From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This is what it looks like.
Time to put on some
Icon music.png

Music is a performance art which consists of the organization of sounds in time, for the purpose of creating a musical/artistic statement. The arrangements are primarily composed of vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, expression of emotion, and other such things.

Music is difficult to define, as it is difficult to extricate a clinical definition of the word from the inherent value judgments that accompany it. In everyday usage, the word "music" is understood to be sounds which are organized to generate a mainly(but not limited to) emotional impression in the listener, in contrast to "noise" which is unorganized sound producing no particular effect. Inevitably, some music (particularly some types of modern music) is described as "noise" or "not music" by listeners who do not enjoy or understand it. What appears as music to one person may be interpreted as noise to another, and vice versa, as interpretation of sounds, whether organised or disorganised, dissonant or harmonious, may arouse different sorts of feelings in a listener. Common definitions therefore include "organized sound" or "art in the medium of sound."

Note that music is not limited to such sounds that a human being might produce by fashioning an instrument for the making of a simplified or otherwise organized sound and then "playing" said instrument. The chirping of birds and certain insects may properly be called music, especially if the sound produced is particularly enjoyable to the listener. Furthermore, some of the most sophisticated music attempts to imitate the sounds made by birds,[1] insects, and other animals.

Elements of music[edit]

There are a few principal elements usually, but not always, used in creating music:


Rhythm consists of making the sounds in such a way that they emphasize a pulse or pace, usually repeated over fairly short interval of time. Some music consists primarily of rhythmic elements.


Melody is... well. Isn't that a fun question. Melody is a succession of musical notes which is perceived as a single entity, usually such that one is processed by the brain as following the last and extending the idea which it communicated. A common if informal definition is that melody is that which is not accompaniment to melody - though multiple simultaneous melodies are employed by some pieces. The pitches which make up a melody will often - but by no means always - proceed in a manner structured around a single, controlling pitch to which the music tries to return; this pitch is called the tonic, and music possessing this quality is described as tonal. A melody is often built with neighboring intervals, usually no further than an eleventh, although as with many rules in art, arists tend to want to break them. Sometimes, the melody can easily be recognized by its phrasing : silences between series of notes, or the ending of a phrase being marked by a long note. A parallel can be done between phrasing in music and language, either because the melody is meant to fit lyrics or simply because the similiraty with speech makes it sound more pleasant.


Harmony is the use of two or more notes played simultaneously. Some combinations of notes sound pleasant to the ear; this is called consonance. Others, well, don't; such combinations are referred to as dissonant.[note 1] Dissonances are used in music to create tension, and have a nasty habit of leading back (or "resolving") to more consonant harmonies. Much of Western musical history can be viewed as moving toward increasing acceptance of dissonance, brought on by the employment of ever-sharper dissonances.


Counterpoint is the technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules. In music, counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour.[2] A fugue is a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts. Bach's most famous fugues are those for the harpsichord in The Well-Tempered Clavier, which many composers and theorists look at as the greatest model of fugue. The Well-Tempered Clavier comprises two volumes written in different times of Bach's life, each comprising 24 prelude and fugue pairs, one for each major and minor key. Bach is also known for his organ fugues, which are usually preceded by a prelude or toccata. The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, is a collection of fugues (and four canons) on a single theme that is gradually transformed as the cycle progresses.[3]


Ok, so you want a real discussion of silence in music? Silence or "space", denoted by rests, can be just as important as can sound; the aforementioned 4'33" is made entirely of silence,[note 2] though less... extreme... examples of its worth also exist, including some by Beethoven, or in a slightly different sort of music, Count Basie.

Silence is often used as a tool of contrast, which helps to make non-silent sounds stand out more through negative emphasis.


Music may include sometimes-poetic words called lyrics. When inappropriate or allegedly so, they can cause a great deal of moralistic mouth-foaming.


Texture describes how "thick" or "thin" a piece of music (or section thereof) feels based on how many instruments are playing and the relationships between what they're playing. Commonly used examples include the following:

  • Monophonic texture - a melody alone
  • Biphonic texture - a melody and a supporting line which maintains the same pitch nonstop (such as a drone, pedal point, or ostinato)
  • Polyphonic texture - multiple melodic lines, whoo boy! Polyphonic music is also sometimes called contrapuntal.
  • Homophonic texture - melody and accompaniment; the familiar one. Homophonic music is often also homorhythmic.
  • Homorhythmic texture - all voices have the same or similar rhythms
  • Heterophonic texture - multiple voices simultaneously perform variants of the same basic melody. Sometimes regarded as a type of polyphony.

