance
the fairly common assertion that "tonality" is
a universal of all music may necessarily require
an expansive definition of tonality. A pulse is sometimes taken
as a universal, yet there exist solo vocal and
instrumental genres with free and improvisational
rhythms no regular pulse; one example is the
of a Hindustani music performance.
According to Dane
Harwood, "We must ask whether a cross-cultural
musical universal is to be found in the music
itself (either its structure or function) or
the way in which music is made. By 'music-making,'
I intend not only actual performance but also
how music is heard, understood, even learned."
terms used to discuss particular pieces include
note, which is an abstraction which
refers to either a specific pitch and/or rhythm
or the written symbol; melody, which is
a succession of notes heard as some sort of unit;
chord, which is a simultaneity of notes heard
as some sort of unit; chord progression which
is a succession of chords (simultaneity succession);
harmony, which is the relationship
between two or more pitches; counterpoint, which
is the simultaneity and organization of different
and rhythm which is the organization
of the durational aspects of music.
Music as organized sound: One
common definition of music is to label it as
'organized sound', which is determines music
according to the poetic and the neutral levels
(it must be composed sonorities), or more aesthetically,
'the artful or pleasing organization of
sound and silence', which determines music
according to the aesthetic. This definition is
widely held to from the late 19th century forward,
which began to scientifically analyze the relationship
between sound and perception.
Schaeffer describes that the sound
music "has decays;
it is granular; it has attacks; it fluctuates,
swollen with impurities - and all this creates
a musicality that comes before any 'cultural'
musicality." Yet the definition according to
the aesthetic level does not allow that the sounds
of classical music are complex, are noises, rather
they are regular, periodic, even, musical sounds.
Nattiez: "My own position can
be summarized in the following terms: just
as music is whatever people choose to recognize
as such, noise is whatever is recognized as disturbing,
unpleasant, or both."
Music as subjective experience: Another
commonly held definition of music holds that
music must be 'pleasant' (determined by the aesthetic
level) or 'melodic'
(determined by the neutral and/or aesthetic levels).
This view is often used to argue that some kinds
of organized sound 'are not music', while others
are, based on type of organization or its aesthetic
effect. Since the range of what is accepted as
music varies from culture to culture and from
time to time, more elaborate versions of this
definition admit some kind of cultural or social
evolution of music, granting that definitions
may vary but universals hold. This definition
was the predominant one in the 18th century,
where, for example, Mozart stated
that "music must never forget itself, it must
never cease to be music." One example of shifts
in the music/noise dichotomy, what organization
is considered musical, is the emancipation
of the dissonance, while Luciano Berio (1976)
describes how the Tristan
chord was noise in 1859 since it was a sonority
unexplainable by contemporary harmonic conventions.
view of music is most heavily criticized by
proponents of the view that music
is a social
construction, defined in opposition to "unpleasant" "noise".
Music as a category of perception: Less
commonly held is the cognitive definition of
music, which argues that music is not merely
the sound, or the perception of sound, but a
means by which perception, action and memory
are organized. This definition is influential
in the cognitive sciences,
which search to locate the regions of the brain responsible for parsing or
remembering different aspects of musical experience.
This definition would include dance.
The Boulangers established
a school of thought centered around this concept
which included the idea of eurhythmics,
which is gesture guided by music.
as a social construct: Post-modern theories
argue that, like all art, music is defined
by social context. According to this
view, music is what people call music, whether
it is a period of silence, found sounds,
or performance. Famously John Cage's
work 4' 33" is
rooted in this conception of music. According
to Nattiez, Cage, Kagel, Schnebel, and others, "now
perceive them [certain of their pieces] (even
if they do not say so publicly) as a way of "speaking" in
music about music, in the second degree, as it
were, to expose or denounce the institutional
aspect of music's functioning."
the above demonstration that "there is
no limit to the number or the genre of variables
that might intervene in a definition of the musical," an organization
of definitions and elements is necessary.
