Does anyone have a succinct way of defining "Western Music" as opposed to "Non-Western Music"?

  • IMO Western Music = music written following the practices of Western European music for the last 1000 years or so (not necessarily written in Western Europe, of course). Non-Western Music = everything else. (No reference source - hence a comment, not an answer). – user19146 Jul 10 '17 at 1:27
  • I disagree with @alephzero (hence the reason I chose for close-vote) -- Western is 12-tone; Eastern is micro-, or at least mini-tonic. Alternatively, base the classification on the origin of the instrument for which the music was written. – Carl Witthoft Jul 10 '17 at 11:30
  • 2
    @CarlWitthoft Western art-music is (mostly) 12-tone (at least before the 20th century) but that is no longer a necessary criterion. Western folk-music (or musics, plural!) has never been exclusively 12-tone or even based on an approximation to EDO. For your alternative, how does it apply to vocal music? (I've no objection to closing the question, BTW, but "because you disagree with someone else's comment" doesn't seem a good reason to close it in itself!). – user19146 Jul 10 '17 at 11:48
  • 2
    @alephzero It wasn't specifically because I disagree, but just using our differences as an example of why this is largely opinion-based. – Carl Witthoft Jul 10 '17 at 12:18
  • 2
    There are probably referenceable academic definitions, at least, even if they might still differ from each other. – Matthew Read Jul 10 '17 at 15:04

My own definition of "Western" music is a bit complicated and not necessarily entirely correct. Western Music is the music which is oriented towards harmonic expression being approximately as important as melodic and rhythmic expression, including this music's direct precursors and successors. The definition is intentionally vague as the boundaries of what is "Western" and "non-Western" is not sharp. Each genre may borrow techniques from the others.


Succinct term is "12EDO". It means twelve Equal Divisions of the Octave. This term is used in the microtonal world to identify twelve note equal temperament, which is/was the predominant tuning and harmonic system during the 20th century, and still predominates today (unfortunately;-).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.