The Hungarian composer György Ligeti invented micropolyphony which he defined as:

Technically speaking I have always approached musical texture through part-writing. Both Atmosphères and Lontano have a dense canonic structure. But you cannot actually hear the polyphony, the canon. You hear a kind of impenetrable texture, something like a very densely woven cobweb. I have retained melodic lines in the process of composition, they are governed by rules as strict as Palestrina's or those of the Flemish school, but the rules of this polyphony are worked out by me. The polyphonic structure does not come through, you cannot hear it; it remains hidden in a microscopic, underwater world, to us inaudible. I call it micropolyphony (such a beautiful word!).[5]


Timbre is the sound or tone of an instrument/voice. As a simple example, playing a piece on a guitar simply does not sound the same as playing that same piece on a piano would; this is due to the difference in timbre. Differences in timbre can occur not only between different instrument, but also on the same instrument. Most wind instruments sound substantially different in different ranges/registers; as an example, the higher notes on a horn have a much smoother sound than the lower notes. In addition to "natural" variation based on the pitch of the note played, deliberate alterations of timbre can be made; for example, a horn player can alter the timbre of his instrument by adjusting the position of his hand or inserting a mute, and make less drastic adjustments with only his mouth.


Different effects can be achieved by playing loudly or quietly, or by contrasting loud and quiet passages; such effects are referred to as dynamics. Like most other musical notation, they are conventionally given Italian names, some of the most common of which are as follows:

  • pianissimo or pp - very quietly/softly
  • piano or p - quietly/softly
  • mezzo-piano or mp - somewhat quietly/softly
  • mezzo-forte or mf - somewhat loudly
  • forte or f - loudly
  • fortissimo or ff - very loudly
  • fortepiano or fp - loudly at first but then immediately softly
  • crescendo, cresc., or the symbol Crescendo-3.svg - becoming louder
  • diminuendo, dim., or the symbol Diminuendo-3.svg - becoming quieter
  • decrescendo or decresc. - same as above
  • sforzando or sfz - especially forcefully
  • subito or s - indicates that a change is to be sudden; often combined with other dynamic markings, e.g. sff, sp
  • niente or n or n. - indicates nothingness, no sound; commonly seen as an instruction to decrescendo to nothing, i.e. Diminuendo-3.svg n.

Genres of music[edit]

All music is folk music, I ain't never heard no horse sing a song.
—Louis Armstrong, though see above in regards to animals and music[6]

Music is broadly and finely categorized by genre and sub-genre. While the major divisions are moderately clear, the subdivisions can result in virtually every piece ever composed or performed being its own sub-sub-sub-sub-genre. Keeping that in mind, and also that various forms of music often "borrow" elements and styles from each other, a few distinctions can be made. But like taxonomy, such distinctions can often be very flexible. Complaining about what category a piece of music fits into is possibly the intellectually lowest form of debate ever, even lower than arguing about semantics.

In a very broad sense from a more historical perspective, there is sacred and secular music; with the Church having been extremely powerful back in the day, as well as needing countless services to fill, there was lots of work to be had composing oratorios (religious passages set to music) as well as chorales, hymns and masses such as the requiem. Both sacred and secular music in the Renaissance and Baroque varied in its style and form; a common feature of most renaissance music was that it was contrapuntal and highly advanced (the composer Tallis composed a motet called Spem in Alium in 40-part harmony). Renaissance music contained many different genres such as toccata, prelude, ricercar, and canzona. There was also much dance music played by small orchestras, and dance music contained genres such as bassadanza, tourdion, saltarello, pavane, galliard, allemande, courante, bransle, canarie, piva, and lavolta. Operas were also composed during the Renaissance, and Monteverdi was one of the most important developers of the genre. However, opera flourished more during the Baroque with Handel being one of the major pioneers. Much secular music in the Baroque was also serious music rather than mere entertainment, for composers such as Bach composed highly advanced double and triple fugues and many other keyboard works, which are classified as secular, for they lack lyrics to be sung. Secular music flourished more during the Baroque and Classical eras compared to the Renaissance; the Classical era was one in which the large-scale sacred motets and religious vespers were gradually replaced (not completely) with more secular music such as large-scale symphonies, operas, piano concertos and string quartets. The rise of the commercial music industry and recordings in the twentieth century revolutionised the distribution of music. Sacred music was still composed but most classical music was oriented towards the genres such as symphonies, ballet, opera etc. New techniques such as the Twelve-Tone technique, pioneered by Schönberg, revolutionised classical music. Popular music existed before the dominance of radio and the music industry, but the dominance of capitalism, especially in the twentieth century, led to popular music becoming a dominant commercial form in the West, and this led to many new forms of music becoming widely distributed such as Jazz and Rock music. Classical music also became highly commercialized.

