OK, it's not my purpose to start a bleeding discussion here. I'm just asking this question to people involved in music theory in order to get a proper definition of music.

A friend of mine states that if music is an art, and if one of the foundations of art is the ability to create different emotions to different people with the same work, then all "music" that creates the same emotion to the majority of the audience cannot be considered music itself. Of course the technique or the skills to do the art work are necessary but not sufficient. He showed me 2 videos: one of an EDM concert and another one of a classical music concert. Then he told me to check the audience's reactions. Indeed, people in the EDM concert were acting the same way whereas people in the classical concert presented different moods: some people bored, some other relaxed, or smiling, others gently following the melody with their heads... I had no arguments to reply to my friend, so could anybody tell me some? Or maybe EDM is really wrongly considered music?


I changed the title to try to fit better the Stack Exchange rules, but not sure if it's better. My question arised when trying to find arguments to defend EDM is actually music. People I have talked to (and that coincidentally are classical music players) all agree that EDM is considered music the same way "America's Got Talent" is a serious show. They say that the definition of music is so vague that everything can fit in it. In other words: numbers are math only if they are written down following some rules. Anyway, if the community thinks this is an off-topic question, I'm ok in deleting it.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Todd Wilcox, Richard, topo morto, Dom Apr 21 '18 at 0:54

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    meh, not a great argument. I'm sure people emotionally react to classical music the same well as well. Meaning, we all have the same emotions in a sad scene or a happy scene in classical. the fact that some were bored is not an emotion, that means they're disengaged from even listening. Also EDM (electronic dance MUSIC) spans so many sub-genres you can't possibly contain it. Of'course it's music. There's some incredibly talented EDM producers out there. – foreyez Apr 20 '18 at 19:37
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    That seems like a very poorly thought out criterion for considering whether something is music or not. Of course, looking at music that accompanies dancing is likely to show the audience in a cohesive and similar mood (they are all dancing), and classical music (and its ilk) tends to be more contemplative, but I would be stunned to find out that everyone in the audience of an EDM concert shared the same moods and emotions. And even if this were true, wouldn't that just mean that the music was extremely effective at particular evocations? – David Bowling Apr 20 '18 at 19:37
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    This question seems to be about opinions on what is "really music" and what isn't, which means it's not on topic here. And unless your friend is some kind of expert musicologist or something, no part of his view of music is more valid than yours. And even then, your view is valid. – Todd Wilcox Apr 20 '18 at 19:38
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    Finally, I'm not sure how they would react to this question, but the Music Fans Stack is a lot closer to the right place for this than here. This Stack is about making and analyzing the components of music, while Music Fans is more about listening and enjoying and understanding music as a whole. Defining what music is actually isn't quite in the realm of "music theory". – Todd Wilcox Apr 20 '18 at 19:40
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    ... and 4) -along the same lines as @DavidBowling 's comment - if you really want to prove to your friend that classical music isn't music either, show them this waltz, and point out how everyone is acting the same (waltzing). – topo morto Apr 20 '18 at 21:06

OK, it's not my purpose to start a bleeding discussion here. I'm just asking this question to people involved in music theory in order to get a proper definition of music.

You and me both. Keep in mind that even music in the baroque/classical periods had different aesthetics/reasons behind it than it did in the Romantic or modern eras. Music isn't even always thought of as an art form. Or a way of conveying emotion. People have been wrestling with the definition of music for ages, and you are (I truly regret to tell you, it bugs me too) unlikely to find the answer in a Music Q+A site.

"one of the foundations of art is the ability to create different emotions to different people with the same work"

Um... Is it really? I think good art should cause most, if not everyone, who sees it to experience the same emotions that the artist did when he conceived of it.

Otherwise, what's the point? A feisty discussion about politics could achieve the goal of causing different reactions. Truly worth pursuing is the ability to convey the thoughts and emotions that you're experiencing to others.

Additionally, there is some discrepancy between music and visual art. Because visual art tends to be more specific to the ideas it may be related to than instrumental music (i.e. a sculpture/painting of a dog), there is more room for differing opinions to find their way into discussions about visual art than there is with the almost purely emotional content of straight up music.

Obviously, some people will have different reactions to music than others, but most often, given the proper cultural context, people will be able to experience the same thing when faced with music, even if they describe it with slightly different words.

And if there are differing reactions, these are not necessarily the intention of the artist. When an artist sets out to make something -- a painting, a piece, whatever -- they generally do it with a particular emotion or feeling that they want to convey. Their art form then takes on the function of a language to express this. Usually, the more skilled the artist with his medium, the more likely an audience is to understand what the artist was feeling when they see/hear the work.

By your friend's definition, a performance of Brahms's 1st Symphony wherein everyone gets goosebumps at the blaring trumpet soli at the end wouldn't be music.

Likewise at that EDM concert, if instead of head banging (or whatever you do at an EDM concert), some people suddenly stood up and started heckling the performers, maybe yelling "This isn't music!", all of the sudden the EDM would be music -- some dudes had a different emotional response.

