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From Middle English musik, from Anglo-French musike, from Latin musica, from Greek μουσικη mousike

Music as an art, is a form consisting entirely of organized sound interspersed with periods of silence.[1] It takes its name from nine Greek goddesses known as the Muses, who specialized in stimulation of an artist's or poet's mind.

Music is known for its ability to stir human emotion, and its effects on the human brain are believed to be more profound than those produced by other art forms. [2]. This ability of music to affect one's mental state has allowed it to be used as a form of therapy for patients with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Music is also considered to be humankind's oldest art form, and is common to almost all known human cultures.


What is music?

Opera by Rossini.

Music is difficult to define, as it is difficult to extricate a clinical definition of the word from the inherent value judgments that accompany it. In everyday usage, the word "music" is understood to be sounds which are organized to enthrall and move the listener, in contrast to "noise" which is unorganized sound producing no particular effect. Inevitably, some music (particularly some types of modern music) is described as "noise" or "not music" by listeners who do not enjoy or understand it. What appears as music to one person may be interpreted as noise to another, and vice versa, as interpretation of sounds, whether organized or disorganized, dissonant or harmonious, may arouse different sorts of feelings in a listener.

Common definitions therefore include "organized sound" or "art in the medium of sound". But even these do not encompass some avant-garde works, such as John Cage's 4'33'', which contains no notes and instead comprises whatever background sounds happen to occur during a performance.

Note that music is not limited to such sounds that a human being might produce by fashioning an instrument for the making of a simplified or otherwise organized sound and then "playing" said instrument. The chirping of birds and certain insects may properly be called music, especially if the sound produced is particularly pleasant to the listener. Furthermore, some of the most sophisticated music attempts to imitate the sounds made by birds, insects, and other animals.

Basic music theory

Main Article: Music theory

The basic building blocks of Western music comprise tones/notes, melodies, counterpoint, harmony and rhythm. A tone is the purest form of sound, having a single frequency. However, pure tones do not occur in music. In practice, tones present themselves to the human ear together with overtones, which typically are small-integer multiples of the basic frequency (the fundamental tone). These overtones are what give each instrument (or, in the case of voices, each vowel) its characteristic sound. A trumpet and a violin playing the same pitch will be clearly distinguished because the relative strengths of their overtones are different. In human speech and singing, the long vowels U (oo), O (oh) and A (aw) have stronger low overtones, while the vowels E (ee) and I (eye) have stronger higher overtones. You can hear this for yourself by pronouncing an "ooh" vowel and very slowly shifting to an "ee" vowel while carefully listening to the sound produced.

Notes, intervals, and scales


Two tones played together form an interval. The simplest of all intervals is the octave, formed by two tones, one of whose frequencies is the exact double of the other. The full collection of tones that one can play between the two notes of an octave is called a scale. In Western music, most scales are semi-tonal, with twelve tones between the octave notes. (The high end of the octave is considered a repetition of the low end, but at twice the frequency.) Oriental music commonly has quarter-tonal scales, with twenty-four separate tones within an octave. Quarter tones are often difficult to distinguish for a Western listener, and such music, as a result, tends to suggest the sinuous movement of a snake.

The Greeks recognized early that fundamental tones in music have a simple and strict mathematical relationship. As mentioned, the octave consists of two notes, one at double the frequency of the other. At triple the frequency, one hears a low fundamental tone, and a higher tone that is past the octave but roughly midway toward the second octave. If one then divides the high-tone frequency by two, one creates the interval called the perfect fifth or dominant interval, one of the most common intervals used in Western music. One can test this relationship by striking a note on a piano while holding down another key that is one octave higher than the perfect fifth. The second note will sound in sympathy with the first because it is resonating with the overtone from the first note.

Melody and counterpoint

Melody is the series of notes that most closely captures the attention of the listener: the 'tune' one hums along with.

