What Is Music?

By CJ | Music Curios

What Is Music? 

We all enjoy music.

Music is social, connecting us with others to form a sense of community or bond. National anthems, religious music and even club anthems help to bond groups of people together.

Music is also very personal, connecting and transporting us to another time and place in our memories.

But... What is music?


Is sheet music, music? No.

It’s just paper with ink on it. It isn’t music.

How about this CD? Nope, just a thin layer of aluminium and polycarbonate plastic digitally encoded with 1s and 0s.

Computers and mp3 players are also just coding and decoding 1’s and 0’s.

So music is clearly not a physical... thing, it’s intangible and abstract.

How would you describe music? I looked it up in two dictionaries and got two different answers.

Both suck.

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines music as: Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

Merriam -Webster defines it as: the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity. 

Wtf...? Lemme think about that…

We have two authorities and we have two awful answers. Oxford talks about beauty, form, harmony and expression of emotion while Merriam Webster uses words like science, order, temporal relationships and continuity.

All too academic for me. I’m comfortable saying that music is a shared emotional experience.

“Music is what feelings sound like”. Each of us carry emotion within us. Music taps into the emotion that’s already there in the listener.

When we’re happy we move faster than when we’re sad or depressed.

The music we choose to listen to would probably match our emotional state. We are conditioned at an early age that happy music is in a major key and is usually fast, and sad music is in a minor key and is typically slower than happy music.

We learn this from tv and movies mostly. So we have musical expectations based on prior knowledge.

We anticipate and expect resolution. So we all share a musical vocabulary whether you’re a musician or not, your past experience with music informs you whether something is musically right or wrong.

So in the end for me music is a shared emotional experience.

What do you think? How would you describe music? What is music, to you?