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Music lesson Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2421.jpg
A painting on an Ancient Greek vase depicts a music lesson (c. 510 BC).
Medium Sound
Originating culture various
Originating era Paleolithic
Performing arts
Major forms

Dance · Music · Opera & Ballet · Theatre

Minor forms

Circus skills · Magic · Mime · Puppetry · Speech


Drama · Tragedy · Comedy · Tragicomedy · Romance · Satire · Epic · Lyric

Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. The word derives from Greek μουσική (mousike; "art of the Muses").

The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of music vary according to culture and social context. Music ranges from strictly organized compositions (and their recreation in performance), through improvisational music to aleatoric forms. Music can be divided into genres and subgenres, although the dividing lines and relationships between music genres are often subtle, sometimes open to individual interpretation, and occasionally controversial. Within the arts, music may be classified as a performing art, a fine art, and auditory art. It may also be divided among art music and folk music. There is also a strong connection between music and mathematics. Music may be played and heard live, may be part of a dramatic work or film, or may be recorded.

To many people in many cultures, music is an important part of their way of life. Ancient Greek and Indian philosophers defined music as tones ordered horizontally as melodies and vertically as harmonies. Common sayings such as "the harmony of the spheres" and "it is music to my ears" point to the notion that music is often ordered and pleasant to listen to. However, 20th-century composer John Cage thought that any sound can be music, saying, for example, "There is no noise, only sound." Musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez summarizes the relativist, post-modern viewpoint: "The border between music and noise is always culturally defined—which implies that, even within a single society, this border does not always pass through the same place; in short, there is rarely a consensus ... By all accounts there is no single and intercultural universal concept defining what music might be."


Prehistoric eras

Prehistoric music can only be theorized based on findings from paleolithic archaeology sites. Flutes are often discovered, carved from bones in which lateral holes have been pierced; these are thought to have been blown at one end like the Japanese shakuhachi. The Divje Babe flute, carved from a cave bear femur, is thought to be at least 40,000 years old. Instruments such as the seven-holed flute and various types of stringed instruments have been recovered from the Indus Valley Civilization archaeological sites. India has one of the oldest musical traditions in the world—references to Indian classical music (marga) are found in the Vedas, ancient scriptures of the Hindu tradition. The earliest and largest collection of prehistoric musical instruments was found in China and dates back to between 7000 and 6600 BC. The Hurrian song, found on clay tablets that date back to approximately 1400 BC, is the oldest surviving notated work of music.

Ancient Egypt

Musicians of Amun, Tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty, Western Thebes.

The ancient Egyptians credited one of their gods, Thoth, with the invention of music, which Osiris in turn used as part of his effort to civilize the world. The earliest material and representational evidence of Egyptian musical instruments dates to the Predynastic period, but the evidence is more securely attested in the Old Kingdom when harps, flutes and double clarinets were played. Percussion instruments, lyres and lutes were added to orchestras by the Middle Kingdom. Cymbals frequently accompanied music and dance, much as they still do in Egypt today. Egyptian folk music, including the traditional Sufi dhikr rituals, are the closest contemporary music genre to ancient Egyptian music, having preserved many of its features, rhythms and instruments.

Asian cultures

Gangubai Hangal

Indian classical music is one of the oldest musical traditions in the world. The Indus Valley civilization has sculptures that show dance and old musical instruments, like the seven holed flute. Various types of stringed instruments and drums have been recovered from Harrappa and Mohenjo Daro by excavations carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler. The Rigveda has elements of present Indian music, with a musical notation to denote the metre and the mode of chanting. Indian classical music (marga) is monophonic, and based on a single melody line or raga rhythmically organized through talas. Hindustani music was influenced by the Persian performance practices of the Afghan Mughals. Carnatic music popular in the southern states, is largely devotional; the majority of the songs are addressed to the Hindu deities. There are a lot of songs emphasising love and other social issues.

Asian music covers the music cultures of Arabia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Chinese classical music, the traditional art or court music of China, has a history stretching over around three thousand years. It has its own unique systems of musical notation, as well as musical tuning and pitch, musical instruments and styles or musical genres. Chinese music is pentatonic-diatonic, having a scale of twelve notes to an octave (5 + 7 = 12) as does European-influenced music. Persian music is the music of Persia and Persian language countries: musiqi, the science and art of music, and muzik, the sound and performance of music (Sakata 1983).


Western cultures have had a major influence on the development of music. The history of the music of the Western cultures can be traced back to Ancient Greece times.

