Why Music Is a Universal Language

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When teaching about other cultures—especially in foreign language classes—music is often a key part of the curriculum. Jennifer Patterson, Founder and President of California Music Studios shares the reason why music is a critical component of understanding other people.

Connect with Jennifer and other educators on Twitter during #GlobalEdChat this Thursday, January 14 at 8pmET/5pmPT . We will be discussing how music can add a global dimension to classrooms.

Did you know there are approximately 7,000 spoken languages in the world today? Although only 10 percent of those are spoken by more than 100,000 people, there’s clearly a communication gap between cultures throughout the world.

But there’s one language that everybody understands no matter what tongue they speak: music. While we may not understand the lyrics of foreign songs, we all share the same emotions when we hear similar chords and melodies . Continue reading to learn more about the universal language of music.

Facial Expressions Are Universal Before we can understand music as a language, we must understand emotion. Numerous studies have shown that there are six emotions everyone can identify by facial expression no matter what culture they come from—even if they’ve had little contact with the rest of the world. This suggests that these emotions are rooted in evolutionary aspects of the human body. These six emotions include: happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise.

This is evidenced in a study by Paul Ekman as reported by Psychology Today . In his study, Ekman showed photographs to individuals from 20 western cultures and 11 isolated groups in Africa. The study showed that 92 percent of African respondents and 96 percent of western culture respondents could identify happy faces.

Ekman’s research goes on to support that these six emotions are universal. Ekman also looked at how blind children react to certain situations compared to sighted children. What he found was that even though the blind children had not observed other facial expressions, they still showed the same expressions to the same emotions as sighted children did.

Certain Sounds Are Also Consistent Across Cultures So we know that basic emotions are consistent across the world. But the cross-cultural similarities don’t end there. Other studies show that sounds like crying and laughter are also consistent between cultures, even those that live in remote settlements with little interaction with the outside world.

Dr. Disa Sauter studied over 20,000 individuals living on opposite ends of the world—Britain and Himba (northern Namibia)—and found that not only are facial expressions of these six basic emotions recognizable, but the vocalizations associated with them are as well.

Given that certain emotions and sounds are universal, wouldn’t it make sense that music could be a universal language as well?

Music as a Universal Language Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of all mankind.” Turns out he may have been on to something.

Pitch, Rhythm, and Tempo Are a Part of Language David Ludden, Ph. D., points out in Psychology Today that one reason music may be a universal language is that the same components that make up music—pitch, rhythm, and tempo—are also present in everyday speech no matter what language you’re speaking.

For example, you can watch a foreign movie or witness an exchange in a foreign country, and although you may not understand exactly what the situation is about, you can typically tell how the people are feeling. At the very least, you can understand whether the situation is a happy or sad one.

Ludden suggests that this is because we understand the pitch, rhythm, and tempo of speech because the same patterns are present in our own language and across all spoken languages. With these patterns present in spoken language, we can interpret emotions from music using the same cues.

Musical Emotion Is Rooted in Chords

music universal language essay

Think about it. When you hear a major chord, you interpret the music as positive whereas if you hear a minor chord, the music feels negative. Tempo also impacts how you feel. A slow song in a minor key, for instance, makes you feel sad. A faster song in a minor key may make you feel scared or angry. When played in a major chord with higher pitches, more fluctuations in rhythm, and a faster tempo, listeners typically interpret the music as happy.

This concept is supported by a 2015 study that showed that musical chords are the smallest building blocks of music that elicit emotion. According to researchers , “The early stages of processing that are involved suggest that major and minor chords have deeply connected emotional meanings, rather than superficially attributed ones, indicating that minor triads possess negative emotional connotations and major triads possess positive emotional connotations.”

Music Elicits the Same Physiological Response Across Cultures A recent study from McGill University further illustrates this concept. Researchers gathered 40 Pygmy and 40 Canadian participants to listen to 19 short musical extracts—11 of which were Western and 8 were Pygmy. Each piece was between 30 and 90 seconds long. The Canadian participants were all amateur or professional musicians while the Pygmies were all familiar with music because they sing regularly. After hearing the music, the researchers measured heart rate, respiration, and other physiological factors. What the researchers found was that the psychological responses from each group appeared the same, such as whether the music calmed or excited them.

