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The Elements of Music Briefly Defined

By: Joseph C. Nagler and Mathew Lee
Category: Wellness
Population Served: Others

Our emotional reactions to a musical composition are often related to the structure of a melody. Everyone has his or her own personal story. Everyone can relate to a melody in his or her own way. A good melody is one which brings you new insights with every listening. A great melody will create new fears while holding your older fears at bay. Your health can be impacted by melodies in profound ways.

Harmony adds new dimensions to the experience of a melody. Simply stated, harmonies are the joining together of two or more pitches to create sound at the same time. Sing one note, have a friend sing another, and you have harmony. Harmony does not have to be sonorous. That is, if your friend misses the pitch when singing her intended note, there is still harmony. It may not be correct or dulcet, but it still has harmony. Some may argue that harmony need be affable and rich. Yet, the true import of harmony is to further amplify musical ideas.

In the use of music for health, it is not important to know the theory of music, so much as to be aware that there is an order of things. Later, in this chapter, we provide an activity that will ask you to begin to assemble a collection of music for your listening. This activity will ask you to create your own order of things by dividing your music into categories. The idea of one musical thought set against another will prove critical to our development of new imagery and sound shapes.

The speed at which these musical thoughts progress is referred to as the tempo. We instinctively seek out music of varying tempi for different uses in our lives. Composers have used contrasting tempi to bring forth different melodic, harmonic, and thematic ideas. The use of tempo as an arbiter of the emotional content is quite popular.

For instance, contemporary electronic dance music is very regular in tempo. Often an entire composition will have a fixed rate of 125 to 129 beats per minute. Producers of this genre of music are aware that any music, no matter how devoid of harmonic or melodic content, will excite people to dance if the rhythm and tempo are regular enough. Often, dance music will consist of a regular quarter note pulse in the 123 to 129 beat per minute tempo range. The music has few twists and turns and the emotional content of lyrics are generally primal and visceral in nature. This music becomes at once both predictable and motivating.

There is an element of safety in this predictability. Partially, because there is little intellectual stimulation in the content of the music to tax the listener. There is a strong motivational factor in this type of music. It appears that the repetition can help invoke an altered state of consciousness that in turn envelopes the listener. Evidence of this is found in dancers who are able to focus on continued, long periods of dancing with a pronounced focus on the physical elements of the music.

Frequently, the inclusion of words in music provides an additional dimension to the experience of music. This is true with all genres of music. At times, there is a complementary relationship between words and music. This relationship is at its apex when poetry aspires to musical qualities, and when music strives to be poetic. Lyrics can be the added dimension of poetry to a musical setting. The words contained in the lyrics can elevate the experience of music to a new level of beauty and understanding. Yet, within your own listening experience, you may have encountered times when words alter or obscure the meaning of the music.

You can learn to develop a new awareness of all the elements found in music. As you progress through the activities provided in this book, you will have ample opportunity to increase your ability to listen to music. Your enhanced awareness can include images, phrases, and meditation techniques to enhance the music you have chosen to incorporate into your own daily plan of music listening. Our concern is to find musical experiences with words that inspire unification of mind, body, and spirit for the conditions unique to each listener.

When all of these elements are combined appropriately, there can be a true experience of pleasure. This awakened sensation of pleasure can be the primary goal of many music listeners. After all, music offers the opportunity for many rich and unique pleasurable experiences. Frequently, we describe these experiences as part of an overall unified experience. The pleasures encountered in a unified musical experience are by far the most arduous of all the musical experiences to define. This unified experience is often an intangible that is beyond definition.

It is intangible because we each rely on our own personal sense of aesthetics and taste when we are experiencing a work of art. The experience of pleasure in a work of music is unique for each of us. We all have different definitions of pleasure. Still, we can take solace in the company of those who share our preferences. It is through these shared experiences that we find common ground. This common ground allows us to understand why certain music leads a person to cry while other music compels people to cheer at a sporting event.

Within this seemingly intangible world is a viable source of explanation of our common experiences. We can look to our shared experiences when we try to explain why we are frightened at a horror movie or why we danced the way we did at a wedding. There are few, if any, scientific explanations of our shared reactions to our common experiences. Words and science can both fail to explain the beauty we share in this world. Music, on the other hand, provides both the experience and the explanation. Music is not a science in the traditional sense of the word. It is as Langer aptly stated, "the science of the beautiful."

An excerpt from Chapter One of the book: "On Music and Health" by Joseph C. Nagler and Mathew Lee copyright 1999 Elementary Media, Inc. Music for Health How to Be More Alive and Feel Better Through Music

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