Ancient Greece

Music was an important part of social and cultural life in Ancient Greece. Musicians and singers played a prominent role in Greek theatre. Mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration, and spiritual ceremonies. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and a plucked string instrument, the lyre, principally the special kind called a kithara. Music was an important part of education, and boys were taught music starting at age six. Greek musical literacy created a flowering of music development. Greek music theory included the Greek musical modes, that eventually became the basis for Western religious and classical music. Later, influences from the Roman Empire, Eastern Europe, and the Byzantine Empire changed Greek music. The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world.

The Middle Ages

Léonin or Pérotin
Breves dies hominis

The medieval era (476 AD to 1400 AD) started with the introduction of chanting into Roman Catholic Church services. Western Music then started becoming more of an art form with the advances in music notation. The only European Medieval repertory that survives from before about 800 is the monophonic liturgical plainsong of the Roman Catholic Church, the central tradition of which was called Gregorian chant. Alongside these traditions of sacred and church music there existed a vibrant tradition of secular song. Examples of composers from this period are Léonin, Pérotin and Guillaume de Machaut.

The Renaissance

T.L. de Victoria
Amicus meus
Allegory of Music, by Filippino Lippi

Renaissance music (c. 1400 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) was more focused on secular themes. Around 1450, the printing press was invented, and that helped to disseminate musical styles more quickly and across a larger area. Thus, music could play an increasingly important role in daily life. Musicians worked for the church, courts and towns. Church choirs grew in size, and the church remained an important patron of music. By the middle of the 15th century, composers wrote richly polyphonic sacred music. Prominent composers from this era are Guillaume Dufay, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Thomas Morley, and Orlande de Lassus. However, musical activity shifted to the courts. Kings and princes competed for the finest composers.

Many leading important composers came from Holland, Belgium, and northern France and are called the Franco-Flemish composers. They held important positions throughout Europe, especially in Italy. Other countries with vibrant musical lives include Germany, England, and Spain.

The Baroque

Toccata und Fuge

The Baroque era of music took place from 1600 to 1750, as the Baroque artistic style flourished across Europe; and during this time, music expanded in its range and complexity. Baroque music began when the first operas were written and when contrapuntal music became prevalent. German Baroque composers wrote for small ensembles including strings, brass, and woodwinds, as well as choirs, pipe organ, harpsichord, and clavichord. During this period several major music forms were defined that lasted into later periods when they were expanded and evolved further, including the fugue, the invention, the sonata, and the concerto. The late Baroque style was polyphonically complex and ornamental and rich in its melodies. Composers from the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Georg Philipp Telemann.


W.A. Mozart
Symphony 40 g-moll

The music of the Classical Period (1750 A.D. to 1830 A.D.) looked to the art and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome, to the ideals of balance, proportion and disciplined expression. It has a lighter, clearer and considerably simpler texture, and tended to be almost voicelike and singable. New genres were discovered. The main style was the homophony, where prominent melody and accompaniment are clearly distinct.

Importance was given to instrumental music. It was dominated by further evolution of musical forms initially defined in the Baroque period: the sonata, the concerto, and the symphony. Others main kinds were trio, string quartet, serenade and divertimento. The sonata was the most important and developed form. Although Baroque composers also wrote sonatas, the Classical style of sonata is completely distinct. All of the main instrumental forms of the Classical era were based on the dramatic structure of the sonata.

One of the most important evolutionary steps made in the Classical period was the development of public concerts. The aristocracy would still play a significant role in the sponsorship of musical life, but it was now possible for composers to survive without being its permanent employees. The increasing popularity led to a growth in both the number and range of the orchestras. The expansion of orchestral concerts necessitated large public spaces. As a result of all these processes, symphonic music (including opera, ballet and oratorio) became more extroverted.

The best known composers of Classicism are Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Johann Christian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. Beethoven and Schubert are also considered to be composers in evolution towards Romanticism.


R. Wagner
Die Walküre

Romantic Music (c. 1810 A.D. to 1900 A.D.) turned the rigid styles and forms of the Classical era into more passionate and expressive pieces. It attempted to increase emotional expression and power to describe deeper truths or human feelings. The emotional and expressive qualities of music came to take precedence over technique and tradition. Romantic composers grew in idiosyncrasy, and went further in the syncretism of different art-forms (such as literature), history (historical figures), or nature itself with music. Romantic love was a prevalent theme in many works composed during this period. In some cases the formal structures from the classical period were preserved, but in many others existing genres, forms, and functions were improved. Also, new forms were created that were deemed better suited to the new subject matter. Opera and ballet continued to evolve.

