Talk:Definition of music

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More space[edit]

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

Organized sound[edit]

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

rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and form are all fundamental aspects of music whether they're used or not. You cannot discuss music without mentioning or referring to aspects of them. Take, for example, this very article.
In fact, they all are - there is no such thing as a piece of music without any of these things, although there is such a thing as a piece of music with no notes.
If a piece appears to have no rhythm, for example, then that is the rhythmic aspect of the piece under consideration. The rhythm may change glacially slowly - but simply by changing notes, you will introduce some feeling of rhythm in a piece.
Cage's 4'33 (and the pieces that everyone forgets about that preceded it) is an important illustration of this - as you listen, you become aware of the sounds around you, and, because the creative brain likes patterns, the creative side of the listener will invent rythmic patterns, or start making associations.
It's important to note that music isn't just a form of art - it's also a kind of language, a science with demonstrable properties.
And music is sound organised in time - no matter who or what is doing the organising. Many consider birdsong to be music, for example. This article is completely misleading in its discussion of this fundamental principle, and seems to paint a picture of those who understand why this is fundamental to have not considered the options.
Sorry, but your professors are right :o) MarkCertif1ed 10:09, 24 May 2007 (UTC)

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

Ligeti based an entire work on rows of metronomes - it's on YouTube
As to waves on a beach: You could consider it music if you wished - but you would limit it in time, so you would have organised it. MarkCertif1ed 10:09, 24 May 2007 (UTC)

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.'

We're running into the buffers of Marcel Duchamp here. Melody and harmony would seem to be a good definition until we consider music that involves only percussion. 'Rhythm, and more basically pattern, is a defining characteristic, as well as intent. -- Tarquin

Timbre - the actual sound is just as vital in appreciating music.
Percussive instruments have different "tones", so we can even consider the melodic and even harmonic aspects of this if we wished.
Rhythm is obviously vital - even for pieces that appear to have none, as I outlined above.
Form is the last one - all music has it, or it wouldn't exist - and therefore not be music. For example, every piece begins and every piece ends - so every piece has a form.

Is it worth mentioning that typewriters were considered musical instruments for railway rate regulation? I don't know where or when, but this tidbit is pointed out by Egen Moglen in Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright. --BJT

I agree that this is a very big subject, and that the role of the entry should be to state some attempts that have been made to define music, rather than to come up with a "correct" definition (which really can't be done; you probably have to go about defining "art" and deciding if "intention" is important - it's a real minefield, and nobody can agree on it). I might have a go at doing this sometime later. For now I've just altered the Cage 4' 33" reference, about which there are a lot of misconceptions, and I may not have got it entirely right myself (my reference books are locked away on the whole), but I'm sure it's more right than it was before. It's certainly an important piece as far as defining music goes, and Cage probably deserves a decent sized chunk on this page (not before he has a page of his own though, I should think - I might write that soon as well).

Incidentally, a piece of music does exist for nothing but metronomes (albeit a large number of them, not just one). I forget the title, but it's by Gyorgy Ligeti (it was written as a half joke, if I remember correctly). -- Camembert

I remember very vividly hearing (experiencing in a musical way) the silent rest at the end of the string quartet I just wrote about. I can hear it now. I am looking for the name of the composer and the piece, but I ask your forbearance in leaving it until I find it, or, even better, naming it, or providing a better example.

In rock and roll even electronic feedback and noise are music. Ortolan88 19:48 Jul 27, 2002 (PDT)

They're organised ;o) MarkCertif1ed 10:09, 24 May 2007 (UTC)
I hope you can find the string quartet - I don't know it myself. There is a piece by Webern which has several bars of silence in the middle of it during which changes of tempo are indicated, but your example is better, I think.
Noise as music is another big subject, probably going back to the Italian Futurists in the early 20th century. I don't really know where to start on that one - I suppose the thing to do is to give one definition of music as being made up of pitched sounds, melody, and so on, and then debunk it. --Camembert

The most knowledgeable music lover I know thinks it was a Beethoven quartet, but he hasn't come up with an identification yet. Ortolan88 08:25 Jul 28, 2002 (PDT)

See pensato. Hyacinth 20:44, 4 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Interesting stuff on 4'33 -- so if the length was decided at the tiem of the first performance, did they only decide on a name there and then? I suppose we could say that silence is an important part of music in the same way that space is an important part of architecture. -- Tarquin 03:13 Jul 28, 2002 (PDT)

Yep, Cage says in one of the editions of the score of 4' 33" that the title of the piece should be equal to the length of the piece. So if you do a version lasting 30' 24", you call the piece 30' 24", for example. It is arguably more "correct" to refer to the piece as Tacet or something similar, rather than 4' 33", but nobody can agree on this either, and in any case, nobody will know what you're talking about if you call it anything other than 4' 33". I'd add this to the article, but it's not really relevent to a definition of music - maybe 4' 33" needs an article of its own?
In re this year's controversy with composer Mike Batt who had a track called "One Minute's Silence" listing the composing credit as "Batt/Cage". The Cage estate intervened, much to everyone's amusement, thinking that the estate was claiming that Batt had "stolen" Cage's silence. The point, I believe, was rather that he had stolen Cage's name, or at least used it without authorization, or paying royalties. Ortolan88 08:25 Jul 28, 2002 (PDT)
In that case, Cage stole from Allais' Funeral March for a Deaf Man, written in the late 1800s... MarkCertif1ed 10:09, 24 May 2007 (UTC)
The silence in music as space in architecture comparison is a good one, especially as music is frequently compared to architecture for other reasons. In fact, I think somebody has made that comparison between silence and space before - thanks for reminding me, I'll try to track it down. --Camembert

  • In rock and roll even electronic feedback and noise are music. Ortolan88 19:48 Jul 27, 2002 (PDT)
An excellent point: Hendrix made it so, if it wasn't before, and David Byrne repeated it but with melody (!) in the version of "Crosseyed and Painless" on Stop Making Sense. --KQ

I've added and reorganised quite a bit, but I'm a bit worried about where the structure is going to end up as the article grows (as it must). I'd like to add some stuff abt philosophical approches to music - auditory art being distinct from visual and verbal art. I'll try to do this later if nobody else does. But I've decided that things like Descartes thinking music is basically maths and Kant calling it the lowest of the arts are better located on a separate Music and philosophy page, or something similar. Most philosopher's approches to music are concerned with explaining why it has the effect it does and the symbolic and expressive elements rather than defining what it is. At least that's as I see it, but I'm no philosophy expert.

I don't want to take over this article altogether, by the way (much as I'm enjoying writing it), so everyone should add whatever they can. Of course :) --Camembert

Don't worry about taking it over, it's looking great, Camembert! I had a thought about 4'33: the fact that people have found interpretations of the piece which the composer did not intend makes it art. -- Tarquin
Cage would have liked that way of looking at it, I think - he hated the idea that a piece might be played the same way twice. --Camembert

Proposed outline[edit]

This article has some really wonderful pieces. I'm thinking that it could use a more coherent structure if it is to be useful as well as entertaining. Also, I think it is important to distinguish between what makes *music* in particular hard to define and what makes any word hard to define (some one's comments above about connotation made me think of this -- the connotative/denotative distinction in definitions is never as clear as we'd like it to be...). But back to the question of organization, here's a couple of possibilities:

Structure #1, organize by focus of definition 1. Most basic definition (sound organized in time) 2. Cultural differences in definition (across both space and time) 3. Limits of the definition tested by (mostly) avant-garde artists

Structure #2, organize by dividing the definition into part 1. Rhythm 2. Tone/Harmony with discussion 3. Intention 4. More general problems of art.

