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Is a dog/wolf howling considered “music”? It is not uncommon for a dog to howl along when hearing music or singing.

I suppose this can apply to any animal (other than humans) for that matter. I’ve heard terms like “bird song” and “whale singing”, but I’ve never equated them to performing music, more like it’s their form of making noise and communicating with one another.

Clarification: I’m not talking about synthesized animal noises played on a keyboard like you see in some commercials. I’m talking about the sounds animals make on their own.

  • Interesting one! It seems most dogs that do this only do it when there's music playing, so there may be some connection. – Tim Sep 27 '17 at 10:11
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    "The bark is the song of the dog" – Brian THOMAS Sep 27 '17 at 12:14
  • My dog will join in if I'm playing in the key of A, I've been really trying to practice with him youtu.be/k3u5E8XKPjg – Drew Ratliff Sep 28 '17 at 0:42
  • more like it’s their form of making noise and communicating with one another... Why can't you communicate using song as your language? BTW, what would Howlin' Wolf think about your question? – Stinkfoot Sep 28 '17 at 7:39
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I believe that no, it is not considered some kind of music.

I'd say that this is something really personal. It Really depends on what you consider music. Music is not the same for everyone. John Cage used to say "Everything we do is music", and he was the composer of 4'33" or Silence, which was a piece with no music for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. His thoughts on the piece was that every noise that is being made while the performer is performing the piece is considered music; so in a case like this, the howl might have been considered music.

On the other hand, it was Stravinsky in Poetics of Music that didn't consider nature sounds as 'music', because they lack structure. He considers music as something human-made:

I shall take the most banal example : that of the pleasure we experience on hearing the murmur of the breeze in the trees, the rippling of a brook, the song of a bird. All this pleases us, diverts us, delights us. We may even say: "What lovely music!" Naturally, we are speaking only in terms of comparison. But then, comparison is not reason. These natural sounds suggest music to us, but are not yet themselves music. If we take pleasure in these sounds by imagining that on being exposed to them we become musicians and even, momentarily, creative musicians, we must admit that we are fooling ourselves. They are promises of music; it takes a human being to keep them: a human being who is sensitive to nature's many voices, of course, but who in addition feels the need of putting them in order and who is gifted for that task with a very special aptitude. In his hands all that I have considered as not being music will become music. From this I conclude that tonal elements become music only by virtue of their being organized, and that such organization presupposes a conscious human act.

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But I believe your second paragraph is spot on

I’ve never equated them to performing music, more like it’s their form of making noise and communicating with one another.

It's more of a communication method rather than singing.

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    Which begs the question, what is the definition of order/organization? One could argue that the call/song of a Bobwhite Quail is quite organized and probably one of the most distinctive bird calls. Nailing down definitions can make any answer in the world a plausible “it depends”. Ugh. I’m not criticizing your answer at all. I thought it was good and insightful. – iMerchant Sep 27 '17 at 8:31
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    Bobwhite call can be heard here. youtu.be/nEKIAteCDYU – iMerchant Sep 27 '17 at 8:38
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    @iMerchant I think that what stravinsky meant is human order/organization. – Shevliaskovic Sep 27 '17 at 8:45
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    Ah, but would a dog howl while listening to 4'33"... – Tim Sep 27 '17 at 10:21
  • @Shevliaskovic - human order/organization. Definitely. Stravinksy stipulates: a conscious human act Sounds organized through reflex and instinct are not included in his definition. – Stinkfoot Sep 28 '17 at 7:42
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I believe the great Eric Dolphy had an answer to this question:

At home (in California), I used to play, and the birds always used to whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds… Birds have notes in between our notes – you try to imitate something they do and, like, maybe it’s between F and F#, and you’ll have to go up or come down on the pitch…Indian music has something of the same quality – different scales and quarter tones.

Here's a nice example of some music that might have started life as a collaboration between Mr. Dolphy and his feathered friends (Although the birds don't get any credits on the label...) :


enter image description here

To add to the fun, we also have the whales and dolphins:


To the point: Since according to Dolpy birds, and also dogs (according to the OP and another answer) and whales seem to learn, improvise and interact musically, they don't make their musical sounds by only by reflex and instinct, and it's not just a form of communication.

Their songs should be considered music by all definitions, unless we arbitrarily decide that only humans can make music.

As for @Shevliaskovic and Stravinsky:

From this I conclude that tonal elements become music only by virtue of their being organized, and that such organization presupposes a conscious human act.

I have to question how Stravinsky could be so certain about what's going on in the brains of certain animals. It sounds like a very limited, antiquated view of things. We know a lot more about animals and how they "think" than when Stravinsky made that statement. For example, it's been proven empirically that dogs engage in some rudimentary forms of thinking and they form true emotional bonds with their owners. If he knew then what we know now, perhaps Stravinsky would have a different opinion about the songs of birds.

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One definition of music is 'organised sound'. Obviously that's a discussion point, not a complete answer. Speech is also organised sound. As is Morse code. But then, there are very few complete answers in life, particularly in the field of art.

Let's try another definition. 'Music is anything we choose to consider as music'. Yes, animal noises, real or emulated, could fit that.

Good. Sorted. Now go and do something useful like learning the tricks of fugal writing or painting your house.

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