In 1800, the music developed by Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert introduced a more dramatic, expressive style. In Beethoven's case, motifs, developed organically, came to replace melody as the most significant compositional unit. Later Romantic composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Antonín Dvořák, and Gustav Mahler used more elaborated chords and more dissonance to create dramatic tension. They generated complex and often much longer musical works. During Romantic period tonality was at its peak. The late 19th century saw a dramatic expansion in the size of the orchestra, and in the role of concerts as part of urban society. It also saw a new diversity in theatre music, including operetta, and musical comedy and other forms of musical theatre.

20th- and 21st-century music

Double bassist Reggie Workman, tenor saxophone player Pharoah Sanders, and drummer Idris Muhammad performing in 1978

With 20th-century music, there was a vast increase in music listening as the radio gained popularity and phonographs were used to replay and distribute music. The focus of art music was characterized by exploration of new rhythms, styles, and sounds. Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, and John Cage were all influential composers in 20th-century art music. The invention of sound recording and the ability to edit music gave rise to new sub-genre of classical music, including the acousmatic and Musique concrète schools of electronic composition.

Jazz evolved and became an important genre of music over the course of the 20th century, and during the second half of that century, rock music did the same. Jazz is an American musical artform that originated in the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions. The style's West African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation, and the swung note. From its early development until the present, jazz has also incorporated music from 19th- and 20th-century American popular music. Jazz has, from its early-20th-century inception, spawned a variety of subgenres, ranging from New Orleans Dixieland (1910s) to 1970s and 1980s-era jazz-rock fusion.

Rock music is a genre of popular music that developed in the 1960s from 1950s rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, and country music. The sound of rock often revolves around the electric guitar or acoustic guitar, and it uses a strong back beat laid down by a rhythm section of electric bass guitar, drums, and keyboard instruments such as organ, piano, or, since the 1970s, analog synthesizers and digital ones and computers since the 1990s. Along with the guitar or keyboards, saxophone and blues-style harmonica are used as soloing instruments. In its "purest form," it "has three chords, a strong, insistent back beat, and a catchy melody." In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it branched out into different subgenres, ranging from blues rock and jazz-rock fusion to heavy metal and punk rock, as well as the more classical influenced genre of progressive rock and several types of experimental rock genres.


Chinese Naxi musicians

Performance is the physical expression of music. Often, a musical work is performed once its structure and instrumentation are satisfactory to its creators; however, as it gets performed, it can evolve and change. A performance can either be rehearsed or improvised. Improvisation is a musical idea created without premeditation, while rehearsal is vigorous repetition of an idea until it has achieved cohesion. Musicians will sometimes add improvisation to a well-rehearsed idea to create a unique performance.

Many cultures include strong traditions of solo and performance, such as in Indian classical music, and in the Western art-music tradition. Other cultures, such as in Bali, include strong traditions of group performance. All cultures include a mixture of both, and performance may range from improvised solo playing for one's enjoyment to highly planned and organised performance rituals such as the modern classical concert, religious processions, music festivals or music competitions. Chamber music, which is music for a small ensemble with only a few of each type of instrument, is often seen as more intimate than symphonic works.

Aural tradition

Many types of music, such as traditional blues and folk music were originally preserved in the memory of performers, and the songs were handed down orally, or aurally (by ear). When the composer of music is no longer known, this music is often classified as "traditional." Different musical traditions have different attitudes towards how and where to make changes to the original source material, from quite strict, to those that demand improvisation or modification to the music. A culture's history may also be passed by ear through song.


In a score or on a performer's music part, this sign indicates that the musician should perform a trill—a rapid alternation between two notes. Play

The detail included explicitly in the music notation varies between genres and historical periods. In general, art music notation from the 17th through the 19th century required performers to have a great deal of contextual knowledge about performing styles. For example, in the 17th and 18th century, music notated for solo performers typically indicated a simple, unadorned melody. However, performers were expected to know how to add stylistically appropriate ornaments, such as trills and turns. In the 19th century, art music for solo performers may give a general instruction such as to perform the music expressively, without describing in detail how the performer should do this. The performer was expected to know how to use tempo changes, accentuation, and pauses (among other devices) to obtain this "expressive" performance style. In the 20th century, art music notation often became more explicit and used a range of markings and annotations to indicate to performers how they should play or sing the piece.

In popular music and jazz, music notation almost always indicates only the basic framework of the melody, harmony, or performance approach; musicians and singers are expected to know the performance conventions and styles associated with specific genres and pieces. For example, the " lead sheet" for a jazz tune may only indicate the melody and the chord changes. The performers in the jazz ensemble are expected to know how to "flesh out" this basic structure by adding ornaments, improvised music, and chordal accompaniment.