What constitutes a genre is an artificial construct; yet this does not refute the fact that different musical traditions can vary greatly in their style, sound and complexity, which has an impact upon the social status and education level of the audience that may consume the music. Western music today is conventionally divided into a few, very broad groups:

  • Classical (which is broken up into periods such as Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, Impressionism, Serialism, Minimalism, Postmodern, and Contemporary)
  • Jazz, which originated in New Orleans in the late 19th century and became a form of commercial popular music.
  • Blues, which originated from the rural south from African Americans in the late 19th century.
  • Folk
  • Other forms of commercial popular music (rap, pop, rock music etc.)

Other cultures have many rich music traditions such as Indian classical music (known for the use of ragas and instruments such as the sitar), Javanese gamelan (which uses bronze percussion instruments) and ancient Chinese music.

Forms of music[edit]

Forms in popular music[edit]

Popular music such as rock music usually comes in the form of a "song". The foundation of popular music is the "verse" and "chorus" structure. Exceptions abound, with She Loves You by The Beatles being an early example in the rock music genre. In rock music styles, notably heavy metal music, there is usually a guitar solo in the song. In pop music, there may be a guitar solo, or the solo may be performed by a synthesizer player or sax player. Other common forms include bar form, thirty-two-bar form, verse-chorus form, and the twelve-bar blues.[7]

Strophic form[edit]

Many folk and popular songs are strophic in form, including the twelve bar blues, ballads, hymns and chants. Strophic form, also called verse-repeating or chorus form, is the term applied to songs in which all verses or stanzas of the text are sung to the same music.[8] The opposite of strophic form, with new music written for every stanza, is called through-composed. Certain classical compositions have also used strophic form. Haydn used the strophic variation form in many of his string quartets and a few of his symphonies, employed almost always in the slow second movement.

Forms in classical music[edit]

Western classical music has been noted for its development of highly sophisticated forms of instrumental music such as the symphony, concerto, fugue, sonata, and mixed vocal and instrumental styles such as opera, cantata, and mass.[9] A movement is a principal division of a longer musical work, self-sufficient in terms of key, tempo, and structure. These movements can then be further broken down into a hierarchy of smaller units: first sections, then periods, and finally phrases. A symphony is an elaborate musical composition for full orchestra, typically in four movements, at least one of which is traditionally in sonata form. Famous composers of symphonies include Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, Bruckner Schubert, Haydn, Sibelius, Brahms and Dvorak.

Sonata form[edit]

Sonata form is a type of composition in three sections (exposition, development, and recapitulation) in which two themes or subjects are explored according to set key relationships. It forms the basis for much classical music, including the sonata, symphony, and concerto: a work combining orthodox sonata form and elements derived from Romanian folk music. The teaching of sonata form in music theory rests on a standard definition and a series of hypotheses about the underlying reasons for the durability and variety of the form—a definition that arose in the second quarter of the 19th century.[10] There is little disagreement that on the largest level, the form consists of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation;however, beneath this general structure, sonata form is difficult to pin down to a single model.[11]

Binary form[edit]

Binary form is a musical form in two related sections, both of which are usually repeated. In music this is usually performed as A-A-B-B. Binary form was popular during the Baroque period, often used to structure movements of keyboard sonatas. It was also used for short, one-movement works. Around the middle of the 18th century, the form largely fell from use as the principal design of entire movements as sonata form and organic development gained prominence. When it is found in later works, it usually takes the form of the theme in a set of variations, or the Minuet, Scherzo, or Trio sections of a Minuet and Trio or Scherzo and Trio movement in a sonata, symphony, etc. Many larger forms incorporate binary structures, and many more complicated forms (such as sonata forms) share certain characteristics with binary form.[12][13]:50

