Definition of music/Talk

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This topic obviously deserves a lot more space than this, preferably by someone who actually knows something about the topic of how music has been defined. (I'm not such a person, myself.) --LMS

The definition originally put in this page (that music is sound organized in time) is the definition drilled into music majors at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. It covers all genre of music, and doesn't get caught up in issues of rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and form (which would be more appropriately discussed in detail within the music theory page). The only modification I made to the original definition drilled into us is that music is a form of art; therefore, you wouldn't say 'this radio program is music', as it isn't expressive.

It's important to avoid getting caught up in a definition of music that would involve rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, or form because not all works of music use all of these elements. For example, many modern pieces lack rhythm, and many ancient works lack harmony. But it might be nice to mention these elements within a page defining music, if for no other reason than to point out that a proper definition of music could not include them.

Hmm... rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and form should perhaps be mentioned in the page concerning music theory.

In any event, any definition for music beyond what was originally entered would prick my interest tremendously, as I'd love to find something better to throw at my old college professors.

Many thanks go to the gentleman who corrected my reference to 4:11 as Four Minutes, Thirty Three Seconds. I felt it important to mention that composition when giving the prior definition, because it does openly challenge the definition. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite remember the title correctly <sigh>. Thankfully, many eyes are watching.

-- Fleeb

I thought the definition was OK, on first glance. But just because something was "drilled into music majors at the University of North Carolina, Asheville" does not mean that the person(s) who so drilled it thought it was a generally-accepted definition of "music" (if they did, they were wrong and probably shouldn't be music professors). There is no such animal, and an encyclopedia article shouldn't pretend that there is. (See, once again, neutral point of view.) The "definition of music" page is not a place for you or anyone else to decide how "music" is properly to be defined. It is a place to discuss different attempts at definition, which is something that musicologists and philosophers of music do. --LMS


One might consider that a definition for music varies from person to person, such that the aforementioned definition may work for academia (or worse, one university within academia), but fail for someone from China.

And, of course, it might be possible that the doctors in UNC-Asheville have a pet project to advance a somewhat sectarian definition, apart from others who work with music. As such, I would be even more interested in hearing alternative definitions for music (I'm extremely open-minded about such things.. I want to learn more about this stuff).

So, within this [definition of music] page, we might state that, according to academics from UNC-Asheville, music may be thought of as a form of art where sound is organized in time. Further, if I were to defend this definition here (in the Talk), we might flesh out why academics might hold to such a definition, and with any luck, we might even improve upon it.

As for other potential definitions, I suppose one might say that music is whatever one thinks of as 'music', but you'll see that it rapidly comes back to the aforementioned definition again. That is, often you might hear someone who hates rap music describe it as 'noise' instead of music. But such viewpoints are influenced by a very real and interesting psychology about how we perceive music; if we cannot hear how the sounds are organized, or cannot perceive the organization of the sounds for whatever reason (cultural, physiological, etc.) such items cannot be music to us.

I find this interesting because it suggests that music must build upon various musical conventions in order for it to be perceived as music. If I played white-noise against a backdrop of yowling cats while throwing lightbulbs at a brick wall in as arhythmic a pattern as I could, people who have only listened to country-western music would be completely unable to appreciate it as music, while folks accustomed to listening to John Cage or Edgar Varese might perceive it as music, at least enough to say that it sucked.

This might also suggest why musical snobbery exists; because a given work of music cannot be perceived as music until the listener has been exposed to enough of the underlying musical traditions to perceive the organization, those who cannot perceive the organizational structure (and thus appreciate a given work) may often be perceived as being unknowledgeable. So, for example, a music student from UNC-Asheville might listen to a traditional Korean monks' chant and think of it as noise, while the monks might think the music student is uneducated for not appreciating their musical talents.

-- Fleeb

I'm dissatisfied w/ the "sound organized in time" bit just because sounds can be organized in time incidentally, by natural phenomena, and I think most people would not call waves lapping a beach music (though it is a pleasant enough sound). The same thing happens on man-made items, too, but often without musical intent: for instance, the puttering of a machine (which inspired at least Dave Brubeck to make something that most people agree is music). Also, humans sometimes organize sound in time for purposes other than music, for instance on various alarms. And suppose you have sounds organized in time in ways not intended: suppose a police cruiser and an ambulance go by at the same time in different directions; would that constitute music? What about a metronome itself--sound organized in time, with a recent and specific, music-related human intent. Would a metronome by itself be considered music? I'm not sure if human, music-oriented intent is an accepted component of the definition of music or not; and in fact opinions about it may vary widely. I am not a musicologist. Does anyone know? --Koyaanis Qatsi

I felt the same way about the definition, as originally given. When I suggested that the definition allowed for too much (radio shows, for example), my instructor said, "Music connotes art." This explaination, in my opinion, is too weak; when defining a word, you cannot allow connotations to be assumed in the definition.

So I thought it made sense to add to the 'sound organized in time' definition that music is a form of art which organizes sound in time. Or, perhaps worded another way, music is a form of art that uses sound organized in time as its medium.

This would remove sirens, lapping waves, and so on, without stripping them out if they were used with musical intention.

-- Fleeb

That sounds much better. Sorry, I just found your response now, in searching for "NeutralPointOfView"s to convert. --KQ

Most dictionary definitions of music regard melody and harmony as two of the key points in determining music from noise or sound. when you consider this more deeply you must ask yourself about traditional music of various cultures whose music often negates all western ideas of melody or harmony. However, most of these cultures have a scale or tuning system of their own. Now if you consider the more scientific aspects of sound all sounds (other than a sine wave) consist of many notes, with one fundemental pitch or frequency being the loudest, if we disregard all western musical concepts such as scales it is easy to see that (almost) all the sounds that occur around us have some form of harmony within themselves. When you hear several sounds of varying pitch at once is that not harmony. Music occurs naturally around us all the time,(and I would like to include waves, sirens, etc.) all you have to do is listen. At the top of this page it is said that the fact that music is a form of art is missing from the definition that states music is 'sound organised in time'. Well, i'd like to ask what is art? Art these days seems to be anything we call by that name, i am not saying that music can not be art, i am saying that all sound is music but only music labelled art is art. I think there is more to music than an art form and i will end with words used by John Cage to express a philosophy learnt from Gira Sarabhai:

      'The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to devine influences.'