Jean-Gabriel Ferlan performing at a 2008 concert at the collège-lycée Saint-François Xavier

Music is composed and performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Amateur musicians compose and perform music for their own pleasure, and they do not derive their income from music. Professional musicians are employed by a range of institutions and organisations, including armed forces, churches and synagogues, symphony orchestras, broadcasting or film production companies, and music schools. Professional musicians sometimes work as freelancers, seeking contracts and engagements in a variety of settings.

There are often many links between amateur and professional musicians. Beginning amateur musicians take lessons with professional musicians. In community settings, advanced amateur musicians perform with professional musicians in a variety of ensembles and orchestras. In some cases, amateur musicians attain a professional level of competence, and they are able to perform in professional performance settings. A distinction is often made between music performed for the benefit of a live audience and music that is performed for the purpose of being recorded and distributed through the music retail system or the broadcasting system. However, there are also many cases where a live performance in front of an audience is recorded and distributed (or broadcast).


An old songbook showing a composition

"Composition" is often classed as the creation and recording of music via a medium by which others can interpret it (i.e., paper or sound). Many cultures use at least part of the concept of preconceiving musical material, or composition, as held in western classical music. Even when music is notated precisely, there are still many decisions that a performer has to make. The process of a performer deciding how to perform music that has been previously composed and notated is termed interpretation. Different performers' interpretations of the same music can vary widely. Composers and song writers who present their own music are interpreting, just as much as those who perform the music of others or folk music. The standard body of choices and techniques present at a given time and a given place is referred to as performance practice, whereas interpretation is generally used to mean either individual choices of a performer, or an aspect of music that is not clear, and therefore has a "standard" interpretation.

In some musical genres, such as jazz and blues, even more freedom is given to the performer to engage in improvisation on a basic melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic framework. The greatest latitude is given to the performer in a style of performing called free improvisation, which is material that is spontaneously "thought of" (imagined) while being performed, not preconceived. Improvised music usually follows stylistic or genre conventions and even "fully composed" includes some freely chosen material. Composition does not always mean the use of notation, or the known sole authorship of one individual. Music can also be determined by describing a "process" that creates musical sounds. Examples of this range from wind chimes, through computer programs that select sounds. Music from random elements is called Aleatoric music, and is associated with such composers as John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Witold Lutosławski.

Music can be composed for repeated performance or it can be improvised: composed on the spot. The music can be performed entirely from memory, from a written system of musical notation, or some combination of both. Study of composition has traditionally been dominated by examination of methods and practice of Western classical music, but the definition of composition is broad enough to include spontaneously improvised works like those of free jazz performers and African drummers such as the Ewe drummers.


Sheet music is written representation of music. This is a homorhythmic (i.e., hymn-style) arrangement of a traditional piece entitled " Adeste Fideles", in standard two-staff format for mixed voices. Play

Notation is the written expression of music notes and rhythms on paper using symbols. When music is written down, the pitches and rhythm of the music is notated, along with instructions on how to perform the music. The study of how to read notation involves music theory, harmony, the study of performance practice, and in some cases an understanding of historical performance methods. Written notation varies with style and period of music. In Western Art music, the most common types of written notation are scores, which include all the music parts of an ensemble piece, and parts, which are the music notation for the individual performers or singers. In popular music, jazz, and blues, the standard musical notation is the lead sheet, which notates the melody, chords, lyrics (if it is a vocal piece), and structure of the music. Scores and parts are also used in popular music and jazz, particularly in large ensembles such as jazz "big bands."

In popular music, guitarists and electric bass players often read music notated in tablature (often abbreviated as "tab"), which indicates the location of the notes to be played on the instrument using a diagram of the guitar or bass fingerboard. Tabulature was also used in the Baroque era to notate music for the lute, a stringed, fretted instrument. Notated music is produced as sheet music. To perform music from notation requires an understanding of both the rhythmic and pitch elements embodied in the symbols and the performance practice that is associated with a piece of music or a genre. In improvisation, the performer often plays from music where only the chord changes are written, requiring a great understanding of the music's structure and chord progressions.


Musical improvisation is the creation of spontaneous music. Improvisation is often considered an act of instantaneous composition by performers, where compositional techniques are employed with or without preparation. Improvisation is a major part of some types of music, such as blues, jazz, and jazz fusion, in which instrumental performers improvise solos and melody lines. In the Western art music tradition, improvisation was an important skill during the Baroque era and during the Classical era; solo performers and singers improvised virtuoso cadenzas during concerts. However, in the 20th and 21st century, improvisation played a smaller role in Western Art music.


