How does Music makes sense ?

A very basic and fundamental question-How does Music makes sense?Its an art form-yeah all know that -but so are painting,sculpture,pottery,writing,movie making ,theater, and preparing food -(remember Cheeni Kum Hai ;-)-

Above are the questions non musicians generally have in their minds or even some times(most of the times!)music students-aficionados as well-why should one listen and practice to music,why should one learn music-what is it gotta do with one’s environment,psychology,health,well being,emotional quotient ,performance,confidence level and etc etc.

Long wanted to collate all and wanted to write something to answer them all.Here is a small and humble attempt.May sometime soon will post on different categories of music exists.

Music relies primarily on repetition to help it make sense to the listener. In popular music and children’s songs, the repetition is often very literal and direct, making the music more immediately accessible. In art-music, the repetition is often varied and transformed. This makes the repetition flexible, capable of assuming of many forms
and moods.In this article i have taken some references from Western and Indian Classical Music and Semi classical perspectives as Rock,Pop,hip hop,Thumri,Bhajans and folk and filmi music.The article is under preparation.

How Music Makes Sense

In order to more fully appreciate music -any music, familiar or unfamiliar ,let us begin by considering music from the ground up and free from the constraints of a particular era or style. What is music and how does it make sense to us?

Music is a time-art: It needs time to unfold. Whereas it is possible to have an instantaneous view of a painting, it is not possible to have an instantaneous hearing of a piece of music. We can all remember those electrifying moments when we round a museum corner and, suddenly, a favorite M.F.Hussain,Manjit Bawa , Raja Ravi Verma or Picasso bursts into view: We can take in the entire canvas in a single glance. Music does not offer such short cuts: There is no way to hear a favorite musical work other than to listen all the way through.

Music is ephemeral: A painting or sculpture exists in concrete physical form. When the lights are turned off in the museum, the painting is still there. But music is a performance art: Each moment is temporary, washed away by the next. A sound exists in its precise form now, and then vanishes. Once the performance is over, the music is gone.

Music is unstoppable in time: Like music, writing is a time-art. But the reader is in control of the pacing: He or she may read the book in a single sitting or over the span of several months. In contrast, a musical performance is not meant to be interrupted; the pacing is out of the listener’s control. Furthermore, the pages of a novel are all accessible at any time: The reader may review passages at will meditating on the meaning of an ambiguous paragraph or looking back to confirm an important clue. The reader may even give into the temptation to skip ahead to the ending. No such luxury exists at a concert.

You can’t raise your hand and say, Forgive me, Maestro, I didn’t understand that last passage and have the maestro reply,Yes, you in the tenth row, no problem, I’ll take it over again from -Music Swara Dhaiwat or second antara.The artist is unimpeded by the listener’s questions,distractions or desire to linger.

Finally, music is abstract and non-verbal:The meaning of a word may be colored by context; but there is has an enduring, stable meaning, which any of us can look up in the dictionary. If I use the word “egg” as a metaphor for birth or renewal, the metaphor only succeeds because you and I share a common definition. On the other hand, musical sounds do not have literal meanings. Musical sounds may evoke moods or images, may suggest yearnings, loss, or surprise: But these interpretations are far more subjective and open-ended. You can never say -Please get me a lime soda from Reliance’s shop in abstract musical sound. Music is not designed to be that literal. Although music is often referred to as a language, its sounds are never anchored to any specific meaning.

Thus, music is abstract and non-verbal art-form, unstoppable in time. Under those conditions, how is it possible for music to be intelligible? When you think about it, it’s quite a challenge! Music places tremendous pressure on the listener: It asks him or her to follow an argument that is racing by, made up of impermanent sounds with no fixedmeaning.

The answer to this question is extraordinarily important, because it transcends all questions of era or style. We believe with all of our hearts that music speaks to us. But how?

It is invisible and insubstantial; it is not referring to anything “real.” Theater and plays are also time-arts: But theater uses words and play/ballet has the human body as a frame of reference. What does music have to direct our attention and guide us through its narrative?

The answer is that repetition is the key to musical intelligibility. Repetition creates the enduring presence at the heart of a work’s feet, impermanent existence.

The Power Of Consistency

Imagine that you are standing at a craps table in a casino. You don’t know the rules, and are trying to learn the game through observation alone. You would notice certain consistencies:

One player at a time throws two die, which must always fall on the craps table. Certain actions provoke certain reactions: If the shooter throws a two, the house is always calls out the shooter is replaced. Through careful observation, you could rapidly apprehend the rules. Not only that, you would soon become caught up in the game. You would never know what would happen next: Every roll would be unexpected; bets would be waged in surprising, shifting patterns. Yet everything that did happen would fall within comprehensible parameters.