Counterpoint is a specific technique for creating secondary melodies that intertwine with and complement the main melody. In most music since the 17th century, including modern popular music, the bass line is written in counterpoint with the most prominent melody. Another example from the popular tradition would be dueling guitar leads. The best representation of counterpoint in classical music is considered to be the fugue, a very strict form which is best exemplified by Johann Sebastian Bach.


When two or more notes sound at the same time, it is called a chord , and the distance between the notes is the interval. In the western 12-note scale common usage, an interval is often expressed in relative terms, using the eight notes that make up an octave and prefixing 'major' or 'minor' to account for the interstitial notes. For instance, the interval between 'C' and 'E' is a 3rd because 'E' is the 3rd note in the major scale of C. One-half step below that is a minor 3rd, although this exact same note could also be called an augmented 2nd.

Harmony is the study of notes which occur together or which are perceived as being together. This usually means notes which are played simultaneously, as in a chord, but can also apply to notes within a melody which outline a chord. The harmony that results from the combination of any two or more notes depends on the interval present between those notes. A system of Roman numerals is the most common means used to analyze harmony.

In concert Jean Claude Gaugy.jpg

Many of the feelings and emotions that music can evoke are a result of the tension between the consonant (pleasant) sound of some intervals, and the dissonant sound of others. During the development of western music, certain rules were established for proper harmony, and these rules specified how intervals (chords) could change over time in the music.

For example, the interval of the 3rd is one of the most common and consonant in classical (and popular) music. But in the medieval music, 3rd were deemed to be dissonant. While they still occurred, particularly in English music more than continental European music, they would 'resolve' to a 5th, which was considered a purer interval. In classical music, the open 5th is considered to sound too bare and exposed. Until the sixteenth century, chords containing certain intervals, like 7ths, were required to resolve to the more harmonious octave, while other intervals, like diminished 5ths, were deemed ugly and even considered evil, and banned from use in liturgical music. In fact, the diminished fifth (or augmented fourth) was referred to as the diabolus in musica (literally, 'the devil in music'), as was believed to represent Satan. Today, in writing counterpoint, students are taught not to write lines which leap between or outline the diminished fifth, although this is now for musical rather than superstitious reasons.

Throughout the classical and romantic eras, the harmonic language used by composers was gradually expanded, becoming increasingly complex and free. By the time of the early twentieth century, certain composers like Arnold Schoenberg broke away from traditional tonality entirely, and pioneered the use of atonal harmony.


Rhythm consists of all aspects of music that suggest forward movement. Most music contains a regularly repeating sequence of beats, or strong elements, that typically lead with a down beat followed by any of a small number of slightly weaker beats. A down beat and its weaker beats form a measure. Usually, all measures in a piece of music have the same number of beats.

A note in music is described not only by pitch, or frequency, but also by duration. Notes in Western music have names that typically describe how long they would sound in a typical measure. Whole notes are so called because normally they would sound for the full measure. Half notes would sound for half the measure, quarter notes for a fourth of the measure, and so on. A note may also carry a dot to the right of it, that indicates that the note is to sound for one and one-half times its usual duration.

Any one of these notes may carry a beat, and a measure may have any number of beats. Thus every piece of music commonly carries at least one time signature describing how many beats a measure has, and which type of note carries one beat. The most common time is "four-quarter time" (four beats per measure, with the beat given to the quarter note), which is therefore called "common time." Other commonly used time signatures include three-quarter, six-eighth, nine-eighth, or two-half (called Alla breve or "cut time"). Even rarer are the time signatures with prime numbers of beats (other than three-quarter), including five-quarter or even eleven-eighth.

Tempo (Italian for "time") describes how frequently the beats occur. The typical tempo signature is a drawing of the note that has the beat, followed by the number of beats per minute.

Notes may be accented at any time. In fact, often the accent will fall on the weak beat and make the beats seem to sound out-of-sequence. The result is syncopated rhythm.

