Music is a kind of art in which vocal or instrumental sounds are combined for the purpose of creating beauty of form or emotional expression, usually in accordance with cultural standards of rhythm, melody, and, in the case of most Western music, harmony. Whether it be a simple folk song or a complicated electronic creation, both are part of the same activity, that of music. Both are the result of human engineering; both are intellectual and aural in nature, and these qualities have been present in music of all kinds and times of history, all over the world, for thousands of years.

Music is an art form that, in one form or another, pervades every human community throughout the world. Modern music is heard in a bewildering variety of styles, many of which are contemporary and others which have their origins in previous times. Music is a multifaceted art form that easily forms alliances with other mediums such as language, as in song, and with physical movement, as in dance. Musical accompaniments to ritual and drama have been a staple of human culture for thousands of years, and they are often regarded as having the ability to reflect and impact human emotion. Popular culture has continuously taken use of these opportunities, with radio, film, television, musical theatre, and the Internet serving as the most visible examples of this today. The implications of the use of music in psychotherapy, geriatrics, and advertising attest to a belief in the ability of music to influence human behaviour. Publications and recordings have successfully internationalised music in both its most significant and most minor manifestations, and this is true of both classical and popular music. In addition to all of this, the teaching of music in primary and secondary schools has now gained widespread acceptability nearly around the world.

Conceptions that date back in time

Music may be heard almost anywhere. But what exactly is music? Commentators have spoken of “the relationship of music to the human senses and intellect,” so stating that a world of human speech is required in order for the art to exist. It will take longer to come up with a definition of music itself. According to Aristotle, “it is difficult to determine the nature of music or why anyone should be interested in learning about it.”

Early in the twentieth century, it was accepted as common knowledge that a musical tone was identified by the regularity of its vibrations; this regularity gave it a set pitch and distinguished it from “noise.” However, as time progressed, it became clear that this was not the case. Although traditional music may have supported that point of view at the time, by the second half of the twentieth century, it had come to be recognised as an undesirable yardstick. Certainly, “noise” and silence itself were parts of composition, and composers such as the American John Cage and others used random sounds (without knowing what they would be) in works that were aleatory (haphazard) or impromptu in their compositions. Furthermore, tone is only one of the many components of music, with the others being rhythm, timbre (tone colour), and texture. Electronic machinery enabled some composers to create works in which the traditional role of the interpreter was abolished, as well as to record, directly on tape or into a digital file, sounds that were previously beyond the ability of humans to produce, if not to imagine, before they became possible.

Indian and Chinese concepts from the beginning

From historical sources, it is obvious that music has always been seen as having the ability to affect people; its euphoric potential has been recognised in all societies and has typically been accepted in practise under specific circumstances, often stringent ones. Music has been used in the service of religion in India from the beginning of recorded history; Vedic hymns are among the first examples of this. As the art evolved over many centuries into a song of profound melodic and rhythmic complexity, the structure was controlled by the discipline of a religious text or the guideline of a storey. Today’s narrator is still essential to the performance of much Indian traditional music, and the virtuosity of an accomplished vocalist can rival that of an accomplished instrumentalist in terms of virtuosity. In the Western meaning of the word, there is very little concept of vocal or instrumental idiom. It is not common in South Asian classical music to use the vertical dimension of chord structure, which refers to the effects produced by playing multiple notes at the same time. The number of divisions of an octave (intervals) is greater than in Western music, and the melodic complexity of the music is far greater than that of its Western counterpart. Furthermore, an element of improvisation is kept, which is critical to the success of a performance in any genre. An instrumentalist and a narrator’s spontaneous imitation of each other while being accompanied by the insistent rhythmic subtleties of the drums, can be a source of the most exhilarating excitement, which is due in large part to their strict adherence to the rigid rules that govern the rendition of ragas, which are the ancient melodic patterns of Indian music.