Similarly, a music listener relies on consistency to understand what is happening. Many times, we do not consciously recognize these consistencies. A key part of appreciating music is to learn to become conscious of and articulate the most essential consistencies of a musical work.

What were to happen if the consistencies were suddenly broken? Suppose you are stand-ing at the craps table, elbow to elbow with the other gamblers, calmly stacking your chips.

A shooter steps forward and throws only one die, then two, then three. When he throws twelve die, everyone at the table throws their die all at the same time. You would pull your chips off the table: Its consistencies broken, the game would have become incomprehensible.

Similarly, if you were to change the basic premises of a piece of music in the middle, how would the listener be able to make sense of what happened? In craps, you would withdraw your bets; in music, you might withdraw your attention.

Repetition and pattern recognition underlies how we understand almost everything that happens to us. Physics might be described as an effort to discover the repetition and consistencies that underlie the universe. One of the powerful modern theories proposes that the basic element of the universe is a string.” The vibrations of these infinitessimally small strings produces all the known particles and forces. To string theory, the universe is a composition on an enormous scale, performed by strings. Continuity and coherence are created through the repetition of basic laws. Miraculously, out of a few fundamental elements and laws, enormous complexity, constant variety and an unpredictable future are created.

We ourselves are pieces of music, our personal identities created through an intricate maze of repetition. Every time we eat and breathe, new molecules are absorbed by our bodies, replenishing our cells and changing our molecular structure. Yet, though countless millions of molecules are changing inside us every minute, we feel the continuity of our existence. This sense of self that we all feel so tangibly is really a dazzling performance:The new molecules maintain our identity by constantly repeating our basic structures.

Thus, repetition lies at the heart of how we understand music, ourselves and our world.We have a great faith in the richness and significance of repetition. In listening to music,we rely on repetition as the bearer of meaning.

2 Repetition of Different Sizes Repetitions come in different sizes, from small gestures to entire sections.

The repeating element may be as brief as a single sound. For instance, the notion of TAALA establishes a discipline and framework to the repetition principle.

What distinguishes art-music from most pop music is that, in art-music, the repetition is more frequently varied and transformed. This makes the repetition flexible, capable of assuming of many forms and moods. Similarly, one of the guiding principles of art-music is repetition without redundancy. The music will repeat its main ideas, but constantly in new ways.

In the popular “South Indian Veg Diet,” dieters are at restricted to a very limited regimen of foods: no bread, fruit, alcohol or sugar. The challenge of the diet is to create a varied menu from such a circumscribed list of ingredients. Otherwise, the dieter will begin to stray. So, a lot of effort and inventiveness goes into designing recipes that makes the daily staples lively and tasty.

In art-music, the goal is similarly to maximize the minimum. That is, the goal is to take a limited number of ingredients and create the greatest possible variety. A composer such as Beethoven or Muthuswamy take just a few basic elements and create the musical equivalent of a complete meal of soup, main course, salad and dessert with distinctive flavors, so that you sometimes can’t even recognize the presence of the same ingredients in every recipe.

So how is variety created? In this case, as the pattern is repeated over and over,an ever changing layer is superimposed upon it. It is as if the basic pattern is “bombarded” in different ways, disguising its reappearance.The first four times the pattern is played, it alone accompanies the voice. This is an unsupported media type.

Repetition and Recognition

Listening to explicit, literal repetition is like eating a simple carbohydrate: It is easily digested and quickly absorbed. That is why popular music has so much literal repetition:Its success depends on making an immediate impact. On the other hand, listening to transformed repetition is like eating a complex carbohydrate: It takes longer to digest.

More of our attention is engaged: What changed? By how much? How fast did it happen?How long will it persist in the new form? Observations lead to interpretation: Why did it change? What are the consequences of what happened?

More and more, nutritionists are emphasizing that complex carbohydrates are healthier for our bodies. Similarly, transformed repetition may be healthier for our musical minds: It demands greater concentration, more astute observations and more careful reasoning in short, more active listening. Learning to recognize and evaluate transformed repetition is a crucial aspect of music appreciation.


Because music is an abstract, non-verbal time-art, repetition lies at the heart of how music makes sense. In pop music, the repetition tends to be more literal, while in art-music, it is often varied and transformed. As much as composers are often searching for new sounds and instrumental combinations, they are also inventing new means of building repetition.



1.Aritcle by Anthony Brandt