Some sub-genres of rock and roll feature a backbeat.[3] These are the second and fourth beats, in four-quarter time, unstressed in classical usage, which become stressed even more strongly than the down beat. An especially prominent backbeat is a defining feature of reggae and ska music.

Types of instruments

Main Article: Musical instruments


Musica Cassell.jpg

Evidence of musical activity is present in all known human cultures. The earliest known complete piece of music is the Epitaph of Seikilos, carved in stone in Greece some time around the first century AD. Thereafter, the most complete historical record of musical development is European sacred music. Plainchant, or Gregorian chant, was first codified in the sixth century - although it had existed for many years prior to that - and from the 11th century onwards plain-chant formed the basis for the earliest known use of harmony.

The Greeks, when Alexander the Great accepted the surrender of Jerusalem in his wars of conquest, introduced their own brand of music to the region which the Jews largely resisted. But music was highly prominent throughout the Greek world—and later in the Roman world following Rome's conquest of Greece. The Greeks' contributions to music theory influenced artists for centuries to come, and still have a strong influence today, especially on composers who prefer to adhere to the classical traditions of music.

The earliest Greek music was associated with Greek theater. Beginning with the fall of Rome, however, music became largely liturgical. The primary influence remained the Roman Catholic Church until the twin movements of the Renaissance and the Reformation, each of which introduced a countervailing tradition.

From that time forward, most scholars divide music into "classical" music (composed primarily to achieve a high art) and "popular" music (composed for the masses and tending to achieve wide, but ephemeral, appeal).[4]

"Classical music" tends to rely more on written notation, as a piece of classical music is generally held to transcend any particular interpretation of it. In current practice, such music is performed in concerts where the audience is expected to remain respectfully silent and the performers dress formally; however, in the past such music was often performed at salons and other informal private gatherings. In addition, the increasing importance of the written transmission of such music has reduced the role of improvisation, which was extremely important through the beginning of the "Romantic" era. Classical music also displays great musical complexity through the use of varied rhythms, chord progressions, counterpoint, and other compositional techniques, while maintaining a deep emotional content.

"Popular music" on the other hand, tends to be more accessible to the general public through the use of simpler forms and relatively simple compositional techniques. Much popular music is the product of modern business enterprise, as opposed to folk music (created by ordinary people for their own enjoyment) or classical music (which was originally written for religious practice or for the entertainment of the nobility).

These two genres; however, are not necessarily distinct, as composers such as Bach and Mozart would often incorporate themes from "popular music" of their time into their works. Other classical composers like Ravel and Gershwin were well-known for their use of jazz idiom in works like the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra and Rhapsody in Blue. On the other hand, popular music has borrowed many themes from classical works (one notable example is "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum). In addition, "popular music" is not necessarily simpler than classical, as forms like jazz and progressive rock make use of complex time signatures that do not often occur in classical works, and some popular musicians like Frank Zappa are considered serious composers in their own right.

Music in the Bible

The Bible suggests that music actually began in heaven. It credits Lucifer as being the first musician, and Jubal, son of Lamech the Murderer by his wife Adah, with introducing music to mankind.[5]

King David, at the height of his reign, is said to have had a four-thousand-voice choir to assist in the worship of God. The Book of Psalms is a collection of lyrics composed by David for some of the first worship songs in Israelite tradition. The Song of Solomon may also have been intended to be sung.

Mentions of "singing to the Lord" abound in the Old Testament. The most specific testimony to the power of music over human emotions is surely contained in the story of King Saul and how he came to recruit the young David as his armorbearer and personal musician.[6] It has also been theorised that the original meaning of the verb "to prophecy" was "to make music".

Classical and popular music

Franz Liszt in 1870

The division of music into "classical" and "popular" is, like the definition of music itself, a source of controversy. To group music into one category or the other is problematic, as there is an implied value judgment between the two. Jazz, for example, began as a fusion of marching band music (which is close to the classical tradition), folk music, such as the Blues (which is closer to popular music), and ragtime (which was popular music at the time but which is now more often grouped with the classics). Jazz music itself was firmly grouped in the popular tradition until World War Two, but offshoots of it have since become much closer in style to contemporary classical music.