Music theory encompasses the nature and mechanics of music. It often involves identifying patterns that govern composers' techniques and examining the language and notation of music. In a grand sense, music theory distills and analyzes the parameters or elements of music – rhythm, harmony ( harmonic function), melody, structure, form, and texture. Broadly, music theory may include any statement, belief, or conception of or about music. People who study these properties are known as music theorists. Some have applied acoustics, human physiology, and psychology to the explanation of how and why music is perceived. Music has many different fundamentals or elements. These are, but are not limited to: pitch, beat or pulse, rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, allocation of voices, timbre or colour, expressive qualities (dynamics and articulation), and form or structure.

Pitch is a subjective sensation, reflecting generally the lowness or highness of a sound. Rhythm is the arrangement of sounds and silences in time. Meter animates time in regular pulse groupings, called measures or bars. A melody is a series of notes sounding in succession. The notes of a melody are typically created with respect to pitch systems such as scales or modes. Harmony is the study of vertical sonorities in music. Vertical sonority refers to considering the relationships between pitches that occur together; usually this means at the same time, although harmony can also be implied by a melody that outlines a harmonic structure. Notes can be arranged into different scales and modes. Western music theory generally divides the octave into a series of 12 notes that might be included in a piece of music. In music written using the system of major-minor tonality, the key of a piece determines the scale used. Musical texture is the overall sound of a piece of music commonly described according to the number of and relationship between parts or lines of music: monophony, heterophony, polyphony, homophony, or monody.

Timbre, sometimes called "Color" or "Tone Colour" is the quality or sound of a voice or instrument. Expressive Qualities are those elements in music that create change in music that are not related to pitch, rhythm or timbre. They include Dynamics and Articulation. Form is a facet of music theory that explores the concept of musical syntax, on a local and global level. Examples of common forms of Western music include the fugue, the invention, sonata-allegro, canon, strophic, theme and variations, and rondo. Popular Music often makes use of strophic form often in conjunction with Twelve bar blues. Analysis is the effort to describe and explain music.

Philosophy and aesthetics

Philosophy of music is the study of fundamental questions regarding music. The philosophical study of music has many connections with philosophical questions in metaphysics and aesthetics. Some basic questions in the philosophy of music are:

  • What is the definition of music? (What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for classifying something as music?)
  • What is the relationship between music and mind?
  • What does musical history reveal to us about the world?
  • What is the connection between music and emotions?
  • What is meaning in relation to music?

Traditionally, the aesthetics of music explored the mathematical and cosmological dimensions of rhythmic and harmonic organization. In the eighteenth century, focus shifted to the experience of hearing music, and thus to questions about its beauty and human enjoyment ( plaisir and jouissance) of music. The origin of this philosophic shift is sometimes attributed to Baumgarten in the 18th century, followed by Kant. Through their writing, the ancient term 'aesthetics', meaning sensory perception, received its present day connotation. In recent decades philosophers have tended to emphasize issues besides beauty and enjoyment. For example, music's capacity to express emotion has been a central issue.

In the 20th century, important contributions were made by Peter Kivy, Jerrold Levinson, Roger Scruton, and Stephen Davies. However, many musicians, music critics, and other non-philosophers have contributed to the aesthetics of music. In the 19th century, a significant debate arose between Eduard Hanslick, a music critic and musicologist, and composer Richard Wagner. Harry Partch and some other musicologists, such as Kyle Gann, have studied and tried to popularize microtonal music and the usage of alternate musical scales. Also many modern composers like Lamonte Young, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca paid much attention to a scale called just intonation.

It is often thought that music has the ability to affect our emotions, intellect, and psychology; it can assuage our loneliness or incite our passions. The philosopher Plato suggests in the Republic that music has a direct effect on the soul. Therefore, he proposes that in the ideal regime music would be closely regulated by the state. (Book VII)

There has been a strong tendency in the aesthetics of music to emphasize the paramount importance of compositional structure; however, other issues concerning the aesthetics of music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and colour (see also musical development).

Cognition and psychology

Music cognition

The field of music cognition involves the study of many aspects of music, including how it is processed by listeners. Rather than accepting the standard practices of analyzing, composing, and performing music as a given, much research in music cognition seeks instead to uncover the mental processes that underlie these practices. Also, research in the field seeks to uncover commonalities between the musical traditions of disparate cultures and possible cognitive "constraints" that limit these musical systems. Questions regarding musical innateness, and emotional responses to music are also major areas of research in the field.

