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Music as a Language

Sapphique
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2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

Feel free to answer any or all of these, or further the discussion with your own questions (I would like to hear responses to my own questions first, though).
DDO Beginners' Mafia Moderator -- PM me if you'd like to learn how to play mafia!

"We wondered what happiness would look like if we could give it a physical form...the shape of happiness might resemble glass...even though you don't usually notice it, it's still definitely there. You merely have to change your point of view slightly, and then that glass will sparkle when it reflects the light. I doubt that anything else could argue its own existence more eloquently." ~Lelouch
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/3/2016 3:13:46 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

Feel free to answer any or all of these, or further the discussion with your own questions (I would like to hear responses to my own questions first, though).

Glad to see you around the art forum. As for answering your questions, I'm not the most musically educated when it comes to things like this (despite my love for it and my obsession with music theory).

What I will say, though, is the thought of music being a "universal language" fascinates me. I just find it so...cool (or some other word that means the same thing and makes me look smarter) to think that three different people who had never met before, didn't speak the same language, and had never played the song (that they're about to perform), could all come together and play the song perfectly.

"Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song?" - I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if it's what I think it is (lyrics), then I don't really believe words are necessary. Coming from a guy who listens to mostly electronic music, I don't need words to understand the song. Drum and bass is a good example for this, as for me (and I'm sure many other people), a lot of drum and bass songs stir up feelings of emotions or nostalgia.
Some examples of Drum and bass songs that I feel are a good example of that:
Twothirds - Universal: https://www.youtube.com...
Feint - Homebound: https://www.youtube.com...
Etherwood - Cast Away: https://www.youtube.com...
I can find other songs as an example if I need to.
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
Briannj17
Posts: 360
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2/3/2016 4:48:00 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
"Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song?"
It depends what kind of a song. If it is a ballad then yes words are needed in order to tell the story of who the ballad is about. If it is techno or classical music or a genre that doesn't have any words it is up to the listener to interpret the music his or her own way. It really than depends on the genre.

"If so, how important are they?"
In order to understand a ballad or a song that requires words to understand the artists meaning, you need to answer the question who, what, when, where, why, how. AN obvious example is in the Ballad of Ira Hayes by Johnny Cash. https://www.youtube.com...

"For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words?"
Instrument pieces usually have names with which you can try and imagine what the composer made the music about. In "Flight of the Bumble Bee" we can see this. https://www.youtube.com...
However the songs without descriptive name are up to the listener to interrupt their own meaning to the music.

"To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?"
As I said, certain genres require the words to understand the full meaning. To understand words you must first know the language. This is where culture really makes a difference on interpretations of music.

I hope this helped!
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Sapphique
Posts: 4,110
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2/5/2016 1:26:53 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/3/2016 3:13:46 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

Feel free to answer any or all of these, or further the discussion with your own questions (I would like to hear responses to my own questions first, though).

Glad to see you around the art forum. As for answering your questions, I'm not the most musically educated when it comes to things like this (despite my love for it and my obsession with music theory).
Yass, music theory XD
What I will say, though, is the thought of music being a "universal language" fascinates me. I just find it so...cool (or some other word that means the same thing and makes me look smarter) to think that three different people who had never met before, didn't speak the same language, and had never played the song (that they're about to perform), could all come together and play the song perfectly.
Did you recently have this experience?
"Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song?" - I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if it's what I think it is (lyrics), then I don't really believe words are necessary. Coming from a guy who listens to mostly electronic music, I don't need words to understand the song. Drum and bass is a good example for this, as for me (and I'm sure many other people), a lot of drum and bass songs stir up feelings of emotions or nostalgia.
Some examples of Drum and bass songs that I feel are a good example of that:
Twothirds - Universal: https://www.youtube.com...
Feint - Homebound: https://www.youtube.com...
Etherwood - Cast Away: https://www.youtube.com...
I can find other songs as an example if I need to.

Yes, I do mean lyrics. Thank you for sharing those songs ^.^ But what do you think about songs that have lyrics written into them? Is it necessary to understand the words to get the meaning of the song?
DDO Beginners' Mafia Moderator -- PM me if you'd like to learn how to play mafia!

