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The definition of the word "music" is hotly contested, not least because the word has strong connotations anduse beyond the subject itself.

Music as sound: One common definition of music is to label it as "organized sound " or more ornately, "the artful organization of sound and silence ". This definition is widely held to from the late 19th century forward, which began to scientifically analyze therelationship between sound and perception .

Music as subjective experience: Another commonly held definition of music holds that music must be "pleasant" or" melodic ". This view is used to argue that some kinds of organized sound "are notmusic", while others are. Since the range of what is accepted as music varies from culture to culture and from time to time, moreelaborate versions of this definition admit some kind of cultural or social evolution of music. This definition was thepredominant one in the 18th century , where, for example, Mozart stated that "music must never forget itself, it must never cease to be music."

Music as a category of perception: Less commonly held is the cognitive definition of music, which argues that musicis not merely the sound, or the perception of sound, but a means by which perception, action and memory are organized. Thisdefinition is influential in the cognitive sciences , which searchto locate the regions of the brain responsible for parsing or remembering differentaspects of musical experience. This definition would include dance . The Boulangers established a school of thought centered around this concept which includedthe idea of eurhythmics , which is gesture guided by music.

Music as a social construct: Post-modern theories argue that,like art, music is defined primarily by social context. According to this view, musicis what people call music, whether it is a period of silence , found sounds, or performance . Famously JohnCage 's work 4' 33" is rootedin this conception of music.

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 acoustics , thecognitive study of music, the study of music theory and performancepractice or music theory and ethnomusicology and the study of thereception and history of music, generally called musicology .

Table of contents

Aspects of music

The commonly defined compositional and auditory aspects of music are pitch , timbre , intensity , and duration . Pitch is rooted in the frequency of thesound experienced, and is perceived as how "low" or "high" a sound is, and may be further described as definite pitch or indefinite pitch . Timbre is the quality of a sound, determined by the fundamental and its spectra : overtones or harmonics and envelope , and varies between voices and types and kinds of musical instruments , which are tools used to produce sound. Intensity,or dynamics , is how loud or quiet a sound is and includes how stressed a sound is. The spatial location or the movement in space of sounds may alsobe an aspect of music. Silence is also often considered an aspect of music, if it isconsidered to exist. Duration is the only aspect common to both "sound" and "silence", being the temporal aspect of music. A musician is someone who performs, composes, or conducts music.

Some cultures may or may not include the above aspects, or include their own aspects, in their definitions of music. Forinstance, in classical Indian music there is no conception of harmony or vertical relationships, and the Blackfoot do not consider bird "song" to be music. Some cultures would include dance .

Common terms

Terms used to discuss particular pieces include note , which is a specific pitch and itsplacement; 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 melodies; and rhythm which is the organization of the durational aspects of music.

For a more comprehensive list of terms see: List ofmusical topics


Solo and ensemble

Many cultures include strong traditions of solo or soloistic performance , such as in Indianclassical music , while other cultures, such as in Bali , include strong traditions of group performance. All cultures include a mixture of both, and performance may range fromimprovised 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 rockband or orchestra .

Oral tradition and notation

Music is often preserved in memory and performance only, handed down orally, or aurally ("by ear"), this music often may beconsidered "traditional" or not considered composed by individuals. Different musical traditions have different attitudes towardshow 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 whichattempts to capture both what should be heard by listeners, and what the musician should do to perform the music. This isreferred to as musical notation , and the study of how to readnotation involves music theory . Written notation varies with style andperiod of music, and includes scores, lead sheets, guitar tablature, among the more common notations. Generally music which is tobe performed is produced as sheet music . To perform music from notationrequires an understanding of both the musical style and performance practice expected or acceptable.

Improvisation, interpretation, composition

Most cultures use at least part of the concept of preconceiving musical material, or composition , as held in western classical music. Many but fewer cultures also include the relatedconcept of interpretation , performing material conceived by others, andless still the contrasting concept of improvisation , material which isspontaneously thought of while performed, not pre-conceived. However, many cultures and people do not have thisdistinction at all, using a broader concept which incorporates both without discrimination. Improvised music virtually alwaysfollows some rules or conventions and even "fully composed" includes some freely chosen material. See also, precompositional . Composition does not always mean the use of notation, orthe known sole authorship of one individual.