Ternary form[edit]

Ternary form is the form of a movement in which the first subject is repeated after an interposed second subject in a related key. It is a three-part musical form where the first section (A) is repeated after the second section (B) ends. It is usually schematized as A–B–A. Examples include the da capo aria "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah, Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major (Op. 28) and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion. [14][13]:53-4

Double-function form[edit]

Double-function form is a musical construction that allows for a collection of movements to be viewed as elements of a single larger musical form. The most famous example of this is Franz Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor (1853). The sonata is composed as a single movement with about a half an hour’s duration. The piece introduces some themes at the very outset of the piece which are manipulated and recapitulated over twenty minutes later. Charles Rosen believes that the work as whole fulfils his criterion for a sonata form. Moreover, within the one long sonata form, there exists a short sonata form, followed by a slow ternary, followed by a scherzo and fugue, followed by a finale. Thus, the single movement fulfills the standard of both a classical sonata form and a classical four movement piano sonata.[15] [16]

Music in politics[edit]


In the 1980s in the United States, the PMRC was formed to attempt a labeling system so parents could ascertain whether or not the music their children were listening to was age-appropriate (or at least free of nasty words).

Three musicians, Dee Snider of the band Twisted Sister, who was the only one of the three who the PMRC had directly targeted, John Denver, the good ol' country boy, and Frank Zappa, the founder and leader of the rock band Mothers of Invention, testified against censorship of music at a hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, on September 19, 1985. Denver's was probably the most damaging testimony of the three due to his image, and his pointing out that Tipper Gore was wildly off-base thinking the song Rocky Mountain High was about drug use (which was so patently ridiculous that one would have almost certainly had to be on drugs to even come up with something like that), but all three absolutely nailed it. Zappa said:

While the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury recites "Gonna drive my love inside you" and Senator Gore's wife talks about "Bondage!" and "oral sex at gunpoint" on the CBS Evening News, people in high places work on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the only way to sneak it through is to keep the public's mind on something else: 'Porn rock' ...The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of Moral Quality Control Programs based on "Things Certain Christians Don't Like." What if the next bunch of Washington Wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?"[17]

Much as with having one's movie "R"-rated, the warning labels rapidly became less a warning than a sought-after imprimatur of being "edgy," or at least swearing a lot.

Many pieces of popular music exist in two versions - one, as the "artist" intended, usually on what used to be called the "LP" or "album," and a second, sanitized version intended for radio airplay. The classic example of this was Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner, where the "nasty" version said "funky shit goin' down in the city," while the radio market single was dubbed to say "funky kicks goin' down in the city."

In modern times, it is often the case that a large retailer like Wal-Mart will only stock the "sanitized" version of a CD (or DVD). Fortunately, this is increasingly largely irrelevant as more and more music is bought/downloaded/streamed online.

Abuse of music as torture[edit]

See NickelbackWikipedia for a full explanation of this topic.

Music, that is hopefully offensive to the victims and usually played very loudly, has been used as an assault technique (see Waco), and as an "enhanced interrogation technique" (see Guantanamo Bay). In The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson, it is suggested that playing music as torture was either a test of subliminal effects of music on the victims, or, possibly more sinisterly, as a light-hearted anecdote to desensitize the population to the regular use of torture on terrorist subjects.

After the U.S. invasion of Panama, the target of the invasion, strongman Manuel Noriega, sought asylum in the Vatican's diplomatic mission, headed by Monsignor Jose S. Laboa. To induce Noriega's surrender, U.S. forces played loud music outside the nunciature[18] by cranking up the rock & roll from the armed forces' Southern Command Network radio station (which took requests and played such things as Van Halen's "Hang Em High" and Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills"), and sometimes switching to shortwave station KUSW out of Salt Lake City for a change of pace.

Although playing loud music in one's room to piss off one's parents is not quite in this category, the Portsmouth Sinfonia,Wikipedia founded at the Portsmouth School of Art in England in 1970, may well be "music as a form of torture." Sounding part way between a bunch of first school children playing Baa Baa Blacksheep on plastic recorders at their Christmas concert and what you'd expect the piped music in hell's waiting room to sound like, its members were all non-musicians or, if musically trained, were required to play an instrument they had no experience with.[19] Composer and music theorist Brian Eno produced two of their commercial albums (The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics and Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Royal Albert Hall, both released in 1974) as well as playing clarinet in the orchestra.

