Aspect of music

An aspect of music is any characteristic, dimension, or element taken as a part or component of music.


European music

The traditional musicological or European-influenced aspects of music often listed are those elements given primacy in European-influenced classical music, so 7 basic elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm, tone, form, tempo and dynamics .

  • Melody is a succession of notes heard as some sort of unit. It is a single line of tones that moves up, down, or stays the same using steps, skips and repeated tones.
  • Harmony is the relationship between two or more simultaneous pitches or pitch simultaneities, chord progression affects the key.
  • Rhythm is the variation of the accentuation of sounds over time.
  • Tone color is timbre, see list below.
  • Form is the structure of a particular piece, how its parts are put together to make the whole.
  • Tempo is the speed of communicating an emotion in a particular piece, how fast or slow it's played.
  • Dynamics is the volume of all parts as a whole and every layer in the structure.

However, a more comprehensive list is given by stating the aspects of sound: pitch, timbre, intensity, and duration. (Owen 2000:6)

These aspects combine to create secondary aspects including form or structure, texture, and style. Other commonly included aspects include the spatial location or the movement in space of sounds, gesture, and dance. Silence is also often considered an aspect of music, if it is considered to exist.

  • Structure includes: motive, subphrase, phrase, phrase group, period, section, exposition, repetition, variation, development, and other formal units, textural continuity (ibid).
  • Texture is the interaction of temporal and pitch elements. It includes: homophony, polyphony, heterophony, and simultaneity. (ibid)
  • Style is defined by how the above elements are used. It is what distinguishes an individual composer or group, period, genre, region, or manner of performance (ibid).
  • Aesthetics is another element that many do not know. This is how the music affects you emotionally. For example: an upbeat tune may make you joyful, while a slow violin song may make you feel lonely, cold, and depressed.

Persian music

A dastgah is a melody type used in Persian music, on the basis of which a performer produces extemporised pieces. Although 50 or more dastgahs have been used, theorists generally discuss a set of twelve principal ones.

Each dastgah consists of seven basic notes, plus several variable notes used for ornament and modulation. The dastgahs revolve around central nuclear melodies (gusheh) which the individual musician comes to know through experience and absorption. This process of centonization is personal, and it is a tradition of great subtlety and depth. The full collection of gushehs in all dastgahs is called the Radif.

Universal aspect

Often a definition of music lists the aspects or elements that make up music under that definition. However, in addition to a lack of consensus, Jean Molino (1975: 43) also points out that "any element belonging to the total musical fact can be isolated, or taken as a strategic variable of musical production." Nattiez gives as examples Mauricio Kagel's Con Voce [with voice], where a masked trio silently mimes playing instruments. In this example sound, a common element, is excluded, while gesture, a less common element, is given primacy. In classical music of the common practice period, for instance, melody and harmony are often considered to be given more importance at the expense of rhythm and timbre. John Cage considers duration the primary aspect of music as, being the temporal aspect of music, it is the only aspect common to both "sound" and "silence".

It is often debated whether there are aspects of music which are universal. The debate often hinges on definitions, for instance the fairly common assertion that "tonality" is a universal of all music may necessarily require an expansive definition of tonality. A pulse is sometimes taken as a universal, yet there exist solo vocal and instrumental genres with free and improvisational rhythms no regular pulse (Johnson 2002), one example being the alap section of an Indian classical music performance. "We must ask whether a cross-cultural musical universal is to be found in the music itself (either its structure or function) or the way in which music is made. By 'music-making,' I intend not only actual performance but also how music is heard, understood, even learned." (Dane Harwood 1976:522)

According to Merriam (1964, p. 32-33) there are three aspects always present in musical activity: concept, behaviour, and sound. Virgil Thomson (Erickson 1957, p. vii) lists the "raw materials" of music in order of their discovery: rhythm, melody, and harmony; with the construction of these materials using two major techniques: counterpoint (the simultaneity and organization of different melodies) and orchestration. Rhythm does not require melody or harmony, but it does require melody if the instrument produces a continuous sound, harmony arises from reverberation causing the overlap of different pitches, and counterpoint arises from multiple melodies.

Kenneth Gorlay recounts that, "Writing of her own Igbo music, the Nigerian musicologist Chinyere Nwachukwu maintains that the 'concept of music nkwa combines singing, playing musical instruments, and dancing into one act' (1981: 59). Whatever concept of 'music' is held by members of western society, it is highly improbable that, apart from forward-looking scholars and composers, it will contain all three elements. Nkwa in fact is not 'music' but a wider affective channel that is closer to the karimojong mode of expression than to western practice. The point of interest here is that Nwachukwu feels constrained to use the erroneous term 'music': not because she is producing a 'musical dissertation,' but because the 'one act' which the Igbos perform has no equivalent in the English language. By forcing the Igbo concept into the Procrustean bed of western conceptualization, she is in effect surrendering to the dominance of western ideas—or at least to the dominance of the English language! How different things would have been if the Igbo tongue had attained the same 'universality' as English!" (1984, p.35) He then concludes that there exists "nonuniversality of music and the universality of nonmusic."

Other common aspects and terms

Other terms used to discuss particular pieces include note, which is an abstraction which refers to either a specific pitch and/or rhythm or the written symbol; chord, which is a simultaneity of notes heard as some sort of unit; and chord progression which is a succession of chords (simultaneity succession).

For a more comprehensive list of terms see: List of musical topics


  • Thomson, Virgil. "Introduction" to Erickson, Robert (1957). The Structure of Music: A Listener's Guide. New York: Noonday Press. Subtitled "a study of music in terms of melody and counterpoint".
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0-691-02714-5.
  • Molino, J. (1975). "Fait musical et sémiologue de la musique", Musique en Jeu, no. 17:37-62. Cited in Nattiez (1987).
  • Harwood, Dane (1976). "Universals in Music: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology", Ethnomusicology 20, no. 3:521-33. Cited in Nattiez (1987).
  • Gourlay, Kenneth (1984). Cited in Nattiez (1987).
  • Owen, Harold (2000). Music Theory Resource Book. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511539-2.
  • Johnson, Julian (2002). Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514681-6.

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