Nattiez describes definitions
according to a tripartite semiological
scheme similar to the following:
are three levels of description, the poetic,
the neutral, and the aesthetic:
- " By
'poetic' I understand describing the link among
the composer's intentions, his creative procedures,
his mental schemas, and the result of
this collection of strategies; that is, the
components that go into the work's material
embodiment. Poetic description thus also deals
with a quite special form of hearing (Varese
called it 'the interior ear'): what the composer
hears while imagining the work's sonorous results,
or while experimenting at the piano, or with
aesthetic I understand not merely the artificially
attentive hearing of a musicologist,
but the description of perceptive behaviors
within a given population of listeners; that
is how this or that aspect of sonorous reality
is captured by their perceptive strategies."
neutral level is that of the physical "trace",
created and interpreted by the aesthetic level
(which corresponds to a perceptive definition;
the perceptive and/or "social" construction
definitions below) and the poetic level (which
corresponds to a creative, as in compositional,
definition; the organizational and social construction
Table describing types of definitions of music:
(choice of the composer)
||sound of the
Because of this range of definitions, the study
of music comes in a wide variety of forms.
There is the study of sound and vibration or
the cognitive study of music, the study of
music theory and performance
practice or music theory and ethnomusicology and
the study of the reception and history of music,
generally called musicology.
who performs, composes, or conducts music is
cultures include strong traditions of solo or
soloistic performance, such as in Indian classical
while other cultures, such as in Bali, include
strong traditions of group performance.
All cultures include a mixture of both, and performance
may range from improvised solo playing for one's
enjoyment to highly planned and organized performance
rituals such as the modern classical concert or religious processions.
What is called chamber music is often
seen as more intimate than symphonic works. A
performer is called a musician, a group being
a musical ensemble such
as a rock
band or orchestra.
Tradition and Notation
is often preserved in memory and performance
only, handed down orally, or aurally ("by
ear"), this music often may be considered "traditional" or
not considered composed by individuals. Different
musical traditions have different attitudes towards
how and where to make changes to the original
source material, from quite strict, to those
which demand improvisation. If the music
is written down, it is generally in some manner
which attempts to capture both what should be
heard by listeners, and what the musician should
do to perform the music. This is referred to
as musical notation, and
the study of how to read notation involves music
theory. Written notation
varies with style and period of music, and includes
scores, lead sheets, guitar tablature, among
the more common notations. Generally music which
is to be performed is produced as sheet music. To perform music
from notation requires an understanding of both
the musical style and performance practice expected
cultures use at least part of the concept of
preconceiving musical material, or composition,
as held in western classical music. Many but
also include the related concept of interpretation,
performing material conceived by others, and
the contrasting concept of improvisation, material
which is spontaneously thought of while performed, not pre-conceived.
However, many cultures and people do not have
this distinction at all, using a broader concept
which incorporates both without discrimination.
Improvised music virtually always follows some
rules or conventions and even "fully composed" includes
some freely chosen material. See also, pre-compositional.
Composition does not always mean the use of notation,
the known sole authorship of one individual.
can also be determined by describing a "process" which
may create musical sounds, examples of this range
from wind chimes, through computer programs which
select sounds. Music which contains elements
selected by chance is called Aleatoric music, and
is most famously associated with John Cage and
musical composition is
a piece of music designed for repeated performance
(as opposed to strictly improvisational music,
in which each performance is unique). The music
may be preserved in memory, or through a written
system of notation. Compositions include songs
to be performed by human voices, usually including
lyrics, as well as pieces written for other musical
Concerts take many different forms and may include
people dressing in formal wear and sitting quietly
in the rows of auditoriums, drinking and dancing
in a bar, or loudly cheering and booing in an
can experience music by feeling the vibrations
in their body; the most famous example of a deaf
musician is the composer Ludwig van Beethoven,
who composed many famous works even after he
had completely lost his hearing. In more modern
times, Evelyn Glennie, who has
been deaf since the age of twelve, is a highly
acclaimed percussionist. Also, Chris
Buck, a violinist virtuoso and New Zealander,
has recently developed deafness.
music that composers make can be heard through
several media; the most traditional way
is to hear it live, in the presence, or as one
of, the musicians. Live music can also be broadcast
over the radio or television. Some musical styles
focus on producing a sound for a performance,
while others focus on producing a recording which
mixes together sounds which were never played "live".
