Music is…

Music is math. All music is sound and all sounds are controlled by predictable and measurable physical properties. The physics of music makes it a type of mathematical system that transcends culture and can unify any musical expression. Excellent musicians understand this underlying mathematical matrix in a way that allows them to transcend genre distinctions and to engage with other musicians in a variety of contexts.
Music is language. Music (with or without sung lyrics) is a form of communication and is designed to share the emotions, ideas, and soul of the performer with anyone who will listen. Ever since the Tower of Babel, language has been shattered and fragmented into thousands of tribal tongues, and in the same way, music is fragmented into thousands of genres and styles. The object (the musical sound) must combine with the subject (the listener) to be given meaning. In the same way that a language is gibberish unless there is someone else who can interpret it’s meaning, your music is gibberish if your listeners lack the experience to interpret it. Excellent musicians understand the fundamental linguistic qualities of music and approach new styles with the humility of a translator listening for the unique qualities of that particular style that communicate with its listeners.
Music is art. Art is an intuitional process of understanding and expressing ideas and emotions in a way that cannot be measured or defined, and attempting to define art is the surest way to kill it. As the famous quote goes, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” There is something fundamentally mysterious about making music; that’s why they call it “Music Theory” and not “Music Facts.” Excellent musicians know when to shut up and play!

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  1. #1 by bhuffine on June 27, 2006 - 2:45 pm

    Kirk,
    This has absolutely nothing to do with the current post, but I can across it today and immediately thought of you. Well maybe it does have something to do with the post, this is an example of a musical language that you can aspire to.

  2. #2 by Heidi on June 27, 2006 - 3:39 pm

    Well said! I really appreciate this post! It reminds me of the famous Victor Hugo quote:
    “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

  3. #3 by Claire on June 28, 2006 - 2:38 pm

    Kirk,
    excellent definition of music, especially the part regarding language. i have a t-shirt with a mandolin on it that says “grips the mind, binds the heart” and even though people give me funny looks whenever i wear it (it also has a big head with different parts of the brain connecting to the mandolin) i think it’s a great description of the way music reaches people.

  4. #4 by Carrie on July 5, 2006 - 3:42 pm

    Well said. Of course, it’s the first part that I relate to immediately, because just about everything in life is a mathematical formula to me. It’s just the way I’m wired.
    On the other hand, I find music to be a language and form of art that runs deep inside of me in places where I can’t begin to formulate or express my feelings any other way. When I write music it’s a therapy for parts of me that can’t process through the complexity of emotions using logic (my “first language”). Mathematical formulas get thrown out the window and instead I feel something freeform flowing through my veins.

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