The Study of Ethnomusicology – Understanding the Harmony of Music

Music is the art of putting together various noises in sequence to create a melody by the four elements of melody, rhythm, harmony, and timbre. It’s one of those universal, abstract artistic aspects of all human cultures. The earliest known use of music dates back to the period of the baboons and cavemen who relied on musical instruments to communicate with each other. Today there are an estimated 4.6 billion instruments that make music.


Although different types of music are used for different purposes, it’s a common enough attribute of classical music that everyone can recognize it. The beats of the drums, the twang of the strings, the pulse of the beat, and the rhythms of the bass, are all recognizable. This is what we call “folk music.” Even if most people today don’t consider themselves “soft” they certainly know what melodious harmony and tone means. This is one thing that a concert pianist must know if he or she wants to perform classical music and make it meaningful.

Most people associate the sounds of classical music with tragedy and loss. However, if you look into the history of classical music you’ll find a lot of beauty in its themes of love, friendship, family, the community, and nation. These melodies have a universal appeal because they speak to humanity in a language that all people can understand.

Studies of musical traditions have revealed that humans, since prehistoric times, have been creating sounds using their bodies to make them. These sounds later became the basis of what would become classical music. For example, the well-known theme from Mozart’s “The Nutcracker” speaks of longing and loss. The same theme is used by marchers in the French national flag. Marchers and scholars debate whether or not the sounds are meant to represent emotions, or if the melody represents the thoughts of the participants in the event.

Because marchers were carrying sticks and arrows, the sounds that they made were similar to bugling, which some people believe to be an early form of music. Another ethnomusicologist suggests that the words used to create the orchestral accompaniment in the “nutcracker” were originally intended to be calls for peace between the residents of a town. After the town’s residents had sung the song, they realized that the refrain would also go well with the local birds. The town’s birds began calling out to each other and eventually “Nutcracker” became synonymous with harmony.

Although there is great debate as to whether or not the early musicians and their music had a direct purpose or if they were unknowing participants, there is no doubt that their musical creations spoke of universal human emotion. In fact, recent studies have shown that a certain amount of musicality and harmony can be found in nature. Birdsinger songs, chirps, and chirping noises are known to be pleasing to the ears, and some birds even make sounds that are considered pleasant through mimicry. A self-similar way to view nature in its natural state, is to see the harmony and simplicity of music.