Today, the easiest way to induce torture is to put on Jake Paul's newest single.[note 3]

Use in activism[edit]

Since ancient times, and most recently with the explosion of "socially conscious" folk and rock in the 1960s and similarly-themed rap and hip hop in the 1980s, people have used music to protest the current political order, or some specific issue, usually with their lyrics.[note 4] Whether the revolution was ever achieved is not known for sure, however, one thing we do know is that it will not be televised!

Music as an underground communication channel[edit]

Underclasses have often made use of music and carefully "coded" lyrics to maintain solidarity against their oppressors. A prime example would be the development of Gospel during the slave-era United States.

Other, less obvious examples are the use of sly lyrical references to "obscene" acts that get past the censors of the day ("One eyed jack peeping in a seafood store" comes to mind, as does "What do you see when you turn out the light/I can't tell you but I know it's mine"[20]).


Music is often used to create, evoke, or encourage nationalist sentiment. To this end, composers may emphasize folk songs or other recognizable elements of some local musical tradition in their works, as in, for example, Copland's Appalachian SpringWikipedia or Tchaikovsky's Marche SlaveWikipedia (or that other thing with the cannon).Wikipedia Sometimes pieces are written which set out to express national sentiment without directly capitalizing on folk melodies, such as Jean Sibelius's FinlandiaWikipedia[note 5] or Chopin's Étude on the Bombardment of WarsawWikipedia (often known as the Revolutionary Étude), with such pieces sometimes themselves becoming deeply associated with the nation. Politicians have historically sought to exploit, create, or redefine national musical traditions for their own purposes, the most notorious example being the Third Reich's stance on German music (which was not always German; for example, Chopin was given a fake German pedigree) and "degenerate Jewish" music (which was often neither degenerate nor Jewish; see especially the Second Viennese School).Wikipedia[note 6]

In modern times, music has caught on as something of a recruiting tool for white nationalists, skinheads, etc., with the intertubes serving as a way to distribute what no brick and mortar store would want to touch.[22] However, some online retailers (most notably iTunes) have begun to pull racist music from their stores more proactively, though some do not.[23]

Religious activism[edit]

The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise.
—Pope John Paul II[24]

Music used to spread a religious message was historically an exceedingly prevalent occurrence, and is still around, along with a healthy dose of surrounding stupid (see below). In the Christian church, music has been used more or less from the get-go, though mostly without instruments until the introduction of the church organ, traditionally (but dubiously) credited to Pope Vitalian, who was pope from 657 AD to 672 AD.[25] Other instruments made their way into sacred music over time, a trend that culminated in Romantic works such as Verdi's Messa da Requiem,[note 7] although some secular works of the period utilized even larger forces.[note 8] Still, however, the organ remains a staple of sacred music, especially within the Catholic church[note 9] and its closer relatives, although its use is foregone, often in favor of the piano, in many smaller Protestant churches.

The Palestrina legend[edit]

It is widely reported that Giovanni Pierluigi da PalestrinaWikipedia single-handedly saved polyphonic singing (at least within Catholicism) during the Council of Trent.[note 10] However, no total ban was ever seriously considered,[note 11] and while Palestrina did write a Mass that was performed at one of the council's meetings (and for the pope, to boot), this was well after the consideration of the proposed canon on music that seems to have fueled the legend. All that said, he was a composer of some renown in his day, his writings were pretty substantially influential on later Church music, and the Mass in question remains well-studied.

Music-related quackery and foolishness[edit]

Plenty of people spend large amounts of time and money pursuing the absolute most-perfect sound evah, many getting trapped into Audio woo. Some speculate that this is often done at the expense of actually enjoying the music. There is also the Mozart effect woo — the dubious claim that listening to classical music (especially Mozart) directly increases intelligence.[26]


Backward masking is basically pareidolia meets rock and roll: lots of concerned fundamentalists frothing at the mouth about rock songs which, if played backwards to suitably gullible and primed people, sound like they say things like "my sweet Satan," when in fact they just sound like a record being played backwards. They never seem to find the evil jazz blues rock pop rap whatever the hell they think is the devil's music these days music that says "my sweet Jesus" though. On a related note, some religious fundamentalists oppose many more modern forms of music (often jazz and later, but especially rock and roll) as doing/being the devil's work. This is in spite of the fact that those Bible verses which speak of music-making seem to generally condone it as a worthy means of praising the Lᴏʀᴅ;[27] none speak of musical innovation as being demonic.[note 12] Interestingly, such opposition may have been prefigured in St. Jerome's writings,[28] as well as those of several other early Christian leaders,[29] who opposed adding instruments to the essentially Jewish choral tradition of the baby Church.