These are not completely thought out, but you get the idea.

Tom Hinkle

I quite agree that the article needs some structure, Tom. The last time I expanded it, I just wanted to get the info in and wasn't worrying about shape too much. Your suggestions look good - the first structure you suggest is largely how I was seeing the article turn out, with the second of your suggested structures (or something similar) helping to shape the avant-garde material. I'll probably get round to fixing this eventually (I also have some more material to add), but I'd love someone else to do it :) --Camembert

The "sound organized in time" and "art" requirements still seem overly broad, at least to me. For example, what about somebody reading from Moby Dick? Good prose often uses elements of rhythm, etc. (Faulkner's prose often including long sections of iambic pentameter.) And yet most people would not call Moby Dick music.

I agree with you that somebody reading from Moby Dick probably isn't music. As the article says, "sound organised in time" is a definition of music put forward by some and rejected by others. --Camembert

An anon added the following. I (Camembert) have taken it out - I can't quite make sense of it, and I'm not sure it belongs anyway:

I just want to talk about the “Music.” What is the music? Generally, I think the music is related to people because people create many different sounds and rhythms. When I decided this topic, I thought everything can be the music. I don’t think this is right, because even though I hit the wall using the stick, it is not the sound. I think the sound gives us something creative a work of great artistic value. I think word of the “Music” is related to genre of art like a dancing and performance. When I look at many kinds of performance, I can hear the sound, and it is the music. If we don’t use the music and play the concert or performance, we will be boring because I think everyone wants to something special like peculiar sound. A long time ago, in my country we call the “Ack.” It means the music. In Korea, before we used to write down Chinese character, and the music means “Ack.” It is kind of relative with ethical action and moral sense. I think ancient time they emphasized to courtesy. When I heard the sound, I felt this is the music, and I think because I already know what is the music? If I don’t have any information about the music, I will create the sound, and what’s going on at that time. I feel that the music is related to people.

This was posted by JLK521.

A proposed definition of music: Music is an intangible art intenionally created by a listener through the organizations, based on the listener's acquired standards of musical elements, of the combinations of sound/silence to serve a variety of purposes. --Adam T. and Jonathan O.--

Our reasoning why these are the defining elements of music:

First we make a seperation of Music and the system of music. Music is the perceived sound in a listener's head. Whereas, the system of music, is all of the means to communicate, create, imply, etc. music, such as sheet music, the performer, the instrument, the composer, and other tools in creating sound.

We believe that "music is intangible" because you cannot measure music in any form other than subjectivity. Although sounds/silences can be analyzed, music cannot. Music is intangible because it only exists if it is created by the listener. Although the same production of sounds that occur in musical pieces, if created by means of like a cd player, they are simply sounds until the listener creates music in his/her mind out of them from those sounds/silences.

We believe that "music is an" because it is the parrallel to visual art. And we believe that it is the process of creation that makes it art.

We believe that "Music is... intentional" because there is an intent for why it is being created in the listener's mind. Although that intent may be as simple as being based on rhythm or a motif, there is always some intent because if there were no intent it would be just noise.

We believe that "Music is...created" because with only the elements of sound and silence, there is no music. There must be some form of organization applied to that sound/silence. And once an organization is applied then there is music. "...then there" can be parralleled to 'created.' So, "and once an organization is applied music is created.

We believe that " a listener" because there must be a means by which to create organization of the sound/silence. There must be a perceiver of the sounds/silences that can interpret organization. The listener is the means.

We believe that "Music...through the organizations" that has been identified why, earlier in the post.

We believe that "...organization, based on the listener's acquired standards of musical elements" because there must be a way to base the means of organization. There is organization in speech, but what distinguishes that organization from musical organziation. To start, on this statement, "Listener's" works because every individual has there own interpretation of what organizes sound into music. "...acquired" helps define that the elements and standards will be gained through experience or formal instruction. Some people throughout the world only listen to music on the radio. So they begin to make simple sub-conscious decisions as to what makes music. These are the basics of melody, instrumentation, and rhythm. Others go into highly-detailed instruction which lead to organizations based on numbers, organizations based on disorganizations, organizations based on naturally occuring sounds/silences, organizations based on provoked naturally occuring sounds (ex. John Cage 4' 33"), etc. All of those elements of organization are acquired somehow. "...standards" defines that not only are there elements that are used by a listener, but also certain levels of development in those elements, 'standards.' With higher knowledge in music, a greater need for higher quality musicality is needed. This is the distinction that is similar to speaking with monotone, and speaking with emotion. An advanced speaker would say that the monotone is not speaking, merely saying words, and the emotional, vibrant, and/or lively speaker is speaking. He/she is saying stuff that has meaning. A knowledgeable person in music will say that mono musicality in a piece is not music. Those are just sounds. "Musical elements" is the problem phrase. Elements is not really a problem because there are always elements that need to be discussed when consisedering organization. Now "musical." This refers to all of the elements that a listener has that causes the organization to be music. To name a few elements: melody, harmony, rhythm, bass, instrumentation, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, duration, motifs, rows, sequences, modulations, interval vectors, orders, color, emotion, etc. There are plenty that I did not mention but that is just to get the point across. The first problem is how do you define "musical." If you list elements, there will always be more that you can add to that list. If you leave "musical", you are using a derivative of the word that you are trying to define. But for now, that word works because every person grows up learning what elements makes up music, this is just refering to those elements. This also make the distinction between speech elements and musical elements. And this still does not exclude speech elements from being musical elements, it just defines that the listener must have those elements in his/her vocabulary to organize the sounds/silences as music.

"Music is...the combinations of sounds/silences" is the most universally accepted element of music.

"To serve a variety of purposes" helps define "intentionally". The music has purpose. That purpose can be either simple or complex. Whether it is just based on the purpose of organizing the sound/silence on musical elements, or whether it is some difficult concept that is hard to accept.

We believe these are all the elements of music. Music cannot exist without any of these elements. This definition consisders the broadness of music literature and still allows for each and every piece of music to be music.

The definition of music: Music is an intangible art intenionally created by a listener through the organizations, based on the listener's acquired standards of musical elements, of the combinations of sound/silence to serve a variety of purposes. --Adam T. and Jonathan O.--

Also, if you can think of a way to reword "musical" please state.

A neat definition. I'm not sure if the "to serve a variety of purposes" part really belongs, though - it opens up a whole new can of worms ("does any art have a purpose?") that'd have to be dealt with; there's little point in getting into that. Also, according to that definition, isn't any speech music? --Lament

The following Webster quote in the article should at least have a link. Also, is it a copyvio?

The Websters definition of music is a typical example: "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" (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, online edition).

--zandperl 20:39, 29 Jan 2004 (UTC)

It certainly isn't a copyright violation, as short quotes are acceptable in law under the doctrine of fair use. If you want to put a link in for reference purposes, then go ahead - their site is --Camembert


I propose that we organize the definitions in this article somehow. More specifically I think we should use a spectrum with Aesthetical definitions at one pole and Applicational definitions at the other.

Thus we have a "music is pleasing sounds like Bach" defnition, and a "music is anything which is composed, performed, listened to, called, or treated as music is music," definition. In the middle would be definitions like, "music is organized sound."