Deaf people can experience music by feeling the vibrations in their body, a process that can be enhanced if the individual holds a resonant, hollow object. A well-known deaf musician is the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who composed many famous works even after he had completely lost his hearing. Recent examples of deaf musicians include Evelyn Glennie, a highly acclaimed percussionist who has been deaf since age twelve, and Chris Buck, a virtuoso violinist who has lost his hearing. This is relevant because it indicates that music is a deeper cognitive process than unexamined phrases such as, "pleasing to the ear" suggests. Much research in music cognition seeks to uncover these complex mental processes involved in listening to music, which may seem intuitively simple, yet are vastly intricate and complex.

Montreal Neurological Institute researcher Valorie Salimpoor and her colleagues have now shown that the pleasurable feelings associated with emotional music are the result of dopamine release in the striatum--the same anatomical areas that underpin the anticipatory and rewarding aspects of drug addiction.

Cognitive neuroscience of music

The primary auditory cortex is one of the main areas associated with superior pitch resolution.

Cognitive neuroscience of music is the scientific study of brain-based mechanisms involved in the cognitive processes underlying music. These behaviours include music listening, performing, composing, reading, writing, and ancillary activities. It also is increasingly concerned with the brain basis for musical aesthetics and musical emotion. Scientists working in this field may have training in cognitive neuroscience, neurology, neuroanatomy, psychology, music theory, computer science, and other allied fields.

Cognitive neuroscience of music is distinguished from related fields such as music psychology, music cognition and cognitive musicology in its reliance on direct observations of the brain, using such techniques as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), and positron emission tomography (PET).

Music psychology

Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of psychology or a branch of musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and musical experience. Modern music psychology is mainly empirical: music-psychological knowledge tends to advance primarily on the basis of interpretations of data about musical behaviour and experience, which are collected by systematic observation of and interaction with human participants. Music psychology is a field of research with practical relevance for music performance, music composition, music education, music medicine, and music therapy.

Cognitive musicology

Cognitive musicology is a branch of cognitive science concerned with computationally modeling musical knowledge with the goal of understanding both music and cognition.

Cognitive musicology can be differentiated from the fields of music cognition, music psychology and cognitive neuroscience of music by a difference in methodological emphasis. Cognitive musicology uses computer modeling to study music-related knowledge representation and has roots in artificial intelligence and cognitive science. The use of computer models provides an exacting, interactive medium in which to formulate and test theories.

This interdisciplinary field investigates topics such as the parallels between language and music in the brain. Biologically inspired models of computation are often included in research, such as neural networks and evolutionary programs. This field seeks to model how musical knowledge is represented, stored, perceived, performed, and generated. By using a well-structured computer environment, the systematic structures of these cognitive phenomena can be investigated.


Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including speech and music). It can be further categorized as a branch of psychophysics.


Biomusicology is the study of music from a biological point of view. The term was coined by Nils L. Wallin in 1991. Music is an aspect of the behaviour of the human and possibly other species. As humans are living organisms, the scientific study of music is therefore part of biology, thus the "bio" in "biomusicology."

Biomusicologists are expected to have completed formal studies in both biology or other experimental sciences and musicology including music theory. The three main branches of biomusicology are evolutionary musicology, neuromusicology, and comparative musicology. Evolutionary musicology studies the "origins of music, the question of animal song, selection pressures underlying music evolution", and "music evolution and human evolution". Neuromusicology studies the "brain areas involved in music processing, neural and cognitive processes of musical processing," and "ontogeny of musical capacity and musical skill". Comparative musicology studies the "functions and uses of music, advantages and costs of music making", and "universal features of musical systems and musical behaviour."


This Song Dynasty (960–1279) painting, entitled the "Night Revels of Han Xizai," shows Chinese musicians entertaining guests at a party in a 10th-century household.

Music is experienced by individuals in a range of social settings ranging from being alone to attending a large concert. Musical performances take different forms in different cultures and socioeconomic milieus. In Europe and North America, there is often a divide between what types of music are viewed as a " high culture" and " low culture." "High culture" types of music typically include Western art music such as Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern-era symphonies, concertos, and solo works, and are typically heard in formal concerts in concert halls and churches, with the audience sitting quietly in seats.

Other types of music—including, but not limited to, jazz, blues, soul, and country—are often performed in bars, nightclubs, and theatres, where the audience may be able to drink, dance, and express themselves by cheering. Until the later 20th century, the division between "high" and "low" musical forms was widely accepted as a valid distinction that separated out better quality, more advanced "art music" from the popular styles of music heard in bars and dance halls.