Some religious apologists argue that because religion is important to a number of prominent classical composers, religion is necessary to produce great music (or art), ignoring some important facts: that there are plenty of musicians and composers who aren't religious or don't produce religious music, that there exists plenty of fucking awful religious music (Christian rock, anyone? Or Christian rap?!), and that due to the socio-economic standards of the time when much of the great religious music was written, if you wanted to produce music (or visual art, for that matter), religion was a pretty good way of doing so, since the churches had (and still do have) lots of money and resources - he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Despite this, it's worth mentioning that a few famous composers were non-religious, remarkable considering the times that they lived in: Verdi, one of the the most popular opera composers, known also for his Messa da Requiem, was an outright atheist, Brahms was an agnostic humanist (he famously removed all references to Jesus in his German Requiem), and so also was Strauss and Shostakovich. Even Beethoven was an advocate of the Age of Enlightenment.[30]

Of course, Christians aren't the only ones guilty of music-related foolishness; Ayatollah Khomeini famously banned music from being broadcast in Iran period, because it was "no different than opium."[31] A smattering of other Islamic clerics have issued fatwas on music, which express a variety of positions, ranging from declaring music strictly haram to considering it permitted; several take a decidedly sexist slant, imposing restrictions on female singers but not their male counterparts.

Sound healing[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Sound healing

Sound healing is alternative medicine's answer to music: the belief that certain sounds can induce spiritual awakening or some other New Age-y effects. Sounds can and do have psychological effects, but not in the same way as the sound healers think. Examples:

  • Leonard Horowitz (also an AIDS conspiracy theorist and antivaxxer), who invented a set of "solfeggio frequencies" based on numerological manipulation of the digits 1 through 9; he goes on to proclaim how 528 Hz is "central to Divine creation" and will cause a revolution in the music industry.[note 13][note 14]
  • Binaural beats are an interesting auditory illusion, marketed by woo-peddlers as ways to alter brain states.[32]
  • Claims that equal temperamentWikipedia negatively affects people's souls because it's impure. While there are quite valid rants to be directed against the "let's approximate ALL the keys!" approach,[note 15] this is not one of them.
  • Taking orbital frequencies of the planets, transposing them by (many) octaves into audible ranges, and claiming the results put you in harmony with the Solar System.[33][note 16]

Unlike a lot of other alternative medicine, sound healing is not entirely useless. Its concepts can be reused for artistic rather than pseudoscientific purposes; composers such as George CrumbWikipedia have experimented with mysticism and numerology in music without being particularly insane.

Famous composers and atheism/rationalism[edit]

What I think would be nice is if people realized, for example, that a lot of devotional music is actually written by non-believers. I suppose Verdi is the best example.
Christopher Hitchens[34]


  • When Beethoven was on his death bed and the priest finished the Catholic ministrations and prayers, Beethoven said in latin, after the priest left, "Applaud, gentlemen; the comedy is over".[35] When Beethoven's friend Moscheles wrote "With God's help" on Beethoven's musical score, Beethoven crossed it out and wrote "Man, help thyself". Beethoven's biographer Anton Schindler wrote that Beethoven was more a deist than a true believer; he was also an admirer of Goethe, who was a pantheist who rejected Christianity. Biographer George Marek also stated that Beethoven never went to confession and he viewed priests with mistrust. Beethoven set the pantheistic poem Ode to Joy by the German poet Schiller to music in his groundbreaking Symphony no. 9 in D minor. The lyrics in the original German are not Christian; however translators with a Christian agenda often translate the German poem into a very unfaithful Christianised version in English. [35]


  • Berlioz often stated in his letters that he was an agnostic.[36] In a letter which was written shortly before his death, he wrote in regard to religion, "I believe nothing." [37] Berlioz composed a large-scale requiem Grande Messe des morts despite his atheism.