ALSO, I propose that we move the page to Definitions of music, plural.


Sounds fine to me. The article certainly needs some sort of structure, as I've said before (I'm just too lazy to do it myself). --Camembert

Removed Bipul Kumar quote[edit]

I've removed this, recently added, from the article:

"Music is an art of living,a sense of peace."

Bipul Kumar

I don't know who Bipul Kumar is, or whether his opinion on what music might be is worth noting in the article, but in any case, I don't think a bare quote like this is a good idea. We could probably all add our favourite quotes on what constitute music, but the end result wouldn't be an encyclopedia article. This kind of thing is better suited to Wikiquote. --Camembert

Social influence on perception of[edit]

The "Social influence on perception of" music has no place in the "Definitions of music" article. One's varying perception of something does not necessarily change its definition (if I get drunk music doesn't change, I do). Likewise, one's culturally influenced perception of music is more about the culture and the inividual than music. The more proper formation of this topic is "Social construction of" or "Definition as social". Hyacinth 23:24, 19 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I changed the header to "Social influence on definition of" as it mirrors the first sentence of the section. However, the article is horribly POV in that it presents organization as the only definition worth discussing in full, with the text after that section not being at all devoted to definitions. Hyacinth 23:30, 19 Aug 2004 (UTC)

After all, the article title is "Defintions". Hyacinth 23:32, 19 Aug 2004 (UTC)


  • "The question of what the art form called music actually consists of is something that is still debated today."

I object to statements such as the one above, taken from the current introduction. The POV of this sentence is that music shouldn't still be debated today, or that it is unusual that it still is. Hyacinth 18:30, 4 Oct 2004 (UTC)

List of definitions of music[edit]

  • Organization
  • Art
  • Entertainment
  • Total social fact
  • Sound
  • Subjective experience
  • Category of perception
  • Social construct
  • Time/duration

The above are taken from the current music and definitions of music article.

  • Form
  • Order/regularity/stablity
  • Motion
  • Pleasure

As may be readily seen, however, none of these "definitions" is sufficient. "Organization" is not music, it is organization. Even if music is "organized" it must be organized something. Art includes music, but is not limited to, as with entertainment. Other things are art, other things are total social facts. There are sounds which are not music, their are subjective experiences not about music, and anything may (or may not be) socially constructed. Not all time is music. Thus none of the items on the above list are definitions, and should not be described as such on wikipedia.

Thus a second list:

  • Sounds organized or ordered in time
    • "The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the co-ordination between man [sic] and time."
      • Igor Stravinsky, quoted in DeLone et. al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0130493465, Ch. 3. from Igor Stravinsky' Autobiography (1962). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., p. 54.
  • Art of sound(s)/time
  • Entertaining sound(s)


Molino's position is structuralist rather than constructionist. He (Molino 1975:37) argued that music is a "total social fact [fait social total] is "an activity that has implications throughout society, in the economic, legal, political, and religious spheres." (Sedgewick 2002: 95) "Diverse strands of social and psychological life are woven together through...'total social facts'. A total social fact is such that it informs and organises seemingly quite distinct practices and institutions." (Edgar 2002:157)" (from total social fact). Hyacinth 08:36, 12 Feb 2005 (UTC)

"Music" is like a body[edit]

You can try to name it, but what's in a name. Defining is fine, just a bit naive. You'll get there in the end, sure you wil...

Please Wikipedia:Sign your posts on talk pages. Thanks. Hyacinth 09:29, 11 December 2005 (UTC)

Definition of musik[edit]

I felt some thing had to be added on that all article, otherwise very complete, because I believe that a definition on such a thing, as vast and diversified as music, has to be wide enough to encompass all its diversity and all its facets. giving definition on animals can't consist in describing dogs, cats, cows, tigers, elephants, one by one, it has to be a definition which could apply to all animals. That why I did add that page called complementary observations. by the way I hope I didn't squat with that text, a bloc belonging to someone else, because I didn't find any other way to get it in... there is no little cross next to edit, like on this window... I am very new on that internet business, and even more novice in Wikipedia... so, I would be very pleased if some one would tell me what to do to add a bloc on an series of article... -- Jean-Claude

as a PS I would like to add, completely out of the subject, and at the intention of camembert (I like that name since I do eat that cheese every day, just out of the FARM)... you talk a lot of John Cage and hes tiny silent piece... quite a few years ago, in a concert where I was playing my self, the flute player was performing it, I was then in the hall, and a poor old chap, sitting next to me, looking very worried, start to fiddle with hes "sonoton" (to the point that it start to ring loud with Larsen effect), believing, hearing no sound, that hes apparatus was out of order. -- Jean-Claude (signature added by Hyacinth)

Complementary observations[edit]

In that otherwise excellent and very complete article on defining music, there is that quotation: “there can be no absolute definition of music that will be accepted by everybody”. To that, one could reply : “there can be no absolute definition, if that definition applies only to a tiny part of music… defining a grain of sand is no definition for the beach”. Music, is traditionally defined as the Art of sounds, and, for the time of that demonstration, it would be good enough to define a sound as: what can be perceived with the ears. The Art of sounds would then be that department of Art which uses sounds to express emotions, like painting would be the department which uses for that effect forms in two D and colours, and the sculpture, that one which uses for that, forms and colours, but in 3 D. The poetry uses words (in their sense, but also in their sounds, in their sonority, and the rhythm of their syllables), so as the Dramatic Art: the Theatre which includes also, the forms, colours, gestures, and more else. The Gastronomy (not only nourishing one self, but the Art of eating), uses tastes, textures, and appeals also to the sight (forms, colours) and the sense of scent… As soon as you have a channel of perception, you can have an Art… and so, one could even talk (yes, yes!) from an amorous Art… why not?… the Art to do a kiss, or to structure a caress… only, here, it is an Art of intimacy, which addresses to one terminal only, instead of everybody. One can see by all that, that Art is always “COMMUNICATION”, and so, there must always be some one originating that communication (Painter, sculptor, musician, etc.) and some one to recieve it, if it as to be called a work of Art… First, that word: “work”, meaning labour, and which implies an action or activity anyway, (in French you have: œuvre d’Art, with œuvre-œuvrer-ouvrage… “un jour ouvrable”: a working day). Then, the word “Art” it self, from which derives: artificial, artefact, artisan… which all include the idea of an added participation, the idea of something made by a non natural way. That the reason why a beautiful stone, found on a beach, is no work of art, it can only become it if YOU decide to DO so. Then, Art is always communication , but, it isn’t the only thing, and, the indispensable added element to communication, is quality… Quality must be present, and that is achieved through aesthetics. You can say: “Good morning, sweetie, it’s time to get up”… it is only a comm., but no Art. Now, if you’d say:

    “Bon jour mon coer, bon jour ma douce vie
    […..    ….. …..]
    Marie levez vous ma jeune parresseuse:
    Jà la gaye alouette au ciel a fredonné,
    Jà le rossignol doucement jargonné,……”

If you’d say that, you’d express the same thing, but you’d add quality with the additional aesthetics (and, apart of that, your name would be Ronsard!). It isn’t important what you do communicate, but you must do it in a way aesthetically acceptable for whoever is going to receive it… (otherwise, you have “No communication”!) One can describe the horror, like certain painters, in war or martyrs scenes, or, like Baudelaire, you can depict a carrion, the only request is to communicate it with the colours and the forms, or the words, which will give to that communication, something more, aesthetically, then just coming here and throwing that carrion on the dining room table. With the use of Art, one communicates emotions, but, emotions which are, in fact, a finer representation (thanks to aesthetics) of the emotions one creates to cry when ones sweet-heart is gone for ever, or to rage, delicately plucking the ticket attached on the windscreen by a hand as feminine as well intentioned. That is the reason why, generally, even when crying because of a work of Art, one feels better after it.