Compositional methods

Music can also be determined by describing a "process" which may create musical sounds, examples of this range from windchimes, 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 WitoldLutoslawski . See: precompositional , form , modulation , twelve tone technique , serialism , and process music .


Concerts take many different forms and may include people dressing in formal wear and sitting quietly in the rows ofauditoriums, drinking and dancing in a bar, or loudly cheering and booing in an auditorium.

Deaf people can experience music by feeling the vibrations in their body; the mostfamous example of a deaf musician is the composer Ludwig vanBeethoven , 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 highlyacclaimed percussionist. Also, ChrisBuck , a violinist virtuoso and New Zealander, has recently developed deafness. See: Baschet Brothers . See: psychoacoustics .


The music that composers make can be heard through several media ; the most traditionalway 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 focuson producing a sound for a performance, while others focus on producing a recording which mixes together sounds which were neverplayed "live". Recording, even of styles which are essentially live often uses the ability to edit and splice to producerecordings which are considered "better" than the actual performance.

In many cultures there is less distinction between performing and listening to music, as virtually everyone is involved insome 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 .

See: sound sculpture .



Many 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 trainingtakes the form of apprenticeship, as in Indian training traditionallytake more years than a college education and involves spiritual discipline and reverence for one's guru or teacher. In Bali everyone learns andpractices 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. Themost famous private composition teacher is Nadia Boulanger .

Secondary education

The incorporation of music performance and theory into a general liberal arts curriculum, from pre-school to postsecondaryeducation, is relatively common. Western style secondary schooling is increasingly common around the world, such as STSI in Bali .Meanwhile, western schools are increasingly including the study of the music of other cultures such as the Balinese gamelan, ofwhich there are currently more than 200 in America.


Many people also study about music in the field of musicology . Theearliest definitions of musicology defined three sub-disciplines: systematic musicology , historicalmusicology , and comparative musicology . In contemporary scholarship, one is more likely to encounter a division ofthe discipline into music theory , music history , and ethnomusicology . Research inmusicology has often been enriched by cross-disciplinary work, for example in the field of psychoacoustics . The study of music of non-western cultures, and the cultural study of music, is called ethnomusicology .

In Medieval times, the study of music was one of the Quadrivium of the seven Liberal Arts and considered vital to higher learning. Within thequantitative Quadrivium , music, or more accurately harmonics , was the study of rational proportions.


Music theory is the study of music, generally in a highly technical manner outside of other disciplines. More broadly itrefers to any study of music, usually related in some form with compositional concerns, and may include physics, mathematics, andanthropology. What is most commonly taught in beginning music theory classes are guidelines to write in the style of the common practice period , or tonal music . Theory, even that which studies music of the common practice period, may take many other forms. Musical set theory is 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 systems , generally as preparation for composition. See "CommonTerms" above.


As there are many definitions for music there are many divisions and groupings of music, many of which are as hotly contestedas, and even caught up in, the argument over the definition of music. There are many musical genres . Among the larger genres are classicalmusic , popular music or commercial music (including rock and roll ) and folk music .The term world music is applied to a wide range of music madeoutside of Europe and European influence, although its initial application, in the context of the World Music Program at WesleyanUniversity, was as a term including all possible musics, and not excluding European traditions. In academic circles, the originalterm 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.

Genres of music are as often determined by tradition and presentation as by the actual music. While most classical music isacoustical in nature, and meant to be performed by individuals, many works include samples, tape, or are mechanical, and yetdescribed as "classical". Some works, for example Gershwin 's Rhapsody in Blue , are claimed by both jazz and classical music.

As cultures of the world have been in more contact with each other, their indigenous music styles have often melded to formnew styles. For example, the U.S.-American bluegrass style haselements from Anglo-Irish, Scottish, Irish, German and some African-American instrumental and vocal traditions, and can only havebeen a product of the 20th Century.

Many music festivals exist these days celebrating a particularmusic genre .

See: List of genres of music

See also

External links

Music and math

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