What Is Music?
Sounds are all around us, from birds chirping and waves lapping against a coastline to cars honking in traffic. But sometimes sounds are put together in purposeful ways to create a specific atmosphere or to express ideas or emotions. Such organised sounds are called music.
Music is a collection of coordinated sound or sounds. Making music is the process of putting sounds and tones in an order, often combining them to create a unified composition. People who make music creatively organise sounds for a desired result, like a Beethoven symphony or one of Duke Ellington’s jazz songs. Music is made of sounds, vibrations, and silent moments, and it doesn’t always have to be pleasant or pretty. It can be used to convey a whole range of experiences, environments, and emotions.
Music is everywhere to be heard. But what is music? Commentators have spoken of “the relationship of music to the human senses and intellect,” thus affirming a world of human discourse as the necessary setting for the art. A definition of music itself will take longer. As Aristotle said, “It is not easy to determine the nature of music or why anyone should have a knowledge of it.”
Early in the 20th century, it was regarded as a commonplace that a musical tone was characterised by the regularity of its vibrations; this uniformity gave it a fixed pitch and distinguished its sounds from “noise.” Although that view may have been supported by traditional music, by the latter half of the 20th century it was recognised as an unacceptable yardstick. Indeed, “noise” itself and silence became elements in composition, and random sounds were used (without prior knowledge of what they would be) by composers, such as the American John Cage, and others in works having aleatory (chance) or impromptu features. Tone, moreover, is only one component in music, others being rhythm, timbre (tone colour), and texture. Electronic machinery enabled some composers to create works in which the traditional role of the interpreter is abolished and to record, directly on tape or into a digital file, sounds that were formerly beyond human ability to produce, if not to imagine.
Early Indian and Chinese conceptions
From historical accounts it is clear that the power to move people has always been attributed to music; its ecstatic possibilities have been recognised in all cultures and have usually been admitted in practise under particular conditions, sometimes stringent ones. In India, music has been put into the service of religion from earliest times; Vedic hymns stand at the beginning of the record. As the art developed over many centuries into a music of profound melodic and rhythmic intricacy, the discipline of a religious text or the guideline of a storey determined the structure. In the 21st century the narrator remains central to the performance of much Indian traditional music, and the virtuosity of a skillful singer rivals that of the instrumentalists. There is very little concept of vocal or instrumental idiom in the Western sense. The vertical dimension of chord structure—that is, the effects created by sounding tones simultaneously—is not a part of South Asian classical music; the divisions of an octave (intervals) are more numerous than in Western music, and the melodic complexity of the music goes far beyond that of its Western counterpart.