While we may not be able to understand exactly what people are saying across different languages, humans have evolved to share and express the same basic emotions in similar ways. This allows us to understand each other’s facial expressions even if we don’t share the same spoken language. When speech is incorporated into the situation, we can still interpret emotions based on pitch, rhythm, and tempo. Because of these shared attributes across all cultures, music is one thing we can all agree upon and understand, making it the universal language of mankind. Try this out in your classroom by playing songs in other languages and prompt your students to tell you what emotion they feel when hearing those tunes. Do they agree music is a universal language?

Follow California Music Studios , Heather , and Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo credits: StockSnap.io

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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Is music a universal language?

Is music a universal language?

Music is sometimes described as a universal language—but is that really true? And what would it mean if music wasn't universal?

There's a lot we can learn about the universality of music by comparing how different cultures create music!

What counts as "music"?

Defining music is more difficult than it might seem because our definitions of music are influenced by our own experience and our culture's ideas about music. What one group thinks of as music will not always directly translate to another culture!

If you come from a culture that uses flutes and plays musical scales, you might be excited to find remnants of 40,000-year-old flutes. That seems like good evidence of music being really old! The problem is that not all societies use flutes and melodies as the building blocks of their music. How can we decide what counts as "music" when it might not look (or sound!) anything like our own music, thousands of years later and maybe in a different part of the world?

Another challenge is figuring out if the culture itself treats (or treated) a particular practice as "music." For example, the chanting of religious texts in Islam or Judaism might be deemed as musical by those unfamiliar with the culture, but are considered recitations—not music—by the practitioners themselves.

Even the idea of music being a specific, separate thing we do, play, love, or listen to depends on our culture. Separating these sounds from all other forms of activity going on (like dancing, celebrating, or chanting) is a particularly Western way of thinking about music. Across the world, some cultures (and their languages!) don't have specific words for what outsiders might consider to be similar musical practices.

How to identify music in different cultures

Instead, music researchers focus on features of the music, rather than deciding what is or is not music. For example, many cultures have music that is grouped into subdivisions of two or three beats and use musical scales that are not symmetrical—and each of those can count as an individual feature used by a community. 

If we come from a melody-building, flute-playing culture, it's a pretty tall order to look for that particular feature in every single community on earth, at all points in time! For music to really be universal, every group and culture would have to agree that what they are all doing is nearly the same. When you consider all the different cultures and communities, you can see how this  becomes a pretty complicated question! What researchers instead focus on is finding musical features that occur in most places, most of the time.

So, is music universal?

People all share the same biology, so it makes sense that we have the capacity to learn skills like singing and moving in time to a beat—the building blocks for many musical systems. And just like with language, the music of other cultures can be dramatically different compared to what we grew up with!

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Poet and Harvard Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” A new Harvard study suggests he may have been right.

The study, a collaboration among psychology research associate Samuel Mehr, human evolutionary biology graduate student Manvir Singh, alumni Luke Glowacki and Hunter York, and Associate Professor of Psychology Max Krasnow, found that people around the globe could identify lullabies, dancing songs, and healing songs — regardless of the songs’ cultural origin — after hearing just a 14-second clip.

The finding suggests that not only is music deeply rooted in human nature, but that some types of songs transcend cultural boundaries. The study is described in a Jan. 25 paper in Current Biology.

“It seems like all humans make music in some way or another,” Mehr said. “But there’s not great empirical evidence for whether or not the different types of music they make share features across cultures. One way to test that is with this type of naïve listener experiment … and the results suggest that, in some cases, the answer is yes.”

The findings are based on a wide-reaching experiment in which 750 online participants in 60 countries listened to brief excerpts of songs collected from nearly 90 small societies around the globe, including hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and subsistence farmers.

Participants then answered six questions, rating each clip on a six-point scale according to whether they believed the song was used for dancing, soothing a baby, healing illness, or expressing love. Two additional uses — mourning the dead and telling a story — were included as controls.

A data science postdoctoral fellow with the Harvard Data Science Initiative, Mehr said the data showed that — despite participants’ unfamiliarity with the cultures, the random sampling of each song, and the short duration of the samples — people were able to reliably infer the songs’ functions, and their ratings were consistent across the globe.