Since all is vibration, from the lower wave length: touch, taste, smell, passing trough infra-sounds, sounds, ultra-sounds, sight starting with the invisible for us: infra-red, then light (only because one can see it), ultra-violet, (we really got holes in our range of perceptions!) emotions (aesthetics been on the very top of the emotions), to the infinitely short wave length (= 0) isn’t it the place of spirit ? I’ve got a theory that there is definitely an harmonic effect at different levels of that scale. So, when one tickles some top harmonics in the aesthetics band, one creates a resonance in the lower band of emotions; it is, when you play a tuning fork close to a string having that harmonic (lower A, or D, or F, etc) you can hear that string vibrating, but at the 440 rate. On the same way, listening to a sad piece (death of Mimi or Traviata, Pathetic Symphony, etc.) may make you cry, but, the aesthetic content makes you tune on that much higher wave length, in other words, raises your emotional tone. So, as a conclusion, and to summarize all that, I, for my part would say that :


And I believe that all categories of music can be so defined, even the ones which FOR ME are no music, but only because of MY personal taste, and what I consider to be FOR ME aesthetically acceptable. An that any way, doesn’t belong to the definition of music, but to the definition of aesthetics. User:Jean-Claude

Definition of definition[edit]

"A definition may be a statement of the essential properties of a certain thing." Hyacinth 10:53, 11 December 2005 (UTC)

That true, Hyacynt, but I also would like to add that a definition, appart of defining that thing it describes, must also define only that thing. Take for instance the definition of a chair; you can't only say that it as 4 feet, because, some time, its only 3, or even one (standing on the middle of a metal plate). so you have to say that a chair, is a piece of fourniture, to seat on, standing on 1 or more feet; but again, you can't say only that, because it could also define a bench... so you have to add that a chair always has a back (otherwise it's called a stool), and also that it has no arm rests (or then, it's called an arm chair)... of course, one could go mad with that sort of turning around the things, but, in the same time, it can give a sort of new slant on things. Jean-Claude.

Citation needed[edit]

  • "There is also at least one piece of music, a string quartet, in which the players stop suddenly while the sheet music shows a long rest at the end.[citation needed] When skillfully performed, the silence at the end is quite obviously part of the music."

I removed the above as it needs both a citation and detail. Hyacinth 11:03, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

The perfect sound?[edit]

I was reading a biography of Brian Wilson (ex-Beach Boys frontman); it said, at one point (approximatively) that as he was struggling to produce pieces of exceptional musical quality (there was a 'competition' between him and the Beatles around that era), he wanted to create the Ultimate sound, an Ultimate kind of music that all who listened to would love. As he got closer and closer to this elusive goal -- this album which would be called 'Smile', the pinnacle of his musical career -- his drug abuse also increased (as he derived inspiration from it), to a point where he was not able to continue his lifestyle and his underlying mental illness became uncontrolable.

What I wonder is, is it possible to create a sound which all human creatures would appreciate, no matter what their 'tastes' are? Every style and type of music has its characteristics and emotions associated with it; is it possible to conceive a universal sound which all would love? What part does perception play in the appreciation of music? If this universal sound did exist, and if some people asserted they did not appreciate it, would it be because they refused to hear it as it is and judge it before they heard it?

If a sound is considered to have a 'melancholic' sound -- we all know what is meant by this statement -- can that statement be used 'objectively' to describe the music? Obviously it must be limited in some way by what our perception of the word melancholic is. Reversly, if a piece of music is considered melancholic, can that influence our own definition and perception of the meaning of the word? --DragonFly31 12:11, 17 July 2006 (UTC)

Music vs. Aural Art[edit]

The concept that that article doesn't deal with very well is to get the idea out there that the line between "music" and "art that happens to be aural instead of visual" is very blurry and gray. For example, a lot of the noise/drone stuff out there, such as Merzbow, Birchville Cat Motel, and even the Conet project recordings really couldn't be considered "music", at least with a more pedestrian definition. There's no rhythm and harmony, pitch, & timbre are all incidental. However, it's still a "sound that is pleasing". Can sounds be art without being considered music? That's the truly challenging question at the bottom of this. --JD79 14:19, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

The elements of music (let's get it right)[edit]

This sentence, "Music is organized in time and consists of pitch, rhythm, harmony, and timbre." (which existed in the article until a moment ago when I altered it) is worth serious argument. I'd like to open this argument here and suggest that:

  • Music is organized in time (good so far)
  • and consists of "rhythm" (that would be just fine...the sentence should stop there.)
  • "pitch"? Pitch is merely rhythm. Any vibration/rhythm with a frequency greater than 35-or-so hertz will be perceives as a constant pitch. I contend that "pitch" and "rhythm" are nearly synonymous.
  • "harmony"? Again, if consensus can be reached that "pitch" is rhythm (a vibration with a frequency great enough that we perceive a constant tone) then the word "harmony" is just redundant and totally unecessary.
  • "timbre"? This word is not necessary...every sound has unique combination of overtones/textures/frequencies. Including this word in the sentence above is akin to saying "Cheeseburgers consist of molecules." -- it's true, but it really goes without saying.
Music consists of:
  • "Rhythm" - obviously.
  • "Melody" - a tune that occurs over time - or a main focus in the music. It's probably rhythmic - but that's an aspect now of the melody, which we hear differently to rhythm. It is how the vibrations interact with each other that makes the melody - we are now less interested in any rhythmic aspect than we are with following the rise and fall of pitch as the melody progresses over time.
  • "Harmony" - When multiple tuned instruments play against each other and produce a vertical wall of sound with distinct properties. Over time, it exhibits rhythmic properties, but as a vertical snapshot in relation to another vertical snapshot, it's perfectly distinct from rhythm, even though it consists of a number of vibrating waveforms playing off each other and creating new vibrations. We're less interested in the rhythm of each chord than how the tones produced by the vibrations interact with each other.
  • "Timbre" - What it sounds like. It's completely necessary to describe music - everyone talks about what the music sounds like in one way or another, e.g. "I like the sound of that guitar". It doesn't go without saying - how can you describe a piece of jazz and compare it to, say, heavy metal without touching briefly on what constitutes the overall timbre? You only have to mention saxophones or distorted guitars, and you're already talking about timbre. Although timbre is created by the specific vibrations or rhythms of the given instrument, that is to get confused about how we are considering the term "rhythm".
  • "Form" - Describes a piece of music. Fundamental - no piece can exist without form, or there would be no piece.
So let's get it right, indeed - these are the 5 fundamental elements of music. There are no more or less, and even if a piece appears to have a fundamental element missing, we can still identify aspects of it - e.g. the rhythm, timbre, melody and harmony of a piece like 4'33" is all in the passing of time (sound organised in time) - if you concentrate and use your ears, it all unfolds naturally. The piece begins and ends - and has 3 sections. That is its form.
Consider that in some cultures it is actually acceptable to use the word "tone" when talking about a musical "note". Consider how many other words have mutiple meanings.
Consider also, that when listening to a drum rhythm, one could easily percieve a melody - especially with tuned drums. When many play together, they generate a kind of harmony - indeed, we often use the term "in harmony" when there is no music to speak of.
Rhythm, when discussing music, means the rhythmic *qualities* of the music - generally, but not necessarily - as opposed to the individual sounds.
Hence it is not enough to say that it consists of rhythm alone - all the other elements will necessarily exist. MarkCertif1ed 09:31, 10 June 2007 (UTC)

"Music is organized in time and consists of rhythm." This sentence is sufficient, concise, and proven (see 4′33″). —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Formation (talkcontribs) 19:24, 19 February 2007 (UTC).

