- Main article: Definitions of music.
Broadly, here are some groups of definitions:
- Those that define music as an external fact, for example "organized sound" or as a category of perception
- Those that label it according to context as a social construction or subjective experience
- Those that seek a platonic or quasi-platonic ideal of music which is not rooted in specifically physical or mental terms, but in a higher truth.
The definition of music as sound with particular characteristics is taken as a given by psychoacoustics, and is a common one in musicology and performance. In this view, there are observable patterns to what is broadly labeled music, and while there is understandable cultural variations, the properties of music are the properties of sound as perceived and processed by people.
John Cage is the most famous advocate of the idea that anything can be music, saying, for example, "There is no noise, only sound," though some argue that this somewhat fascistically imposes the definition on everything. According to musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990 p.47-8,55): "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."
In support of the view that music is a label for a totality of different aspects which are culturally constructed. Often a definition of music lists the aspects or elements that make up music. Molino (1975: 43) argues that, in addition to a lack of consensus, "any element belonging to the total musical fact can be isolated, or taken as a strategic variable of musical production." Nattiez gives as examples Mauricio Kagel's Con Voce [with voice], where a masked trio silently mimes playing instruments. In this example sound, a common element, is excluded, while gesture, a less common element, is given primacy.
The platonic ideal of music is currently the least fashionable in the philosophy of criticism and music, because it is crowded on one side by the physical view - what is the metasubstance of music made of, if not sound? - and on the other hand by the constructed view of music - how can one tell the difference between any metanarrative of music and one which is merely intersubjective? However, its appeal, finding unexpected mathematical relationships in music, and finding analogies between music and physics, for example string theory, means that this view continues to find adherents, including such critics and performers as Charles Rosen and Edward Rothstein.
Aspects of music
- Main article: Aspects of music.
The traditional or classical European aspects of music often listed are those elements given primacy in European-influenced classical music: melody, harmony, rhythm, tone color, and form. However, a more comprehensive list is given by stating the aspects of sound: pitch, timbre, intensity, and duration. 4 These aspects combine to create secondary aspects including structure, texture and style. Other commonly included aspects include the spatial location or the movement in space of sounds, gesture, and dance. Silence is also often considered an aspect of music, if it is considered to exist.
As mentioned above not only do the aspects included as music vary, their importance varies. For instance, melody and harmony are often considered to be given more importance in classical music at the expense of rhythm and timbre. John Cage considers duration the primary aspect of music as, being the temporal aspect of music, it is the only aspect common to both "sound" and "silence".
It is often debated whether there are aspects of music which are universal. The debate often hinges on definitions, for instance the fairly common assertion that "tonality" is a universal of all music may necessarily require an expansive definition of tonality. A pulse is sometimes taken as a universal, yet there exist solo vocal and instrumental genres with free and improvisational rhythms no regular pulse;5 one example is the alap section of a Hindustani music performance. According to Dane Harwood, "We must ask whether a cross-cultural musical universal is to be found in the music itself (either its structure or function) or the way in which music is made. By 'music-making,' I intend not only actual performance but also how music is heard, understood, even learned." 6