Functions of Music

Music is an art form that organizes sound in a way that creates a special relationship between the person who hears the music, their behavior and the sounds they hear. It is a kind of cultural universal that is not easily defined, since different cultures use music in very different ways. Some scholars propose a number of functional aspects of music, but there is disagreement over which ones are most important.

In its simplest form, music is a group of pure tones played together in a manner that sounds harmonious. The human voice and musical instruments produce sound by making objects vibrate, and this vibration can be made to produce harmony through the combination of pitch (the frequency of a tone) and timbre (the character of a tone).

The earliest music was monophonic, with one melody line being sung over and over again. But by the medieval era (c. 1400 to 1600), composers had started to write richly polyphonic sacred music, and the printing press made it possible to publish sheet music that could be easily copied. This allowed musical styles to spread much faster and more widely than before.

In the early twentieth century, popular music became more diversified as artists sought to capture and express the changing emotions of modern life. The idealism of the ’60s — which seemed to promise a divisionless world united in love and peace — was captured in anthems such as “Let’s Get It On” by Aretha Franklin, and in the ballads of singers like Eva Cassidy and Ray Charles.

During the Renaissance, classical music was rediscovered and revived in Italy and Germany, while courtly love themes were continued by troubadours and trouveres throughout Europe. The invention of the lute in 1440 opened up new possibilities for melodic improvisation. This was accompanied by the growth of the city orchestra and the development of written musical notation.

A growing number of empirical studies have attempted to discover or identify a few basic functions for music. The most common of these include the traditional or classical European aspects of melody, harmony, rhythm and tonal color or timbre.

Some research suggests that certain types of music may have psychological functions, such as helping people to regulate emotion or aiding the cognitive process. Moreover, some research suggests that music has the potential to influence values and beliefs.

It has also been suggested that music can promote positive social interaction by bringing people together, as evidenced by work and war songs, lullabies and national anthems. It is even thought that certain sounds may have evolved as a means of bonding groups together.