What Is Music…Exactly?
Start with a simple vibration.
Posted August 3, 2016 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
Music is essential to many of our lives. We listen to it when waking up, while in transit, at work, and with our friends. For many, music is like a constant companion. It can bring us joy and motivate us, accompany us through difficult times, and alleviate our worries.
Music is much more than mere entertainment. It has been a feature of every known human society—anthropologists and sociologists have yet to find a single culture throughout the course of human history that has not had music. In fact, many evolutionary psychologists today make the argument that music predated language. Primitive tribes and religious practices have used music to reach enlightened states for thousands of years, and Pythagoras used music to heal different psychological and physical ailments. Currently, cutting-edge scientific research has shown the effect that music has on the brain, the individual, and society.
Not only does music reach us on intellectual, social, and emotional levels, but many describe it as spiritual or mystical. The use of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic devices in music can induce a psychological state in both the musicians and the listener that is beyond words to describe. Music can bring us back to ourselves, be our mirror, and show us a side of ourselves that we may have long forgotten or never knew existed.
Even though we are constantly exposed to music in our daily lives, we rarely stop to actually think about what it is. After all, what exactly is music?
Fundamentally, music is a combination of sounds, and sound is vibration. One of the most succinct definitions of music comes from the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, who said, “Music is sonorous air.” It's extraordinary to think that a simple vibration unseen by the human eye can facilitate a deeply rich emotional experience, alter perception and consciousness, and induce ecstatic states of being. What is the process by which these sonic vibratory frequencies are heard by the listener, creating a profound psychological experience for them? How does something as fleeting as "sonorous air" have such a healing and therapeutic effect on people? And how does it facilitate personal growth?
In this series, titled "The Power of Music," we will explore these questions in detail by reporting on the latest cutting edge research on music, interviewing musicians, scientists, therapists, and spiritual leaders about their work with music, and digging up ancient texts and musical practices. We will bring in ideas and experiences from a wide spectrum of perspectives to see if there is some underlying thread that can be found. The intention is not to take away from the mystery of music, but rather to increase our understanding and appreciation of it so that we can use and experience it to the fullest. A greater understanding of the powers of music can inform how it can be used for the benefit of individuals, societies, and those in need.