  • Brahms has been described as an agnostic and a humanist. He composed a requiem mass, the German Requiem (1857-68), which had a humanist message rather than a religious one.[38][39] The devout Catholic Antonín DvořákWikipedia wrote in a letter: "Such a man, such a fine soul – and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!"[40]


  • Bizet, the French composer of the famous opera Carmen (1875) was an atheist. According to Bizet he encountered prejudice from his wife's family as they considered him an unsuitable match: "penniless, left-wing, anti-religious and Bohemian". [41]


  • Ravel was born in a Roman Catholic family, however his mother was more of a free-thinker, and he picked up on these beliefs and was socially progressive and politically left wing throughout his entire life. He only wrote one religious piece, the Jewish 'Kaddish', referred to himself as an atheist, and had a secular funeral. The only newspaper he subscribed to was 'Le Populaire' a socialist newspaper published by the French Section of the Workers' International, and his friend the pianist Ricardo Viñes referred to him as "politically very far to the left".[42][43]


  • Rimsky-Korsakov was an atheist who composed a body of choral works, both secular and for Russian Orthodox Church service. The latter include settings of portions of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (despite his own atheism).[44][45]


  • Debussy, who wrote great orchestral compositions such as La Mer, was also a nonbeliever. He rejected all creeds and had a secular funeral. He was a man who was influenced by nature rather than Christianity: "I have made mysterious Nature my religion." Debussy's music was criticised by the Archbishop of Paris for being "offensive to Christian consciences". Hence, Debussy defended the right to express himself and condemned the call for censorship that came from conservative critics. He also wrote in defense "I am not a practicing Catholic nor a believer, it did not cost me much effort to rise to the mystical heights which the poet's drama attains..." [35]


  • Prokofiev, the Russian composer of the 20th century, was also skeptical of religion. Prokofiev's family were non believers and his education at university was very scientific. Prokofiev inherited his mother's skepticism of Christian dogma; thus he never wrote any Christian music. Prokofiev stated: "when I was 19, my father died; my response to his death was atheistic". [35]


  • When asked if he believed in God, Shostakovich said "No, and I am very sorry about it."[46]

See also[edit]

Musical footnotes[edit]

  1. What exactly is a dissonance can vary by source though; while some medieval sources classified the perfect fourth as a dissonance, virtually no modern source does; likewise, while many modern sources regard the tritone as unambiguously dissonant, others argue that in some contexts it can be quite consonant. It must be noted also that expectations and classifications will vary by style of music; many chords common in jazz would be regarded as howling dissonances if they came amidst, say, a Taylor Swift song.
  2. British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, "A One Minute Silence," on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.[4]
  3. Oh yes, do you really want us to link it so he can bankroll more singles?
  4. See our awesome article listing the greatest liberal songs.
  5. Yes, part of Finlandia became in essence a folk tune, but no, it was not based on existing folk music.[21]
  6. Yes, some of the most notable composers of that school were Jewish, but not all.
  7. Scored for twelve woodwinds, sixteen brass, a large string section, timpani and bass drum, and a double choir.
  8. For example, Mahler's Symphony No. 8, sometimes known as the Symphony of a Thousand, is scored for at least twenty-two woodwinds, twenty-four brass, an enlarged string section (including four harps), an organ, various percussion, a double choir, and a children's choir.
  9. See Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VI
  10. At least one denizen of the RatWik heard this story in a college-level music class.
  11. Composers were, however, encouraged to make certain that the text of their works was more easily intelligible, as many polyphonic masses of the era suffered from problems with the discernability of their words, and things "lascivious or impure" were banned from sacred music, although this ban was not strictly or universally observed.
  12. The closest thing would be Daniel 3:4-7, where music is used to call people to worship Nebuchadnezzar's idol.
  13. Interestingly, this would be the exact frequency of a C if one were to use a five-limit just tuning on A = 440 Hz.
  14. He wrote a book. It's a riot.
  15. For example, you (and your ear/brain) would expect notes a major third apart to have a nice consonant 5:4 (or 1.25:1) ratio of frequencies; in twelve-tone equal temperament the ratio is approximately 5.03968:4, or 1.25992:1. The audible difference is not even so subtle as the numerical comparison makes it seem.
  16. Why is this considered harmony and not unison, as a note and its octave would normally be? WHO KNOWS?