However, in the 1980s and 1990s, musicologists studying this perceived divide between "high" and "low" musical genres argued that this distinction is not based on the musical value or quality of the different types of music. Rather, they argued that this distinction was based largely on the socioeconomics standing or social class of the performers or audience of the different types of music. For example, whereas the audience for Classical symphony concerts typically have above-average incomes, the audience for a rap concert in an inner-city area may have below-average incomes. Even though the performers, audience, or venue where non-"art" music is performed may have a lower socioeconomic status, the music that is performed, such as blues, rap, punk, funk, or ska may be very complex and sophisticated.

When composers introduce styles of music that break with convention, there can be a strong resistance from academic music experts and popular culture. Late-period Beethoven string quartets, Stravinsky ballet scores, serialism, bebop-era jazz, hip hop, punk rock, and electronica have all been considered non-music by some critics when they were first introduced. Such themes are examined in the sociology of music. The sociological study of music, sometimes called sociomusicology, is often pursued in departments of sociology, media studies, or music, and is closely related to the field of ethnomusicology.


The music industry refers to the business industry connected with the creation and sale of music. It consists of record companies, labels and publishers that distribute recorded music products internationally and that often control the rights to those products. Some music labels are " independent," while others are subsidiaries of larger corporate entities or international media groups. In the 2000s, the increasing popularity of listening to music as digital music files on MP3 players, iPods, or computers, and of trading music on file sharing sites or buying it online in the form of digital files had a major impact on the traditional music business. Many smaller independent CD stores went out of business as music buyers decreased their purchases of CDs, and many labels had lower CD sales. Some companies did well with the change to a digital format, though, such as Apple's iTunes, an online store that sells digital files of songs over the Internet.



A Suzuki violin recital with students of varying ages.

The incorporation of music training from preschool to post secondary education is common in North America and Europe. Involvement in music is thought to teach basic skills such as concentration, counting, listening, and cooperation while also promoting understanding of language, improving the ability to recall information, and creating an environment more conducive to learning in other areas. In elementary schools, children often learn to play instruments such as the recorder, sing in small choirs, and learn about the history of Western art music. In secondary schools students may have the opportunity to perform some type of musical ensembles, such as choirs, marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, or orchestras, and in some school systems, music classes may be available. Some students also take private music lessons with a teacher. Amateur musicians typically take lessons to learn musical rudiments and beginner- to intermediate-level musical techniques.

At the university level, students in most arts and humanities programs can receive credit for taking music courses, which typically take the form of an overview course on the history of music, or a music appreciation course that focuses on listening to music and learning about different musical styles. In addition, most North American and European universities have some type of musical ensembles that non-music students are able to participate in, such as choirs, marching bands, or orchestras. The study of Western art music is increasingly common outside of North America and Europe, such as the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, or the classical music programs that are available in Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan, and China. At the same time, Western universities and colleges are widening their curriculum to include music of non-Western cultures, such as the music of Africa or Bali (e.g. Gamelan music).


Musicology is the study of the subject of music. The earliest definitions defined three sub-disciplines: systematic musicology, historical musicology, and comparative musicology or ethnomusicology. In contemporary scholarship, one is more likely to encounter a division of the discipline into music theory, music history, and ethnomusicology. Research in musicology has often been enriched by cross-disciplinary work, for example in the field of psychoacoustics. The study of music of non-western cultures, and the cultural study of music, is called ethnomusicology. Students can pursue the undergraduate study of musicology, ethnomusicology, music history, and music theory through several different types of degrees, including a B.Mus, a B.A. with concentration in music, a B.A. with Honours in Music, or a B.A. in Music History and Literature. Graduates of undergraduate music programs can go on to further study in music graduate programs.

Graduate degrees include the Master of Music, the Master of Arts, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) (e.g., in musicology or music theory), and more recently, the Doctor of Musical Arts, or DMA. The Master of Music degree, which takes one to two years to complete, is typically awarded to students studying the performance of an instrument, education, voice or composition. The Master of Arts degree, which takes one to two years to complete and often requires a thesis, is typically awarded to students studying musicology, music history, or music theory. Undergraduate university degrees in music, including the Bachelor of Music, the Bachelor of Music Education, and the Bachelor of Arts (with a major in music) typically take three to five years to complete. These degrees provide students with a grounding in music theory and music history, and many students also study an instrument or learn singing technique as part of their program.