4'33" proves that music is sound organised in time (the piece has set limits, and sounds happen inside a time period), and consists of rhythm, melody, harmony, (all of this will come out of the various sounds around you, even if it is apparently haphazard - the human brain loves to organise things) and timbre (each sound has a particular quality).

It also proves beyond everything that *form is fundamental*. Without form, there is no music (4'33" has a beginning, an end, and even 3 movements). MarkCertif1ed 13:37, 13 June 2007 (UTC)

Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music[edit]

I guess the Metal Machine Music album should be mentioned in the article as a prime example of what causes debate over the definition of music. Parts of the current article read like parts of an unsourced personal essay, and may not be NPOV.--h i s s p a c e r e s e a r c h 21:04, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

Removed from introduction[edit]

  • Music is an art, entertainment, or other human activity which involves organized sound.
  • Music is organized in time and consists of rhythm. Organizing musical sound is part of composition and improvisation.

I removed the quotes above from the introduction since, as the first sentence describes, the definition is contested. Describing one definition in the introduction as if it were the correct one is POV, see Wikipedia:NPOV. Hyacinth 23:18, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

External link: meaning of music[edit]

I would like to submit as an External Link an article on the meaning of music. Here's the link: Thanking you for the consideration, Artsandopinion (talk) 17:22, 14 January 2008 (UTC)Robert Lewis

Incomplete sentence[edit]

(copied from User talk:Jerome Kohl)

I would like to draw your attention to how this edit of yours has left the article with an incomplete sentence. I have no idea how to fix the sentence, short of deleting it completely. I would also like to point out that the article formerly present at extreme music and linked in the previous section has been deleted as OR and does now redirect to extreme metal. Again, I see no way to fix the part without deleting it completely, but I would rather leave this to your own discretion. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 19:24, 26 January 2011 (UTC)

Oops! Thank you for drawing my attention to this lapse of editorial attention on my part. I see that there is another uncited claim dating back to 2008, that forms part of the continuation. Clearly the whole passage must be deleted, since there is no point to it without the rest. The redirect in the previous section is easy to change, and I will gladly correct that as part of my atonement.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:38, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
Ah well, but now the purpose of the "See also" link to "extreme metal" is even unclearer. "Extreme music" was an article devoted to forms of music (mostly popular music styles outside the mainstream) repugnant or confusing to the average listener due to their manipulation of musical parametres far beyond the ordinary, and in so doing, challenging common ideas of what music is. Extreme metal formed only one example out of many styles whose description as music is often resisted, so I could see the original idea of introducing the link in the context of music aesthetics, but now? --Florian Blaschke (talk) 16:11, 28 January 2011 (UTC)
Why should deleting a sentence in one section compromise the integrity of a "see also" in the preceding one? A "see also" is supposed to direct the reader's attention to an article where more information on the subject just (briefly) discussed can be found. If in addition the article "Extreme metal" (which I have not read) does not discuss the subject originally covered by the now-deleted "Extreme music" article, then the link should probably be removed. If you don't mind, I think we should move this discussion to the talk page of the article in question.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:32, 28 January 2011 (UTC)
Fine, I'll copy the discussion there and reply there as well. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 17:39, 1 February 2011 (UTC)
No, I'm not claiming that your deletion is the cause of the problem, but your change of the name of the link – even though in principle I welcome it, as it only reflects the facts, namely that the link "extreme music" currently redirects to an article covering only a small part of the original concept, namely extreme metal. For the reader, the question why in the context of a discussion of the aesthetics of music, heavy metal music in particular is so eminently relevant, may seriously posit itself.
Do you have any literature about the (quite comprehensive) subject that the original article "extreme music" treated? Perhaps it can be resurrected. Otherwise, I fear there is no other solution but to discard the pointer. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 18:03, 1 February 2011 (UTC)
I'm sorry, but I have never heard of "extreme music" and, now that that article has been deleted, there is no easy way for me to learn what it might be. I only changed the link to avoid a redirect, not because I think it is to a more appropriate article.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:28, 1 February 2011 (UTC)
I've found a copy of the deleted article on a Wikipedia mirror here. Hope it helps. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 00:16, 2 February 2011 (UTC)
Also, the AfD discussion is found under WP:Articles for deletion/Extreme music. I do think that the subject is interesting, and relevant in the context of a discussion of the aesthetics of music, as it covers music that is so definitely not "beautiful" that it indeed creates controversy as to whether it should be considered music at all; although admittedly, in the state found there, the article is focused on popular music and even there, quite incomplete, as there is a lot of other popular music whose status as "music" is controversial, especially rap. Much 20th century classical music, on the other hand, is all about exploring the boundaries of music, isn't it? --Florian Blaschke (talk) 00:29, 2 February 2011 (UTC)
Of course anything that challenges the notion of what music is should be of interest to this article, but I can certainly see why the "extreme music" article was deleted. It is so vague as to be meaningless, and from what can be gleaned from it, there can be very little if any music that might not be regarded as unacceptably extreme by somebody, at some point in time. By that measure, all music may at the same time be regarded as non-music! However, all I want to know here is: what shall we do with the link to "extreme metal"? Remove it or change it and, if the latter, change it to what?—Jerome Kohl (talk) 04:29, 2 February 2011 (UTC)
I don't know, either. I have no better idea but to simply remove it.
Do you know an encompassing term for music that challenges the notion of what music is (a notion that is necessarily not universal, but specific to a particular point in time, a place or social group, essentially being a social convention)? Avant-garde music? Or experimental music? I'm aware that experimental music in the strict sense used by music theorists (such as you) refers to music created by a process whose results are unforeseeable, but I have no better term for boundary-pushing music. It would make more sense to replace the link by one to an article treating boundary-pushing movements in music. However, while rap also belongs to art forms whose status as music is controversial, I'm not sure anyone would consider it avant-garde or experimental per se. Similarly for extreme metal, although I can see how it can be considered to push boundaries, especially by using extended vocal techniques, among other things. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 15:47, 3 February 2011 (UTC)
No, I know of no such term. The problem here may be one of degree (for example, in most American popular-music genres metres other than 4/4 may be regarded as "boundary pushing"; at the other extreme would be the hypothetical case of a music that violates all possible principles previously regarded as definitional). There is the additional problem (for "extreme music" as construed in the now-deleted article) that the criteria of judgment were entirely subjective and, as you yourself pointed out, mostly confined to the realm of commercial music, where that subjective judgment might well boil down to, "Has it sold 10,000 units yet this month?" rather than having anything at all to do with intrinsic elements. "Avant garde" certainly means "pushing the boundaries", but that does not necessarily constitute challenging the notion of what music is—in fact, it has been taken (by Michael Nyman) as meaning quite the opposite, namely, remaining within the accepted boundaries while at the same time struggling to extend them. If for "experimental music" the outcome in unforeseeable, then any judgment about whether the result is definitely music, definitely not music, or somewhere in between must be made on a case-by-case basis. If I had to make up a term to fit your requirements, I suppose it would have to be "anti-music" or, to adapt a phrase from Lewis Carroll, "un-music"—but I'm sure this would be even less useful than any terms we have discussed so far, since the very existence of such a thing would depend directly upon the definition of what music is.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:43, 3 February 2011 (UTC)
However, if you have a look, the article experimental music does not confine itself to chance, aleatoric, or indeterminate music, but also treats musique concrète, or even microtonal music (to say nothing of the popular music section). Whether the narrow specialist definition or the broad colloquial or journalistic definition should be preferred on Wikipedia I do not feel qualified to judge; that article is the best alternative I can come up with off the top off my head, and sound art does not seem to quite fit the bill either, but if you do not like that solution, let us just get rid of the link altogether. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 21:49, 4 February 2011 (UTC)
Sounds like a plan. I am very familiar with the Experimental music article and it matters little whether you accept my "if" clause in the above paragraph or swallow the article whole, since none of the more timid definitions posit an "anti-music" entity, either.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:45, 4 February 2011 (UTC)