Tell your friend that his definition is bogus.

some people bored, some other relaxed, or smiling, others gently following the melody with their heads...

And these are supposed to be indicative of the emotional responses induced by the performance? I think that's a poor metric.

Bored people probably aren't paying attention. Relaxed/smiling/gently nodding are not necessarily tied to separate emotions. You can be relaxed and smiling and nodding at the same time. As far as we know, they're all experiencing the same thing. Or maybe none of them are paying attention and they're all faking it.

A better way to measure emotions would be to show many people a performance of a piece of music, and then have them take a multiple choice answer survey to describe how it made them feel.

That was long and kind of a collated stream of thought. Hopefully this will give you some ammunition against the wack.

  • Wow, I think I'm going to directly send him your answer :). But let me ask a final question related to this: why people, in general, perceive classical music as top class? Because, although I don't agree with my friend's opinion, I have to admit that I perceive more effort and difficulty in a classical work than in an EDM work which, for me, it's quite predictable and plenty of simple repetitive patterns. – Claudix Apr 21 '18 at 5:10
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    @Claudix there are all sorts of reasons why some people might have that perception. As you say, EDM is predictable and full of patterns, but any dance work in any genre has to be predictable, or you can't dance to it - it's the same with the waltz I linked in a comment on the question. Another reason might be that the skills used to make EDM, whilst definitely necessary, are less obvious - you can't usually see performers playing each note of an EDM work. Personally I don't actually see much difference in the level of skill required to program a computer to play something compared to ... – topo morto Apr 21 '18 at 5:57
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    ... programming my fingers to play it! Another reason is that "classical music is classy" is a cultural cliché that's fed to us constantly, a bit like "supervillains speak with British accents". And if there is such as thing as objective "quality" in music, it might genuinely be that time has filtered classical music more and left us with proportionately more of the "good" stuff compared to currently-emerging genres. An interesting discussion - perhaps suitable for Music: Practice & Theory Chat? – topo morto Apr 21 '18 at 6:01
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    @ToddWilcox -- I agree that the question is off-topic, and I don't think that we should be answering off-topic questions. But I do think that this constitutes an attempt at an answer. It directly answers the penultimate question: "I had no arguments to reply to my friend, so could anybody tell me some?" The title question itself seems to be implicitly answered in the affirmative. – David Bowling Apr 21 '18 at 9:05
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    @ToddWilcox That's fair enough. I guess I don't tend to be quite so scrutinous with questions in terms of how on topic they are. In retrospect, I agree that this is probably more suited for quora or something. In the future, I think I could stand to be a little more exclusive with sketchy questions. Thank you for the discussion. – General Nuisance Apr 21 '18 at 18:04

I think that's a crummy definition of "music": the ability to create different emotions to different people with the same work.

I wrote an inclusive definition here at Music StackExchange that I'm proud of: Music is when one person uses sound to communicate an idea to another person that is apart from language. This excludes Morse code and car horns, which are both actually sort of like speech. And it doesn't do anything to define what's good music.

An exclusive definition for music is going to need to reflect history instead of ideas, so somebody from a different tradition (such as the quarter-tonality in India or that weird 12-tone stuff from the mid-20th century) will always appear to challenge exclusive definitions for music. I think it's much more fun to debate what entails good music.

This reminds me of an illustration by C.S. Lewis: which person knows "the sea" better: a poor and old person who spent his life contemplating the waves, the sand, the gulls... or a recent college graduate who can read a map?

Classical music is called "classical" because it does things that other kinds of music can't do. The best individual musician simply cannot do what 150 instrumentalists and singers can do together.

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    We've talked about this before, but you really have to rethink that definition. Car horns are not anything like speech, and we use sound to communicate extralinguistic ideas all the time in ways that are decidedly unmusical. What's more, car horns have been used to create music. – David Bowling Apr 20 '18 at 19:43
  • I like your answer but the cultural thing could be put aside, because I'm referring to the definition of music in the western culture. On the other hand, Morse is a way to generate sound to send a message as good as the human voice, so sending a Morse message with original rythms could also be considered music. I think we are falling in the (sad) idea that today everything is music and everything is art... – Claudix Apr 20 '18 at 19:52
  • But not everything is good music or good art!!!! That's a much better starting point for this discussion. – elliot svensson Apr 20 '18 at 19:55
  • Morse code actually encodes language. "A Morse message with original rhythms" wouldn't be Morse code, but beeps or clicks, or whatever (Morse code doesn't need to be a particular sound, or even sound at all). The questions of whether something is music, whether something is art, and whether something is good art are entirely different (not necessarily unrelated) questions. – David Bowling Apr 20 '18 at 20:25
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    Then it's clear that your definition stinks! And the commentary on classical music is odd... is there some reason to believe that it's restricted to symphonies of 150+ members?? – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 21 '18 at 1:45

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