"We wondered what happiness would look like if we could give it a physical form...the shape of happiness might resemble glass...even though you don't usually notice it, it's still definitely there. You merely have to change your point of view slightly, and then that glass will sparkle when it reflects the light. I doubt that anything else could argue its own existence more eloquently." ~Lelouch
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/5/2016 1:35:29 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/5/2016 1:26:53 AM, Sapphique wrote:
At 2/3/2016 3:13:46 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

Feel free to answer any or all of these, or further the discussion with your own questions (I would like to hear responses to my own questions first, though).

Glad to see you around the art forum. As for answering your questions, I'm not the most musically educated when it comes to things like this (despite my love for it and my obsession with music theory).
Yass, music theory XD
What I will say, though, is the thought of music being a "universal language" fascinates me. I just find it so...cool (or some other word that means the same thing and makes me look smarter) to think that three different people who had never met before, didn't speak the same language, and had never played the song (that they're about to perform), could all come together and play the song perfectly.
Did you recently have this experience?
"Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song?" - I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if it's what I think it is (lyrics), then I don't really believe words are necessary. Coming from a guy who listens to mostly electronic music, I don't need words to understand the song. Drum and bass is a good example for this, as for me (and I'm sure many other people), a lot of drum and bass songs stir up feelings of emotions or nostalgia.
Some examples of Drum and bass songs that I feel are a good example of that:
Twothirds - Universal: https://www.youtube.com...
Feint - Homebound: https://www.youtube.com...
Etherwood - Cast Away: https://www.youtube.com...
I can find other songs as an example if I need to.

Yes, I do mean lyrics. Thank you for sharing those songs ^.^ But what do you think about songs that have lyrics written into them? Is it necessary to understand the words to get the meaning of the song?

I feel like words give a better idea of what the song is supposed to be about, and I love lyrics (usually) if they fit well with the music (I pay more attention to the music than the lyrics). Though, I also feel like songs without lyrics (or not enough to give a distinct/direct meaning to the song) let the listener decide what it's about, especially to them.

Example song (as always ;3): TheFatRat - Monody -- https://www.youtube.com...
Yes, the song has lyrics, and they fit really well, but the lyrics are only a small part of the song. I feel like before they show, you get more of a sense of adventure, or fantasy, and the lyrics just add to it (at least for me).
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
Sapphique
Posts: 4,110
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2/5/2016 4:41:09 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/3/2016 4:48:00 PM, Briannj17 wrote:

Thank you for sharing. So in short, songs which are inherently written with lyrics require knowledge of them to understand fully, whereas those without lyrics are more universal? Is music really universal then, if some forms of music require knowledge or a language/culture?
DDO Beginners' Mafia Moderator -- PM me if you'd like to learn how to play mafia!

"We wondered what happiness would look like if we could give it a physical form...the shape of happiness might resemble glass...even though you don't usually notice it, it's still definitely there. You merely have to change your point of view slightly, and then that glass will sparkle when it reflects the light. I doubt that anything else could argue its own existence more eloquently." ~Lelouch
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/5/2016 4:44:56 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
https://www.youtube.com...
Blackmill - Let it Be (Feat. Veela)
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
Hayd
Posts: 4,022
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2/6/2016 8:28:19 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

Feel free to answer any or all of these, or further the discussion with your own questions (I would like to hear responses to my own questions first, though).

I don't think words are necessary to understand the meaning of the song, but it is definitely more difficult that way.

For instrumental pieces, the meaning is limited to emotion; happy, sad, loss, suffering, suspense, anxious, tragic, etc. It can only portray emotions. Compositions that have words can do this, and portray more concepts such as a story, an event, etc.

I'm not sure about this last one. Its definitely interesting though. I think as far as meanings it is hard to understand, but it can still be enjoyed. The music still has a beat, and maybe some rhyms, those are still understood and enjoyed.
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/6/2016 11:10:43 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/5/2016 4:44:56 AM, Vaarka wrote:
https://www.youtube.com...
Blackmill - Let it Be (Feat. Veela)

https://www.youtube.com...
Ephixa - Trance Chords
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
Briannj17
Posts: 360
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2/7/2016 6:33:29 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 11:10:43 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/5/2016 4:44:56 AM, Vaarka wrote:
https://www.youtube.com...
Blackmill - Let it Be (Feat. Veela)

https://www.youtube.com...
Ephixa - Trance Chords
http://www.debate.org...
King of Poetry in this poem lacking era
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/7/2016 9:09:34 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/7/2016 6:33:29 PM, Briannj17 wrote:
At 2/6/2016 11:10:43 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/5/2016 4:44:56 AM, Vaarka wrote:
https://www.youtube.com...
Blackmill - Let it Be (Feat. Veela)

https://www.youtube.com...
Ephixa - Trance Chords

Here's another. This one does have some words in them, and I really like the song.
https://www.youtube.com...
Station Earth - Cold Green Eyes
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
cludwig
Posts: 16
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2/27/2016 12:25:57 AM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

