What does the term "music" mean to you?

There have been some recent threads asking such questions as “what’s the best fitting of music to scene?” or “which movie has the best music?” and such.

When I went into those threads I was expecting to see listings of “music” but what I saw in the majority of cases was “songs” or “lyrics” being referred to.

It made me wonder if my concept of “music” (since I prefer instrumentals to songs with words sung) is out of whack or at least off the norm.

To what extent does “music” mean “lyrics” to you?

Please elaborate or explain your opinion.

MUSIC: Instrumental music, sometimes classical pieces, sometimes the background stuff on TV or films.

LYRICS: Things that sound like rubbish if you think about them too much. (How the Hell does someone ‘Strike like Thunderball’? Someone left a cake out in the rain, were they terminally stupid or something? Why would you walk a million miles for somebody’s smile, even if they were your mother? Etc.)


I’m coming from the position of being a musician and writer, so, this isn’t the average Joe’s opinion. Music means many things to me, not just songs. Here in America, thanks to popular culture we have a very “Song” based idea of what music is, even instrumentals are thought of in terms of songs – even going so far as to use basic song structures (ABA and the like). However for me music is much more than songs. Music is a place you can go to and live beyond your daily life, or it can enrich your daily life. Music isn’t always pretty or always loud. I often hear people say 'Such and Such sucks." Which really translates into i don’t like that kind of music. I always take it as a limitation on their part (feel free to use the elitist word, you wouldn’t be the first).

Having said all of that, it must be acknowledged that for people who aren’t musical, lyrics are the gateway by which they access the music. A great marriage of lyrics and music (such as La Colombe by Brel or This Waltz by Cohen) can transport more people more quickly to emotional grounds that pure music generally can not.

Music to me is a pure thing devoid of anything but emotion. I’ve watched people try to attribute political ideas and intellectualism to all kinds of music, but in the final analysis, music is emotional. political and intellectual ideas can be conveyed through music only with the addition of lyrics. However, once the words are married to the lyrics, you hear them, even without them being sung. They are imprinted on peoples mind.

I don’t know if that answered your question or not, but those are my brief, half-asleep observations.


You make some excellent points. It’s not that I have any opposition to songs. I don’t. Many of my favorite melodies have been coupled with some excellent lyrics, and as often as not I’ll sort of half hear those unsung lyrics when I hear the tune.

It’s conceivable, I guess, that even in instrumentals that don’t have lyrics there may be a tendency to add some sort of lyrics
(perhaps even unconsciously) to help make the melody more meaningful.

And I will admit to a bit of discomfort with the idea that the same instrumental piece should call up similar emotions from all listeners. Some critics/analysts present their reactions to pieces of music as if that were the case. It’s as if the great composers force identical reactions from their audience. I say it’s not true in my case.

But I suppose the main issue I’m trying to get at is the idea that since country and western music (for one genre) is well over 75% song music (as opposed to instrumental) it has always struck me as pretentious for Nashville to refer to itself as Music City USA. (I could buy Song City USA.)


Yes, it is probably pretentious for Nashville to call itself Music City, USA, however, no one seems to want to challenge them. A lot of the music that comes out of Nashville and other commercial channels is pretentious (some good pretentious, some bad pretentious).

The same instrumental piece doesn’t call up similar emotions – for the most part – from all listeners. However, it never spurs an intellectual or political reaction unless it has been somehow made a part of it (Take the German National Anthem for example – hearing that music bothers many people while in others it brings out pride). As I understand it, from some of my German friends, some of the old songs we used to sing in American schoolrooms are thought of in Germany as “Nazi” songs. (O, Wie Wiel ist Mir am Abend, Das Wandern, Mein Hut among others) but to me they are pleasant children’s songs.

Look at the many possible story threads that Disney has imagined from the source of classical music. None of their visions have anything to do with what the composer was thinking, however some people can’t hear those same pieces without picturing the Disney visions.

I guess my ultimate point is that music itself is too abstract to truly represent ideas without a lyric component to ground it in a particular idea. I can expand that to add visuals (Disney) or some other less abstract medium that will truly convey a point of view.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been engaged in the last year or so in what I’ve termed “The Country Project” wherein I’ve written several songs in a “country style”, formed a band to sing and play them and have begun trying all of this out. Is this my favorite music in the world? No, pretty much would prefer to listen to Der ErlKonig (The Elf King), or Debussey (Hey, anybody want to do a parody set in the 19th century called “I’m with Debussey”?), or my favorite Bach. But I listen to a LOT of music: from Bach to Zalinka, or from Classical to Zorastrian Reggae and everything in between. I have my favorites (usually acoustic, usually small groups – like Pentangle, Apocalyptica, I really liked unplugged when it was truly unplugged, A Capella groups, and so on).

But back to the point, no, music can’t force the same emotion out of everyone equally. Look at the different interpretations available of the classical canon of works. Some people prefer Gould others prefer Horowitz – why? Because they are reached by the interpretation of the music.

