Defining Music – Just What Is This Form of Art? | mumble in the jungle

Defining Music – Just What Is This Form of Art?


Music is an art form, which used a combination of silence and audible sounds in an organized manner. A number of key elements or aspects are common to music, something that you will learn all about when you go to music college. Defining music, however, has proven to be incredibly difficult.

The Aspects of Music

The aspects of music are recognized as being:

  1. Pitch, which is harmony and melody.
  2. Rhythm, which is meter and tempo.
  3. Sound quality, which is texture, dynamics, articulation, and timbre.

By constructing different natural stimuli, which includes sounds, different combinations and patterns have also been created. Music, throughout history, has been used for ceremonial purposes, entertainment, communication, and esthetics. So why is it so hard to define music? Mainly because different social groups and cultures see it in different ways. The only thing that everybody really seems to agree on is that music is art, but that it is an auditory rather than visual form.

Trying to Define Music

At its heart, music is basically organized sound. Anything that is called “music” usually follows some sort of observable pattern. Of course, these patterns vary depending on cultures, but all cultures agree that music is about sound as they are perceived by living things. We now know, for instance, that insects and birds also make music.

Music is organized and it is formulated. Technically, it does not contain any emotions. However, it can be emotive, transforming and manipulating what and how the listener feels. A good example of this is music that is created specifically for movies, where people are encouraged to feel certain things at certain times.

Medieval theorists and Greek philosophers tried to define music, and they believed it to be an order of tones, following horizontal lines to create melodies, and following vertical lines to create harmonies. If you study music theory, you will work from the basis that music is pleasant to hear, because it is orderly. However, sometime during the 20th century, composers tried to challenge this and moved away from music being pleasant, creating darker, harsher timbres instead. When you consider genres like noise music and grindcore now exist, which have a large following as well, it quickly becomes clear that music is subjective, as different people enjoy different things.

John Cage really revolutionized the idea of music, because he said that music did not need to consist of discernible, pleasant melodies. He further challenged the idea that music is able to communicate. Rather, he claimed that anything that can be heard is purely subjective. Jean-Jacques Nattiez, a famous musicologist, agreed, stating that it is often difficult to draw a line between noise and music. Different cultures have different agreements on this. What both these great musicians and thinkers agree was that there simply is no universal agreement on what music actually is.

These are things for you to think about, because it is likely that you will debate them in great lengths once you go to music college.