Recording, even of styles which are essentially
live often uses the ability to edit and splice
to produce recordings which are considered "better" than
the actual performance.
many cultures there is less distinction between
performing and listening to music, as virtually
everyone is involved in some sort of musical
activity, often communal. Sometime in the middle
20th century, listening to music through a recorded
form, such as sound recording or watching
a music video became more common
than experiencing live performance. Sometimes,
live performances incorporate
prerecorded sounds; for example, a DJ uses disc
records for scratching.
can also become performers by using Karaoke, invented by the Japanese,
which uses music video and tracks without voice,
so the performer can add his voice to the piece.
people compose, perform, and improvise music
with no training and feel no need for training,
including entire cultures. Other cultures have
traditions of rigorous formal training that may
take years and serious dedication. Sometimes
this training takes the form of apprenticeship,
as in Indian training traditionally
take more years than a college education and
involves spiritual discipline and reverence for
one's guru or teacher. In Bali everyone learns
and practices together. It is also common for
people to take music
lessons, short private study sessions with
an individual teacher, when they want to learn
to play or compose music, usually for a fee.
The most famous private composition teacher is
Many people also study about music
in the field of musicology. The earliest definitions
of musicology defined three sub-disciplines:
systematic musicology, historical
musicology, and comparative
musicology. In contemporary scholarship,
one is more likely to encounter a division of
the discipline into music theory, music
history, and ethnomusicology. Research
in musicology has often been enriched by cross-disciplinary
work, for example in the field of psycho-accoustics.
The study of music of non-western cultures, and
cultural study of music, is called ethnomusicology.
Medieval times, the study of music was one
of the Quadrivium of the seven Liberal
Arts and considered vital to higher learning.
Within the quantitative Quadrivium,
music, or more accurately harmonics, was the study of
the study of the music of non-human animals,
or the musical
aspects of sounds produced by non-human animals.
In the opinion of Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990), "in
the last analysis, it is a human being who decides
what is and is not musical, even when the sound
is not of human origin. If we acknowledge that
sound is not organized and conceptualized (that
is, made to form music) merely by its producer,
but by the mind that perceives it, then music
is uniquely human."
theory is the study of music, generally in
a highly technical manner outside of other
disciplines. More broadly it refers to any study
of music, usually related in some form with compositional
concerns, and may include physics, mathematics,
and anthropology. What is most commonly taught
in beginning music theory classes are guidelines
to write in the style of the common practice
or tonal music. Theory, even
that which studies music of the common practice
period, may take many other forms. Musical set
the application of mathematical set theory to music, first
applied to atonal music. Speculative
music theory is devoted to the analysis and
synthesis of music materials, for example tuning
as preparation for composition.
there are many definitions for music there
are many divisions and groupings of music,
of which are as hotly contested as, and even
caught up in, the argument over the definition
of music. There are many musical
genres. Among the larger genres are classical
music or commercial music (including rock and
roll) and folk music.
The term world music has been
applied to a wide range of music made outside
of Europe and European influence, although its
initial application, in the context of the World
Music Program at Wesleyan University, was as
a term including all possible music genres, and
not excluding European traditions. In academic
circles, the original term for the study of world
music, "comparative musicology", was replaced
in the middle of the twentieth century by "ethnomusicology",
which is still an unsatisfactory definition.
of music are as often determined by tradition
and presentation as
by the actual music. While
most classical music is acoustical in nature,
and meant to be performed by individuals, many
works include samples, tape, or are mechanical,
and yet described as "classical". Some works,
for example Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, are
claimed by both jazz and classical music.
cultures of the world have been in more contact
with each other, their indigenous music styles
have often melded to form new styles. For example,
the U.S.-American bluegrass style has elements
from Anglo-Irish, Scottish, Irish, German and
some African-American instrumental and vocal
traditions, and can only have been a product
of the 20th Century.
- Chocholle, R. (1973). Le Bruit. Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France.
Dane (1976). "Universals in Music:
A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology", Ethnomusicology 20,
Jean (1975). "Fait musical et sémiologue
de la musique", Musique enJeu, no.
- Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and
Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie
générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated
by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN
- Owen, Harold (2000). Music Theory Resource
Book. Oxford University Press. ISBN