Why do we study music?

December 26, 2006


Why do we study music? Music schools and conservatories around the world teach their graduates to “analyze” music. I have always wanted my teachers to tell me why what they were teaching me was important. “Just because” or “Because this is the way it has always been done” or “it is part of the curriculum” were not really answers. I sat down the other day came up with my own list. If you have any thoughts on this, please leave a comment.

  • By understanding the musical language of a particular composer, the study-er, or student, will be able to mimic it compositionally and identify it aurally.
  • By identifying procedures that composers do, especially in particular historical periods.
  • Teachers of music are able to codify the [Western] tradition and thereby test their students on this canonic information. Knowledge of how music works is academic power.
  • In the same way that a native speaker knows how a language idiomatically ”sings,” a performer of music, who may not a composer or improvisor, is able to convincingly convey how-the-music-goes through their performance more effectively, having study-ed the score.
  • Scholars are able to articulate the lineage, meaning, and originality of a composition through careful analysis of its melodic, harmonic, motivic, textural, polyphonic, societal and stylistic context.
  • For the amateur, or the music lover who is not a musician, but whose passion drives them to know more about the music they love, music analysis can be a satisfying intellectual endeavor. There are limits on what can truly be appreciated if the amateur can not actually hear and understand chord progresssions. This does not diminish the power that the music has on the amateur listener, he merely does not have the tools to describe it in terms of musical analysis.

[Excerpt of musical analysis by Ian Cross.]


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