Common criteria used to distinguish between classical and contemporary music are often unreliable, as both can be used for entertainment, for worship, to accompany other art forms such as theater, for dancing, to relax or motivate people, and for the purpose of making money.

Both forms of music can be used as propaganda, as in some of the works of Dmitri Shostakovich (although this is debated; see the article on Shostakovich for a more complete discussion).

Many types of music have been used to accompany dancing. This was as true in the past as it is today, all over the world, whether in the discos of American nightclubs or the salsa bars of Latin America. Today, people may dance to Madonna (the female recording artist), while a generation ago people were dancing to the works of Duke Ellington and Sammy Nestico. Before that, the waltzes of Strauss were popular, while in the Baroque era (1650-1750), the dance suite was a popular compositional form. Dancing to music, whether melodic or rhythmic in nature, often plays a ritualistic role in societies across the world. Music and dance have been central to the rites of many religions and can also be found in some Christian religious traditions.

Possible healing effects

The recent case of a choir consisting primarily of sufferers from various neurological diseases and some of their caregivers, friends and associates, has highlighted recent evidence that performing music, or even listening to it, might actually help to heal the brain, in addition to providing helpful emotional support to the disease sufferers. Music appears to stimulate the brain to find supplemental neural pathways to route around a region of damage. Benefits have been observed in patients suffering from stroke, Parkinson's Disease, and other degenerative neurological disorders.[7]

Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. [8]

The power of music over human emotion

Owana Salazar Classic Music.jpeg

Music has a very powerful effect on the emotions of the listener. Music relies on sound, and if "faith comes through hearing," then so does emotion. Music can instantly bring joy or sorrow, ecstasy or despair, and far more quickly than can any other form of art. Many musical composers insist that their music merely expresses emotions. This does not do music justice. Music does more than express emotions; it induces them.[9]

The amateur botanist Dorothy L. Retallack, in 1973, claimed to have found that music can have an effect on plants. "Positive" music (that produces joy or contentment) supposedly made plants flourish and even "reach" for, or grow toward, such music. Negative music (that produces frustration, restlessness, or especially anger and rage) supposedly caused plants to "recoil" (grow away) from the music, and prolonged or repeated exposure debilitates and eventually killed plants, or so she said.[10][11]

No botanist has ever reproduced Retallack's claimed results. But the effects on animals and humans are far better documented and much more profound than any effect on plants that Retallack ever claimed. That animals, and especially dogs and cats, recoil in horror from the sound of a poorly trained voice, is proverbial (and in fact the animals might be reacting to a sound that is not merely grating but acutely and physically painful to their ears). The Dovesong Foundation has found evidence for musical preferences by cattle[12] and cetaceans.[13]

Music has also had a profound and well-documented effect in human history. The history of warfare includes a rich history of martial music. More recently, music has now found a use in the healing of negative emotional states and even as an aid to the healing of physical disabilities.[14]

Commercial enterprises always attempt, at great expense of time, money, and effort, to find and deploy forms of music that will enhance worker productivity or cause prospective customers to behave in a manner calculated to make them purchase their goods and/or services. The pop selections played in supermarkets are a prime example. Music played over public address systems is also used to dissuade youths from loitering around shopping centers and railway stations.

Music has always been an adjunct to theater. This is especially true of the performing arts called opera and ballet, but applies also to the use of music as an adjunct to a theatrical production, whether on the stage, as a motion picture, or as a television show.

Music also has an obvious use in propaganda, in which the propagandist seeks to manipulate people's emotions and stir them typically to rage and hostility against certain groups.