This article seems very skewed towards twentieth century, and more specifically 'avant-garde' thinkers. If anyone can find anything from some time between the middle ages and the twentieth century, that would be good. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:06, 7 February 2013 (UTC)

Hmm. Fair point, although I notice that there is already a certain amount on Ancient Greece, a little bit on Rome and the medieval period, as well as some etymological stuff from non-European societies. I might add to your time-line lacunae the failure to mention some important geographic areas from which there ought to be more substantial data: the Middle East, China, India, Japan, and Indonesia, for a start. Surely the discipline of ethnomusicology could offer something more on pre-literate societies in Africa, Australia, and the Americas, as well.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 05:10, 7 February 2013 (UTC)


Numbered full citations in the recently added Lead section have been changed to (author:year) style. While I realize this is a common convention, I suggest numbered citations are helpful and should remain, along with (author:year) style if that is preferred, because they provide "click" access to the reference and "click" return to the reader's place in the article. The (author:year) style does not.Jacques Bailhé (talk) 00:52, 15 July 2014 (UTC)

If you are suggesting that footnotes should be added to the existing parenthetical citations, I think that would be a violation of WP:CITESTYLE, which specifies that a single, uniform citation style should be used throughout an article. On the other hand, there are also templates that can be used to add "click access" to inline citations. The most commonly used one, Template:Harvard citation, unfortunately would require the wholesale reformatting of the existing reference list, through the use of citation templates that impose a format different from the currently established one. I would therefore suggest that Template:Wikicite might be better in this case. These linking templates are superior to footnotes, especially when short-footnote format is used, because the latter require three-point clicking (through the use of Template:Sfn in the footnote itself, linking to the full reference in the alphabetical list), whereas the linked parenthetical author-date citations are just two-point clicks (directly from the reference in the text to the alphabetical list).—Jerome Kohl (talk) 01:48, 15 July 2014 (UTC)
Even more helpful. Thanks.Jacques Bailhé (talk) 17:34, 15 July 2014 (UTC)


The statement, "Some languages in West Africa have no term for music but the speakers do have the concept[clarification needed] (Nettl 1989,[page needed])," occurs in the Translations section and may be misleading. Regarding Sub-Saharan languages, Charles Keil ("Tiv Song: The Sociology of Art in a Classless Society" 1979, p.27) points out that in many Sub-Saharan African languages, there is no direct translation for the word “music," but the concept is referenced and described using different terms. Granted, there are likely cultural differences in attitudes about music, but especially since Africa is filled with music, Sub-Saharan or otherwise, it seems implausible that they have no "term" or words for it that cannot be understood as such within their cultural contexts. Can anyone provide authoritative reference on any of this? If not, I recommend the sentences are removed from the article and, with regard to "West Africa," re-written to discuss the sophistication of terminology for music in those cultures.Jacques Bailhé (talk) 06:45, 16 July 2014 (UTC)

This whole section is problematic. On the one hand, there have been complaints that this article needs globalizing; on the other, it is written in English and, as such, ought to represent what the word is likely to be about in that language. Instead, it jumps right off into linguistic issues which really cannot be adequately discussed without making this article very large indeed. As far as African terminology is concerned, I remember reading in one of Kofi Agawu's books that one cluster of languages have no word corresponding to the English word "rhythm", which seems preposterous considering the importance of rhythm to all kinds of African musics. I added that "clarification needed" tag because I could not understand the sentence, which seems to say "they have no word for it but talk about it all the time." That is self-contradictory, and not the kind of thinking or writing that I have come to associate with Bruno Nettl. I can only suppose that whoever wrote this sentence garbled something that Nettl expressed much more clearly. The lack of a page reference at exactly that point effectively prevents anyone from checking the source to see what Nettl actually said. And speaking of Nettl, he is the author of a very long article in the New Grove (which I just added to the list of references yesterday), on precisely the subject of this article. I cannot fathom how this has been overlooked up to this point, but I suggest we start by consulting it now.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:02, 16 July 2014 (UTC)

I agree, and think this is another article that needs a rebuild, but I don't want to get distracted from the Theory article just now. I only wrote the Lead here because when I went to check something, there was a banner that said,"Golly gee, sure would be nice if this had a Lead." So, I took a crack at it. And BTW, thanks for all your input and "leading" me to get it closer to how it ought to be. I'll come back to all this at some point because the puzzle of defining music is something I've been thinking about for some time. Noticed you're written on Stockhausen. I'm a fan. That guy sure knew how to make open fifths sound like the most startlingly revolutionary chord ever heard.Jacques Bailhé (talk) 20:23, 16 July 2014 (UTC)

Nettl is very up-front, in his New Grove article on this subject, about how difficult it is to actually say what music is or, on the other hand, to get any two people to agree. Obviously, this only gets more difficult when we start crossing cultural boundaries. A few years ago there was a fashionable expression, "like nailing jelly to a tree", that would be applicable here. I am still mulling over Nettl's article, which is long and complex, so I don't know if I will be able to get back to this before you do, but I agree that it should be one thing at a time when it comes to wholesale rewriting of articles. You are welcome for the help. That is what we are instructed to do here on Wikipedia. Yes, I have written a great deal about Stockhausen, here on Wikipedia and in print. If you think he did great things with open fifths, you will also like what he did with major thirds (and all the other intervals). Sometimes, he even puts two or three intervals together ;-) The common, garden-variety dominant-seventh chord that ends Michaelion from Mittwoch is another fine example.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:24, 16 July 2014 (UTC)

Nettl does indeed provide a very well-balanced discussion, especially in Nettl, Bruno. 2005. "The Art of Combining Tones: The Music Concept". The Study of Ethnomusicology. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, p. 26-37 ISBN 0-252-07278-2. I added that as a citation and also changed the section heading from "Translations" to "Concepts of music" since the guts of the matter isn't linguistic issues, but fundamental differences in concepts. I'll be coming back to this article to try to improve it once we're satisfied with Music theory, but as a case in point, as I cross check articles on related subjects, I'm finding a long list of statements that need correction. Of course, that's the nature of the beast and it'll take patient work to tame it. Jacques Bailhé (talk) 20:36, 22 July 2014 (UTC)