The PhD, which is required for students who want to work as university professors in musicology, music history, or music theory, takes three to five years of study after the Master's degree, during which time the student will complete advanced courses and undertake research for a dissertation. The DMA is a relatively new degree that was created to provide a credential for professional performers or composers that want to work as university professors in musical performance or composition. The DMA takes three to five years after a Master's degree, and includes advanced courses, projects, and performances. In Medieval times, the study of music was one of the Quadrivium of the seven Liberal Arts and considered vital to higher learning. Within the quantitative Quadrivium, music, or more accurately harmonics, was the study of rational proportions.

Zoomusicology is the study of the music of non-human animals, or the musical aspects of sounds produced by non-human animals. As George Herzog (1941) asked, "do animals have music?" François-Bernard Mâche's Musique, mythe, nature, ou les Dauphins d'Arion (1983), a study of "ornitho-musicology" using a technique of Nicolas Ruwet's Langage, musique, poésie (1972) paradigmatic segmentation analysis, shows that bird songs are organised according to a repetition-transformation principle. Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990), argues that "in the last analysis, it is a human being who decides what is and is not musical, even when the sound is not of human origin. If we acknowledge that sound is not organised and conceptualised (that is, made to form music) merely by its producer, but by the mind that perceives it, then music is uniquely human."

Music theory is the study of music, generally in a highly technical manner outside of other disciplines. More broadly it refers to any study of music, usually related in some form with compositional concerns, and may include mathematics, physics, and anthropology. What is most commonly taught in beginning music theory classes are guidelines to write in the style of the common practice period, or tonal music. Theory, even of music of the common practice period, may take many other forms. Musical set theory is the application of mathematical set theory to music, first applied to atonal music. Speculative music theory, contrasted with analytic music theory, is devoted to the analysis and synthesis of music materials, for example tuning systems, generally as preparation for composition.


Ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief for the Bureau of American Ethnology (1916)


In the West, much of the history of music that is taught deals with the Western civilization's art music. The history of music in other cultures (" world music" or the field of "ethnomusicology") is also taught in Western universities. This includes the documented classical traditions of Asian countries outside the influence of Western Europe, as well as the folk or indigenous music of various other cultures. Popular styles of music varied widely from culture to culture, and from period to period. Different cultures emphasised different instruments, or techniques, or uses for music. Music has been used not only for entertainment, for ceremonies, and for practical and artistic communication, but also for propaganda.

There is a host of music classifications, many of which are caught up in the argument over the definition of music. Among the largest of these is the division between classical music (or "art" music), and popular music (or commercial music – including rock music, country music, and pop music). Some genres do not fit neatly into one of these "big two" classifications, (such as folk music, world music, or jazz music).

As world cultures have come into greater contact, their indigenous musical styles have often merged into new styles. For example, the United States bluegrass style contains elements from Anglo- Irish, Scottish, Irish, German and African instrumental and vocal traditions, which were able to fuse in the United States' multi-ethnic society. Genres of music are determined as much by tradition and presentation as by the actual music. Some works, like George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, are claimed by both jazz and classical music, while Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story are claimed by both opera and the Broadway musical tradition. Many current music festivals celebrate a particular musical genre.

Indian music, for example, is one of the oldest and longest living types of music, and is still widely heard and performed in South Asia, as well as internationally (especially since the 1960s). Indian music has mainly three forms of classical music, Hindustani, Carnatic, and Dhrupad styles. It has also a large repertoire of styles, which involve only percussion music such as the talavadya performances famous in South India.

Music therapy

Music therapy is an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music and all of its facets—physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual—to help clients to improve or maintain their health. In some instances, the client's needs are addressed directly through music; in others they are addressed through the relationships that develop between the client and therapist. Music therapy is used with individuals of all ages and with a variety of conditions, including: psychiatric disorders, medical problems, physical handicaps, sensory impairments, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, communication disorders, interpersonal problems, and aging. It is also used to: improve learning, build self-esteem, reduce stress, support physical exercise, and facilitate a host of other health-related activities.

One of the earliest mentions of music therapy was in Al-Farabi's (c. 872 – 950) treatise Meanings of the Intellect, which described the therapeutic effects of music on the soul. Music has long been used to help people deal with their emotions. In the 17th century, the scholar Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy argued that music and dance were critical in treating mental illness, especially melancholia. He noted that music has an "excellent power expel many other diseases" and he called it "a sovereign remedy against despair and melancholy." He pointed out that in Antiquity, Canus, a Rhodian fiddler, used music to "make a melancholy man merry, ...a lover more enamoured, a religious man more devout." In November 2006, Dr. Michael J. Crawford and his colleagues also found that music therapy helped schizophrenic patients. In the Ottoman Empire, mental illnesses were treated with music.

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