Finally, music can strengthen in the listener a curiosity about, or even a desire for, an act of sexual or other sin.[15][16] Sadly, this use of music is probably as old as "the oldest profession." Cultural critics observe, pointedly, that permissive cultures have permissive music, and non-permissive cultures avoid such music.

Yet for all this, music is still important in worship. If it were not, then it would not have received the favorable attention that the Bible clearly gives to it. As powerful a force for evil as it might be, music can be an equally powerful force to encourage the listener to worship, appreciate, and above all obey God and keep His laws--at least, as best as any human being is able.

  • Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Berthold Auerbach.
  • Music can soften the unbridgeable political gulfs that separate peoples in conflict.[17]

Is music neutral?

For a detailed answer, see Essay:Music is not neutral.

Traditions and principles for liturgical music

Saint Paul specifically exhorts his readers to employ music, and specifically "psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes," to bring them closer to God.[18] [19] In this context, a psalm is not necessarily a chapter out of the Book of Psalms; it can be any song that primarily quotes any part of Scripture. Hymns are songs primarily of praise and magnification of God; they do not, however, directly quote Scripture in most of their lyrics, as "psalms" do. Spiritual odes are primarily personal testimonies, either of salvation or of one's own perception of God. Amazing Grace, by John Newton, is a prime example. It Is Well With My Soul, by Horatio Spafford, is one song that has features of a hymn and a spiritual ode.

John Wesley too sought spirituality through music and wrote in his Directions for Singing that "Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually." [20]

The Rev. Alan B. Brown, MDiv, ThM, has studied liturgical music extensively. In his view.[21] liturgical music ought to satisfy three prime tests:

  1. Are the lyrics accurate, either when they quote Scripture or reflect Christian principles?
  2. Can you properly associate the lyrics and/or the notes with Godly things, as opposed to worldly things?
  3. Are the lyrics and/or the notes appropriate for worship in general, and in the setting of a particular celebration?

The actual notes to the tunes that, say, King David's choir might have sung, or his royal orchestra might have produced, are lost to us today. But the titles of many of the Psalms contain specific instructions, originally to the music director at King David's court, as to the type of tune and the types of instruments required. Archaeologists have recovered coins and other artifacts depicting musical instruments and musicians from various digs in Israel. The detail has often enabled inventors to reconstruct the instruments likely used by the court orchestras of Kings David and Solomon.[22]

Hymnists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often set the Psalms and other portions of Scripture to music, often with very good effect. The best-known example is the Doxology (literally, "study in glory") that is a paraphrase of Psalm 100; the tune is called "Old Hundredth" and remains popular today.

Controversies surrounding music today


Music perhaps has always been controversial, but the controversies surrounding music today rage with particular vehemence. The question of what is, and what is not, music is relatively tame. Different composers (such as avant-garde musician John Cage) have always experimented with different music conventions, and always will (perhaps they must). Many such experiments fail in that the works produced draw only small audiences, and ultimately no one will play them as no one will pay to listen to them or to have them played for other people. However, whether or not the 'success' of a musical venture can be ascertained based on the size of the audience it draws is somewhat tenuous, as music subject to much critical acclaim can often be shunned by the wider public in favour of more heavily promoted music.

Rather, the most raging controversy concerns certain genres of popular music that have provoked adverse political comment precisely because of the emotions they incite and the themes they sound, both in lyrics and in notes. Some parents of adolescent and pre-adolescent children object to music that explicitly (mainly through its lyrics) exhorts its listeners to sexual sin. Members of various political interest groups object to music that they believe provokes its listeners to show disrespect for members of those groups.