  1. Lewin, Naomi (February 27, 2008). "Classical Music for the Birds". 
  2. Laitz, Steven G. (2008). The Complete Musician (2 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-19-530108-3. 
  3. Walker, Paul Mark (2000). "Theories of Fugue from the Age of Josquin to the Age of Bach". Theories of Fugue from the Age of Josquin to the Age of Bach. Eastman studies in music. 13. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. ISBN 9781580461504. OCLC 56634238. 
  4. "Composer pays for piece of silence". CNN. September 23, 2002. 
  5. Bernard, Harvey Russell (1994). Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Sage Publications. p. 238. 
  6. Armstrong, Louis. "Louis Armstrong - Wikiquote". 
  7. Everett, Walter (1999). The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780195129410. 
  8. Tilmouth, Michael (1980). "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians". In Sadie, Stanley. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 18. London: Macmillan Press. p. 292-3. ISBN 0-333-23111-2. 
  9. Rushton, Julian (1994). Classical Music. London. p. 10. 
  10. Rosen, Charles=year=1988. Sonata Forms (revised ed.). New York: Norton. p. 1. 
  11. Benward, Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice. 2 (8th ed.). ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0. 
  12. Laitz, Christopher (2010). Graduate Review of Tonal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-19-537698-2. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 White, John D (1976). The Analysis of Music. ISBN 0-13-033233-X. 
  14. Apel, Willi, ed (1969). "Binary and ternary form". Harvard Dictionary of Music (2nd ed. rev. and enlarged ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 
  15. Saffle, Michael (June 1982). "Liszt's sonata in B minor: another look at the 'double function' question". JALS: the journal of the American Liszt Society 11: 28-39. 
  16. Walker, Alan et al. (20 Nov. 2009). "Grove Music Online". 
  17. Zappa, Frank (1985). "Frank Zappa: Statement To Congress, September 19, 1985". 
  18. From the National Security Archives
  19. "In the Hall of the Mountain King". YouTube.
  20. Joe Cocker' version of "With A Little Help From My Friends" (Lennon/McCartney)
  21. Program notes from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
  22. "Music, Money & Hate". Southern Poverty Law Center. November 20, 2014. 
  23. Dewey, Caitlin (March 17, 2015). "Amazon, PayPal and Spotify inadvertently fund white supremacists. Here’s how.". The Washington Times. 
  24. Quoted by the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff in "Sacred Music at the Service of Truth"
  25. "Catholic Encyclopedia: Organ". 
  26. Alison Abbott. Mozart Doesn't Make You Clever. Nature News, 13 April 2007
  27. Ephesians 5:18-19, Psalm 33:1-3 (explicitly supports singing "a new song"), Psalm 92:1-4, etc.
  28. "Church Fathers: Letter 107 (Jerome)". 
  29. Dickinson, Edward (1902). Music in the History of the Western Church: With an Introduction on Religious Music Among Primitive and Ancient Peoples. C. Scribner's Sons. 
  30. "Ludwig van Beethoven's Religion and Political Views". 
  31. Kifner, John (July 24, 1979). "Khomeini Bans Broadcast Music, Saying It Corrupts Iranian Youth". The New York Times. 
  32. Skeptoid on binaural beats
  33. "Binaural Beats and the Solar System". 
  34. Richler, Noah (December 13, 2010). "In conversation: Christopher Hitchens". Macleans. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 Barker, D (2011). The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God. Ulysses Press. 
  36. Cairns, David (2003). Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness, 1832–1869 (2nd ed.). University of California Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780520240582. 
  37. Boult, GK (1903). Life of Berlioz. p. 298. 
  38. Swafford (2012). p. 327. "He continued, in high theological mode. Brahms was not about to put up with that sort of thing. He was a humanist and an agnostic, and his Requiem was going to express that, Reinthaler or no." 
  39. Sams, Eric (2000). The Songs of Johannes Brahms. Yale University Press. p. 326. ISBN 9780300079623. "But the thought of bright nearness brings back the face-to-face music of 'Von Angesicht zu Angesichte', which is as close as the agnostic Brahms ever came to a communion with deity. As the pious aria ends, the humanist moral returns." 
  40. Swafford, 1997
  41. Steen, Michael (2003). The Life and Times of the Great Composers. London: Icon Books. p. 589-90. ISBN 978-1-84046-679-9. 
  44. Abraham, Gerald. The New Grove Russian Masters. 2. p. 27. 
  45. Morrison, Simon (2002). Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 116-7, 168-9. ISBN 0-520-22943-6. 
  46. Fay, Laurel (2000). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press.. ISBN 0-19-513438-9.