Sorry about the double-post, I realized I hadn’t finished the thought before I hit submit – ergo the second post is the complet one by about 6 words.

Music means ‘karaoke’ to me. That’s only because I can’t hear lyrics.

Handy, when seeing music live do you find it interesting at all? Like, even though the instruments don’t add anything do you still read the lips as poetry? And, if so, what is your view on the content of music? Is it all “Love you”, “hate world”, “Screw Society” etc…? Is it at all origional, or is it kinda bland?

I hope I’m not pushing into anything you would rather not answer, but your post did interest me.


Using “music” for “songs” or “lyrics” is a fine example of synecdoche.

In thinking abot the OP, it occurs to me that music means different things to me at different times. Sometimes I want something soothing, sometimes something stimulating. I love Mozart, but sometimes I can get down with a rock number (mostly not – I’m kinda old and moldy :wink: ).

When I hear something I don’t like I’m not inclined to say it isn’t music. I just say it’s not music to my ears. If you like heavy metal, then it is music to your ears. You might hate Chopin as much as I hate heavy metal.

To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice in an opinion on obscenity: I can’t define music, but I know it when I hear it.

Music = noise

Lyrics = the thing that makes most music go from being simply ignored to inane.

The official definition of music was drilled into my head so many times during the course of my 8th grade Music class that that definition has become what music means to me: organized sounds and silences…regardless of how sophsiticated or simplistic the end result is.

Music is very multi-demensional for me. I go inside and walk around. Sometimes I take bits and pieces of what I find and use them as thumbtacks to hold my memories to the scheme of things.

Pieces of music – like an unusual use of wavering strings on a single note of Mancini, or the lyrics from Danny Boy when he calls But come yet back… or the almost-not-there sound that Stan Getz could get when playing something by Tom Jobim. The shifts in key that Matheny and Mays do. The way the walls’ trembling adds to Virgil Fox when he is played really full and deep.

I think that music is not a thing apart from me.

Many thanks for the diversity of views of “what music means to you” that have come in.

If it’s legal to extend the scope of the OP I wonder if anybody has a reasonable substitute for the “universal language” that music is supposed to be.

BTW, if you happened to skim or bypass the post above by Zenster, I suggest you give it another try. Excellent post. Worth printing and clipping inside your dictionary or encyclopedia next to the entry MUSIC.

Carry on. I just had to say thanks.

Thank you, Zeldar. That post took a while to write. I’m glad you appreciated it so much.

For the OP: Music is, to me, any sound that follows a pattern and is pleasing to the flappy bits of flesh on the sides of my head. Even a spinning fan is musical - some people would record and manipulate such a sound, proving my point.

Like Zeldar, I also prefer the sounds of instruments, whether natural, man-made, or electronic, to the words that come out of lyricits’s mouths. Jerk-offs like Eminem and that curly-haired white rapper from Fame are perfect examples of “lyrics-gone-lazy”. These guys should write books, not sing songs. If you really have something that needs to be heard, limiting it to a few minutes via song is like teaching a famous piece of literature from Cliff’s Notes.

Too often lyrics are based on phenomena that’s time-specific, such as that “We Didn’t Start the Fire” song by Billy Joel, or whoever. I hate that song for it’s lyrics, though the sound of the voice is pleasing. Usually I just ignore the words and listen to the voice, as an instrument. Some voices make beautiful sounding instruments. The appreciation value of an instrument’s sound is 100 times more eternal than the babbling of some idiot. Hell, sometimes lyrics will make a song sound VERY-outdated in 50 years.

I guess the best way to say why music matters and lyrics don’t is because, for me, many songs create a fantasy world in my imagination, and lyrics commonly take that fantasy and put a label on it, which is not what I like music to be like. That’s why I listen to electronic music most of the time, like Boards of Canada (whom I can’t praise enough), and The Orb (for more of the same reason). Their music is free of the lyrical stain.

Plus, I never considered “song” to be a vehicle for storytelling. Lyrics are meant for themes like love, whispy feelings, revolution, political and moral voices. They’re useful to convey a general opinion/truth, nothing too complex. I might get backlash for not mentioning the exceptions, but that’s why I’m typing this sentence.

Err…um. What post by Zenster?

To me music is anything that was intended to be music. I have to keep things really broad like that because there’s alot of “weird” stuff that the definition needs to cover.

So obviously instrumental music and songs are covered under that definition.

But to me the voice is just another sound or instrument anyway, so I don’t really classify songs and instrumentals as that different- they’re both simply music.

I swear it was there yesteday. The hamsters must have eaten it.

Damnedest thing!

criminalcatalog basically said what i was going to say, only better than i could have said it!

I mainly listen to electronica / dance music, and while i think lyrics can have their place in music, they usually just end up taking over the song, and you end up listening to the lyrics rather than the actual music itself. Music for me is about creating worlds in sounds, and evoking emotions. I think having lyrics in a song actual limits it to what those lyrics are saying.

Having said that though the human voice can be very beautiful, and can act a lot to a piece simply as another instrument.