Some listeners and music critics defend music as "amoral," that is, morally neutral. They maintain that music exists only for people to enjoy, not to make a political point. Any morality found in the music, they argue, is a result of what the listener imparts onto the music. For some, indeed, music is an escape. To them, one who tries to infer a serious purpose in a given piece of music ought to abandon the attempt and simply enjoy it for what it is. This attitude recalls Mark Twain's famous introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

The reaction of so many interested parties to various types of popular music today would seem to militate against that stance. Indeed, history is replete with examples of various pieces of music from earlier eras inciting their listeners to violence; Maurice Ravel's signature work Bolero, for example, was known to incite riots[23], as was Igor Stravinsky's work The Rite of Spring.[24]

Riots have also broken out at many rock-and-roll concerts, and often the responding law-enforcement authorities have been at a loss to determine the ultimate causes of those riots. The proximate cause typically is a one-on-one fight in which other concert attendees joined in—but what put the original combatants into a fighting mood, or causes others to join a fight that was, strictly speaking, not theirs, is far more difficult to explain. Perhaps too many of the listeners are worshiping the performers as if they were pagan idols—a circumstance that, some say, composers like Franz Liszt and Nicolo Paganini had to contend with or even chose to exploit. Perhaps the causes have as much to do with the subculture of which rock-and-roll music is a part, as with the music itself. Then, too, no physician has ever investigated the chronic, or long-standing, effects of a steady aural diet of different genres of music—beyond expressing concern that many listeners are listening to their music too loud and damaging their hearing with the sheer physical stress of the loud sounds. The only signs that anyone can study, if they are signs of anything at all, are the statistics concerning psychological stress affecting, and substance abuse by, performers of various types of music. (Riots do not routinely break out at classical performances—at least, not since the Rite of Spring riot mentioned above. This might simply be due to wild behavior not being normative on the part of those who routinely patronize such music.)

Throughout world history, "new" music (which 200 years later may be considered classical or traditions) has often elicited the claim "dangerous" "sexually perverse" and "against human nature". Both Mozart and Beethoven were regarded as dangerous, and the entire "major chord" system was offensive to early Christian ears. Music from other cultures, seen by some as merely different or ethnic, is often labeled dangerous or simply "noise" by outside cultures.

Musical Talent

Mexican soprano Ana Caridad Villeda.

People have long debated whether musical ability is inherited. A team of Anglo-American researchers estimated "that between 70 to 80 per cent of an individual's ability to recognise musical pitch is inherited" the heritability of musical talent at 70%, meaning that after allowing for a 30% influence from known factors they assumed that the rest comes from genes. [1]

Music educator Joel Lewis begs to differ: "Musical talent just isn’t inherited: it really is created." [2]

See also

External links


  1. Music defined in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
  2. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
  3. Normative Backbeat at
  4. Popular music defined at the Free Dictionary
  5. Genesis 5:19-21 (KJV)
  6. I_Samuel 16:14-23 (KJV)
  7. Hooper S, "Music a 'mega-vitamin' for the brain," Cable News Network, 2 June 2009. Accesssed 3 June 2009. <>
  8. The Power of Music To Reduce Stress.
  9. MUSICA Notes III(1), Spring 1996
  10. Retallack, Dorothy L. The Sound of Music and Plants. Devorss and Company, June 1973, 96 pp., paperback. ISBN 0875161707
  11. About Positive and Negative Music from the Dovesong Foundation
  12. Cows Prefer Classical Music
  13. Dolphins Don't Like Rock (The article refers to the classic dolphin (family Cetacea), aka "porpoise," not the fish of that name.)
  14. The American Music Therapy Association
  15. Linking Sexual Music and Teen Behavior by Gene Edward Veith at the World Magazine Blog
  16. Face the music, parents at WorldNetDaily 12 August 2006
  17. The Folklore of the Other
  18. Ephesians 5:19 (KJV)
  19. Colossians 3:16 (KJV)
  21. Brown, Alan B.: telephone interview conducted on 1 March 2007 with user TerryH
  22. Rubin, Norman A. "Musical Instruments in Biblical Israel." Biblical Archaeology. Accessed June 2, 2008
  23. Essay 86: Bolero v. Gliere, Round 1 by David Gunn, at Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar
  24. The Rite of Spring by the Nottingham Philharmonic Orchestra
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