Music and Language I


Music is often regarded as the universal language. Indeed, learning music is very similar to learning any language: you have to learn first of all the alphabet, then the basic words. With the understanding of the grammar and the syntax, you put the words together to make simple sentences, which form a paragraph, and eventually an essay. It goes the same with music: you learn the individual notes by their names (the letter names) and their positions. After that you understand how the notes are placed together with regard to their relations with one another; there they form a melody, a chord, and a phrase, gradually a section and a complete piece.

One might say music is a universal language, but judging from what I just said above, it is obviously not. In order to understand a language, you have to learn the technical parts of it. You have to understand the grammar and the meanings of the words in order to know what the conversation is about. Therefore, if one wants to understand music and figure out what it means and represents, one has to learn its grammar.

I understand the general term “music” as the broad category of all languages, which means that under such terminology there go many different kinds of music, e.g. classical, jazz, blues, folk, country, rock, pop, etc. And under each kind of music there are sub-categories such as orchestral music, piano music, chamber music, pure string ensemble, brass music etc etc. Now we can see how difficult it is to speak the language of music.

Many people might think, “hey we just want to listen to the music and that’s it, it is just sound after all, what is there to understand? and how hard can it be to learn it?”

Just like learning a language, learning music can be done in various ways. For a language, you can be able to understand it aurally, speak it perfectly, write it in sentences, or read from a book. For music, you can understand it by listening to it with the basic knowledge of theory, history and form, playing an instrument, composing a new piece of your own, or simply read it on the score and “listen” to the imagined sound in your head.

(To be continued…)

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