As a classical composer who specializes in Art Song, I have a few thoughts on the subject. In my opinion, it is not necessary to understand the words of a composition to have a successful artistic experience from that particular composition. For instance, a German art song recital can be enjoyable even if you don't speak German.
Perhaps to contradict my last statement, my approach in setting in poetry is that the music should enhance and complement the meaning of the words, not distract or overshadow them. In an ideal words, song and words are equal partners. So from this point of view, understanding the words facilitates an optimal artistic experience from a listening point of view.
As for your second question pertaining to purely instrumental compositions, they generally fall into two camps: absolute and programmatic music. That is, those works that are solely internally inspired and those that have extra-musical references. Absolute musical works are by their very definition universal as they are meant to be appreciated solely on their musical language and craft. Cultural programming however complicates the ability of a listener to understand or connect to a work. For instance, Indian classical music has many cultural subtleties and conventions that I am unaware and uneducated about. This limits my ability to fully appreciate a piece of traditional Indian Bansuri music for instance. Similarly, a listener from India might also struggle with a Western Classical composition without a cultural framework or foundation of appreciation and musical language.

Hope this helps.
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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2/29/2016 12:47:19 AM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/27/2016 12:25:57 AM, cludwig wrote:
At 2/3/2016 5:39:14 AM, Sapphique wrote:
You've probably heard music referred to as a universal language before. So I have several questions about this: Are words necessary to understand the meaning of a song? If so, how important are they? For instrumental pieces (ex classical music), how do they compare to compositions that make use of words? To what extent is music a cultural phenomenon that can only be truly understood by those who live in that culture?

As a classical composer who specializes in Art Song, I have a few thoughts on the subject. In my opinion, it is not necessary to understand the words of a composition to have a successful artistic experience from that particular composition. For instance, a German art song recital can be enjoyable even if you don't speak German.
Perhaps to contradict my last statement, my approach in setting in poetry is that the music should enhance and complement the meaning of the words, not distract or overshadow them. In an ideal words, song and words are equal partners. So from this point of view, understanding the words facilitates an optimal artistic experience from a listening point of view.
As for your second question pertaining to purely instrumental compositions, they generally fall into two camps: absolute and programmatic music. That is, those works that are solely internally inspired and those that have extra-musical references. Absolute musical works are by their very definition universal as they are meant to be appreciated solely on their musical language and craft. Cultural programming however complicates the ability of a listener to understand or connect to a work. For instance, Indian classical music has many cultural subtleties and conventions that I am unaware and uneducated about. This limits my ability to fully appreciate a piece of traditional Indian Bansuri music for instance. Similarly, a listener from India might also struggle with a Western Classical composition without a cultural framework or foundation of appreciation and musical language.

Hope this helps.

I found this really interesting :3
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya
Vaarka
Posts: 7,555
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3/4/2016 1:21:06 AM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/7/2016 9:09:34 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/7/2016 6:33:29 PM, Briannj17 wrote:
At 2/6/2016 11:10:43 PM, Vaarka wrote:
At 2/5/2016 4:44:56 AM, Vaarka wrote:
https://www.youtube.com...
Blackmill - Let it Be (Feat. Veela)

https://www.youtube.com...
Ephixa - Trance Chords

Here's another. This one does have some words in them, and I really like the song.
https://www.youtube.com...
Station Earth - Cold Green Eyes

https://www.youtube.com...
You're probably thinking right now "haha I'm a genius". Well you're not -Valkrin

inferno: "I don't know, are you attracted to women?"
ButterCatX: "No, Vaarka is mine!"

All hail scum Vaarka, wielder of the bastard sword, smiter of nations, destroyer of spiders -VOT

"Vaarka, I've been thinking about this for a long time now," (pulls out small box made of macaroni) "W-will you be my noodle buddy?" -Kirigaya