I agree absolutely. That "language" thing has been bothering me for years, but I couldn't quite think what to do with it. I think you are on the right track here: it is an issue of differing concepts, even if words are inevitably involved in expressing and understanding those concepts. And thanks for the Nettl 2005 reference. I didn't know that one.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:09, 22 July 2014 (UTC)

Jerome--Hats off! Your recent rewrite is excellent. In the lead, I don't think I made a clear case about how the OUD definition may fail the test of genus and differentia. I suggest I revise that paragraph to read as follows:

The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines music as, "That one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of thought or feeling" (Little and Onions 1965, 1300). Considering this definition within the criteria of genus and differentia, use of the word “sound” may cause it to fail the test of being “too broad” by allowing combinations of any sounds, whereas for example, the genres known as noise music and musique concrète use machine noises and other sounds not traditionally considered to be musical. (Priest 2013, 132)

If you agree, I'll make the change. Of course there are other possible faults with the OUD definition, but for the purpose here, one example seems enough. Owing to your really great work, I think, the last bit that needs to be cleaned up is the discussion of cultural concepts. My research for the music theory article has turned up a number of excellent examples of the problem. Once I get off that article, I'll take a crack at a fix by posting a suggestion here for your consideration. Jacques Bailhé (talk) 15:47, 6 August 2014 (UTC)

Thank you for your kind words. In the process of presenting the many conflicting definitions of what music might or might not be, we ought to be as clear as we can within the constraints of verifiability what the underlying philosophical or cultural bases are for these differences. It seems to me that simply applying criteria such as those of genus and differentia constitutes original research. Of course, if we can find reliable sources that have applied such criteria and drawn conclusions, that is a different matter. Does Priest actually do this, in as many word? If so, then, fine, go ahead.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:42, 6 August 2014 (UTC)

The Priest citation refers only to arguments that "noise music," etc. are not considered music by some. Genus and differentia is one standard method of determining the suitability of a definition. Comes from the WP article on such matters, but I don't know specifically of any authority naming this as their method of appraising a definition of music. However, most discussions of the matter I've read use this method's criteria. See for instance Merriam, The Anthropology of Music, 1980 paperback edition, p. 64-66 in the chapter titled “Concepts.” As you probably already know, types of definition applicable to a word like music are:

Precising definition extends the descriptive dictionary definition (lexical definition) of a term for a specific purpose by including additional criteria, which narrow the set of things that meet the definition.
Extensional definition, also called a denotative definition, of a concept or term specifies its extension. It is a list naming every object that is a member of a specific set.
Enumerative definition of a concept or term is an extensional definition that gives an explicit and exhaustive listing of all the objects that fall under the concept or term in question. Enumerative definitions are only possible for finite sets and only practical for relatively small sets.
Intensional definition, also called a coactive definition, specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions for a thing being a member of a specific set. Any definition that attempts to set out the essence of something, such as that by genus and differentia, is an intensional definition.

As I think you may agree, the unifying idea of all these is identifying the things that define the set that constitute the meaning of the word. The terms upon which such a set may properly be defined are, in my estimation, most clearly stated in the method of genus and differentia quoted on WP and so my specific reference to that method. The following quote is from my notes on Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology, 2nd ed. Univ Illinoi, 2005, Chater 2, The Art of Combining Tones: The Music Concept p. 26-37). Please pardon the length, but I think read in toto, you may agree he’s using genus and differentia.

“If we have trouble defining and conceptualizing music in our own culture, it’s even harder to analyze the concept in cultures to which we are strangers. Even within one society a particular sound may be regarded as musical in one context and nonmusical in another (see, e.g., Robertson 1977:35–40). But not so fast: European languages too have differences in terminology which indicate a variety of ways of seeing the shape of music. In German, Musik means “music” in general, but Tonkunst, glossed as “musics,” is used to refer to classical music (typically, though, music of the German-, French-, and Italian-speaking nations). In Czech, though the terms overlap, muzika means vernacular music, mainly instrumental; hudba means classical or academic music. Actually, most languages of the world don’t have a term to encompass music as a total phenomenon. Instead, they often have words for individual musical activities or artifacts such as singing, playing, song, religious song, secular song, dance, and many more obscure categories. Until recently, most ethnomusicological studies did not speak to the question of the definition or conception of music in any one society, taking for granted the existence of the concept, even in the absence of an actual term for music. Merriam(1967a: 3, 1964: 3–84) discusses this matter at length, and there are some classic studies of the terminology and taxonomy of individual cultures by Zemp (1979), Feld (1982), Al-Faruqi (1985–86), and Rowell (1992). The absence of a general term for music doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no music concept, but the way in which terms appear in discourse about music may tell us about the configuration of the concept. According to Ames and King (1971: ix; also Ames 1973b:132), the Hausa of Nigeria have no term for music; there is a word, musika, derived from the Arabic and ultimately the Greek word, which is used for a very restricted body of music. But evidently many musical activities in which the Hausa engage are more important as components of a variety of cultural contexts, and thus verbally more associated with these, than understood as a complex of structurally similar phenomena. The same seems to be true of Native American societies that have no word to tie together all musical activities. The Blackfoot have a word, paskan, that can roughly be translated as “dance,” which includes music and ceremony and is used to refer to religious and semireligious events that comprise music, dance, and other activities; but this word would not include certain musical activities, such as gambling, that have no dancing at all. They have a word for “song” but not one for instrumental music. A similar attitude, incidentally, may have been traditional in India; the word sangit or a derivative of it is used to translate “music” rather accurately, but the term may also include dance. According to McAllester (1954: 4), the Navajo have no word for music or for musical instruments. Keil(1979:27–29) searched in vain for a specific term for music in a dozen languages of West Africa. Although a society has a word roughly translatable as music, that word may include things we in Western urban society, despite our own loose definition, do not include as musical, and it may specifically exclude other phenomena that we regard as music. For example, the Persian term now generally used to translate “music” is musiqi, borrowed from Arabic. It refers, though, primarily to instrumental music, yet includes certain vocal music. But vocal music in general is mainly called khndan, a word translated as “reading,” “reciting,” and “singing.” The singing of the Koran, whose structure and sound are not very different from the singing of secular classical and folk music, is not admitted as belonging to musiqi, nor is there citation of prayer or the muezzin’s call to prayer. The reason for excluding the most specifically religious singing from the main category of “music” has to do with the opinion in Muslim law that music is in certain ways an undesirable and even sinful activity and that as a concept it must be kept separate from religion." Jacques Bailhé (talk) 22:07, 6 August 2014 (UTC)

"Genus and differentia is one standard method of determining the suitability of a definition... but I don't know specifically of any authority naming this as their method of appraising a definition of music." In that case, it cannot be applied here, any more than presenting an unpubished Schenkerian-style analysis of a piano piece by Schoenberg: it would constitute original research.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:38, 6 August 2014 (UTC)

I might ask how else does one appraise a definition, but I'll simply defer to you and accordingly, have deleted the reference to genus and differentia.Jacques Bailhé (talk) 18:54, 10 August 2014 (UTC)

Incorrect addition to the lead[edit]

The sentence, "When using a more modern definition, such 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" ( 2015), these issues are no longer apparent," is incorrect and should be deleted. The definition also suits the creation of things like alarms and other signal devices that we don't recognize as music, but mistakenly suggests that it removes the issues of earlier definitions that rely on listing attributes. --Jacques Bailhé 23:10, 11 December 2015 (UTC)

