Things That I Believe About Music

29 May, 2024
Things I believe about music, where the rest of this website won't make much sense if you don't believe in them.

Theories, and Beliefs

This website is all about presenting my theories and hypotheses about music – my attempts to solve the mystery of music.

I like to think that some of my theories are plausible, but none of them are proven.

But underlying these theories and the thought processes that led me to develop them are some basic beliefs about the nature of reality.

Beliefs about the universe, and the nature of life, and the nature of human life, and how we all got to where we are now.

Also beliefs about what our subjective experience can tell us. Because music is a very subjective phenomenon – music only exists in as much as it is a thing that we experience when we hear it.

If you don't believe these things that I believe, or you are not willing to at least consider that they may be true, then you probably won't get much sense out of the rest of the content and articles on this website.

My Beliefs

Music is a thing, and it's not quite like any other thing.

This belief very much depends on my own personal subjective experience of music.

It might be possible to support this belief purely from objective observations of how other people respond to music and how they talk about music. If you are the sort of person who doesn't have any subjective experience of music then you do have to rely on such objective observations of other people and their interaction with music.

But most people do have a direct subjective experience of what it is like to listen to music, and the unique quality of that subjective experience is the simplest and strongest argument for this belief.

4'33'' is not a musical item.

Music is very subjective, which leads to the problem that anyone can say that something is music, and in principle once cannot argue against such a claim.

But to take all such claims seriously is to end up in a position where you have no ability to distinguish music from non-music.

Human beings are a species of living organism that are the result of a process of evolution by natural selection.

For many people this belief is not very controversial, although there are also plenty of people who will argue against it.

Creating and listening to music are very specific activities that people engage in, and that is something that evolutionary theory has to account for, by one means or another.

And it's not enough to propose that maybe music has this benefit or that benefit.

The activities of creating music and listening to music have a substantial cost, in terms of time and effort (and money), and any theory about the benefits of music has to show that those benefits exceed the cost.

Music has no obvious function.

Music just seems to exist for the sake of being something that we enjoy listening to.

But "enjoyment" cannot by itself be an explanation for the existence of music.

Any theory of music has to explain all the specific features of music.

Music has various peculiar and specific features, such as:

Not every musical item has every musical feature. But for any feature which occurs in most musical items, or even in many musical items, any theory of music needs to explain why that feature occurs.

Any theory of music has to explain all the things that are strongly associated with music.

Certain things are very strongly associated with music, and each one of those things potentially gives some important clue about the nature of music.

Some things strongly associated with music are:

A full theory of music must be predictive.

Scientific theories are judged by their ability to make verifiable predictions.

In the case of music, there is one very simple type of prediction that a theory should be expected to make, which is that, given any pattern of sound occurring for a certain period of time, is that sound musical?

(Yes, different people have different musical tastes, and even the same person can have different musical tastes at different times in their life, but a full theory would include that as a set of additional parameters that quantify the specifics of one person's musical tastes at a particular time. Also the modern music industry is very hit-driven, which is the result of many people substantially agreeing with many other people about what is musical, so variations in musical taste aren't necessarily such a big issue.)

We are often told that "music theory" can't tell us specifically how to compose good music.

But this is not some intrinsic proven property of music – it is just an observation that what we call "music theory" falls woefully short of being a full scientific theory of music.