While I agree that this entire line of argumentation really does not belong in the lead, it is fruitless to argue that this definition is not watertight. The very point of the discussion is that it is difficult or even impossible to pin down exactly what constitutes music. On the other hand, if the Merriam-Webster wording is meant to be defining something other than music, then it is obviously unsuitable in a discussion of attempts (of whatever level of success) to define what music is.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 01:34, 12 December 2015 (UTC)

Jerome—We have plenty of definitions that can be acceptable for various uses, but for this article, it seems appropriate to explain the crux of the matter, which is, as you know so well, that music is continually being redefined—by musicians and our increasing understanding of other cultures' music. I thought what you originally wrote in the body of the article thoughtfully and eloquently presented the dilemma that a definition of music is, and maybe should be, a moving target. Trying the limits of what we consider to be music and altering our conceptions is, of course, an important way the art evolves and stays relevant. The additions to the lead mistakenly conclude with original research that there is no longer any debate about what constitutes music and add confusing, off-topic digressions about Cage’s 4’33”. If the Merriam-Webster definition is accepted, what’s the point of the rest of the article other than historical curiosity?

Specifically, I don't see how the Merriam-Webster is any more acceptable than the many others in the article. "...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…" is really just a re-wording of other attempts, and as we've seen, they all fail for one reason or another. If I order three door buzzers in this way, is that music? Cage, Le Monte Young, the Darmstadters, and many others ask that question and although we recognize my example probably isn't music, it fits within the Merriam-Webster definition.

If music can be considered a science, we're in a soggy muddle. Scientific techniques can be applied to music in analysis and composition, but music as a phenomenon is an art, not a science--as both fields are defined. Music theory certainly contains aspects of science, but is, of course, a body of knowledge and field of study, not music, and like music itself, is considered among the humanities, not science. That alone makes the definition fail.

But more important is that music, both Western and from other cultures, doesn't uniformly rely on "ordering tones," “in succession” or otherwise, or "unity and continuity." Those ideas are, of course, exactly what Cage challenges with 4'33" and other works, and the jury's still out on whether 4'33" is music—for good reason. I also don't understand how the added quotes from Cage are anything but confusing digressions from the point of the lead and the article as a whole, which is that we just don't have an unassailable definition. Philosophically, we’re faced with the fact that it may be impossible and probably unnecessary, undesirable, and counterproductive.

The comments appended to the definition that conclude that the problems in previous definitions "are no longer apparent" when this "more modern definition" is used are both original research. The only thing modern about it is that it was apparently published in 2015. Its concepts are ages old (other than the nonsensical science bit). Since no reference is given, I wonder who the writer thinks may agree with their conclusion. Nattiez, Berio, Clifton, etc. don’t. Neither does Taruskin, as his many discussions of the problem in the final volume of his History of Western Music make clear. Leaving the conclusory statement in the lead confusingly contradicts the article in whole, making your excellent exposition just a historical curiosity rather than the engaging and, I think, illuminating discussion it used to be.

I hope this is isn't hair-splitting and that you'll revert to an earlier version that doesn't include these changes to the lead. I don't want to put either of us into a lengthy debate so I defer to your judgment and no reply is necessary.

I also don’t think the external link to “What is Music?” is appropriate since what’s there seems to be a website about “the presentation of the first generative music theory,” and soliciting contributions to “Cosmos Square Inc.'s "Editions Consonance Publishing" division.”

If you haven’t seen them yet, you might also have a look at WP articles simply titled Music and Music history.

As an aside, what do you think of this for a definition: Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence that depends on cultural context to be recognized as music." The more I think about it, that's about all we can say and cultural context may be an essential aspect that would, for purposes of definition, clear up a large part of the quandary about what is and is not perceived as music. --Jacques Bailhé 18:16, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

I am flattered that you think "my" exposition is excellent, but I don't think I have been solely or even primarily responsible for it. I agree with nearly everything you have said here, but while it clarifies the nature of the problem I don't see that it brings us much closer to a solution. "The" definition of music is not only a moving target, but something that varies from individual to individual. It is in this way, especially, that music is not a science but an art, as you rightly observe. You suggest reverting to some earlier version of the lead, but I am at a loss to know which earlier version this should be. Do you have a particular one in mind? The definition you suggest seems to be a new one and, as always on Wikipedia, what matters most is that we have a reliable source. Since we are talking about a lead section that is supposed to summarize the article as a whole, this definition and its source (and any competing definitions with their sources) should be placed in the body of the article. It really is putting the cart before the horse to write the lead first, and then try to make the rest conform to it, though for purposes of discussion it may be useful to set down a hypothesis and then see what evidence can be amassed, either for or against it. Thanks for suggesting the articles on "Music" and "Music history". I don't think I have paid either of them much attention so far.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:38, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

As I remember, I made some revisions to the lead, making the point that this is a hard nut to crack, in particular with the discussion of Cage's 4'33". You then rewrote the entire body of the article as it then existed ((2014?) and did a terrific job pulling together what was a poorly written and intellectually vague mess. Anyway, first let me make clear my question about "Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence that depends on cultural context to be recognized as music," is purely to get your thoughts. I have no intention of putting that in this article, but I do think it may be an intriguing way to define music without the usual pitfalls. If you decide to revert the lead to remove the objectionable additions, I'd suggest it goes back to the following:

An accurate and concise definition of music is fundamental to being able to discuss, categorize, and otherwise consider the phenomenon of what we understand as being music. "Explications of the concept of music usually begin with the idea that music is organized sound. They go on to note that this characterization is too broad, since there are many examples of organized sound that are not music, such as human speech, and the sounds non-human animals and machines make" (Kania 2014). Many scholars have suggested definitions, but defining music turns out to be more difficult than might first be imagined. As this article will demonstrate, there is ongoing controversy about how to define music.

The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines music as, "That one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of thought or feeling" (Little and Onions 1965, 1300). However, the music genre known as Noise music, for instance, challenges these ideas about what constitutes music's essential attributes by using non-traditional sounds. (Priest 2013, 132) (See also Musique concrète).

A famous example of the dilemma in defining music is modern composer John Cage’s composition titled 4'33". The written score has three movements and directs the performer(s) to indicate by gesture or other means when the piece begins, then make no sound and only mark sections and the end by gesture. What is heard are only whatever ambient sounds may occur in the room. Some argue this is not music because, for example, it contains no sounds that are conventionally considered "musical" and the composer and performer(s) exert no control over the organization of the sounds heard (Dodd 2013). Others argue it is music because the conventional definitions of musical sounds are unnecessarily and arbitrarily limited, and control over the organization of the sounds is achieved by the composer and performer(s) through their gestures that divide what is heard into specific sections and a comprehensible form (Gann 2010).

Problems of defining music also arise from different conceptions of music in different cultures.

That's pretty much as I remember it, although I have left "Explications of the concept of music usually begin with..." which was added by someone else and I think puts the whole matter very neatly. Cheers. --Jacques Bailhé 03:02, 5 January 2016 (UTC)

Jerome -- Would you like me to replace the lead with what I've suggested above? --Jacques Bailhé 19:52, 10 January 2016 (UTC)

I think that sounds reasonable. If other editors object, let us hear their proposals for improvement here.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 23:05, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Jerome -- I replaced the lead with the text above and some additional changes that I hope clarify and haven't gone off the rails. --Jacques Bailhé 22:37, 12 January 2016 (UTC)