The findings ran counter to expert expectations.

Mehr, Glowacki and Krasnow had also surveyed academics — including ethnomusicologists, music theorists, performers, composers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists — about whether they believed people would be able to identify the song types.

“We gave them an idealized version of the experiment we ran,” Mehr said. “Imagine you have unlimited time and resources, and the ability to record every song that’s ever been sung from every culture, and could take those and play them for people all over the world.

“The question we asked was, if we play those recordings for people, are they going to be able to tell … this is a lullaby or this is for dancing?” he continued. “Predominantly among ethnomusicologists, the answer was no. And not only that, but they predicted that people’s responses will be inconsistent with one another. That’s not what we found.”

Singh also wanted to know whether listeners were recognizing certain non-musical characteristics of the songs — lullabies are typically sung by one woman, for example, while dancing songs more often involve a group.

“The question then was if people are able to do this, how on earth are they doing it?” Singh said. “How is it that a guy in Tallahassee can recognize a dancing song from a hunter-gatherer tribe from Southeast Asia whose culture he knows nothing about?”

To test that, the team conducted a second study. This time, they asked listeners about a number of contextual and musical features, ranging from the number and gender of the singers to the tempo and melodic complexity of the song.

“From all these, we get a very simple and rudimentary analysis of each song,” Mehr said. “It turns out when you ask people these very simple questions about songs, they agree with each other very highly. Even on really subjective musical features, like melodic complexity, they tend to make consistent ratings with one another.”

When data from the two studies were combined, the results showed that songs of the same function shared similar characteristics — lullabies, for example, tended to be slower and melodically simpler than dance tunes — suggesting that something about musical characteristics crosses cultural boundaries.

“It seems like all humans make music in some way or another. But there’s not great empirical evidence for whether or not the different types of music they make share features across cultures. One way to test that is with this type of naïve listener experiment … and the results suggest that, in some cases, the answer is yes.” Samuel Mehr

Mehr said the researchers were able to draw their wide-reaching conclusions because the songs used in the study were drawn from the discography of the Natural History of Song , a Harvard-based project that creates rigorously constructed databases of ethnographic text about music and audio recordings of music.

“We assembled all of the examples of music in a systematic way, so that inferences drawn from the whole discography are generalizable to humans as opposed to merely the cultures that were studied,” said Mehr, who directs the project with Singh and Glowacki, who is now a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. “This has been a problem in music research in general. The studies that have been pitched as studies of universality in music have typically included only a handful of cultures, or didn’t systematically sample different genres of music in a principled fashion.”

Going forward, the team hopes to conduct more in-depth analysis of the music collected for the Natural History of Song, and do additional studies to improve the inferences about music’s ability to cross cultural boundaries.

“One weakness of this study is that the listeners we’re sampling from are people on the internet, so they all have access to things like YouTube, and they probably are all familiar, say, with Taylor Swift,” Mehr said. “Do the results tell us about the design of the human mind, or do they tell us about what modern listeners hear in the music of the world?”

To address that, the team is working to translate the studies into more than two dozen languages and run online experiments in many more countries. Singh and Glowacki are also working to bring the study into the field by playing song excerpts for members of small-scale societies in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

“That is the most exciting part,” Mehr said. “Because these are people who have had little exposure to the internet or radio or Western culture. The only music they know is their own music. We’ll find out whether they share the same conceptions of form and function in music with our English-speaking internet users.”

In the end, Mehr said, the study and others like it will enable scientists to form a foundation for answering a number of long-running questions about music and its evolution.

“That’s one of the most important contributions we’d like to make to the field,” he said. “This kind of basic, cross-cultural fact-finding about human behavior is the first step in developing a new science of music.”

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Chapter 3: Literacies across the disciplines

3.6.4 The language of music (research essay)

Alana Thigpen

English 102, November 2020

If asked to name a language, what would be your first answer? If you are reading this in English, that would likely be the first one you would list, followed by French, Spanish, and Mandarin, all considered some of the most common languages in the world. But what if I told you there was an even more universal language, that everyone in the world can understand? That language is that of music. We can all be connected by music in the world, but to do that it has to be seen by the general public first as a language, and then we must all learn how to effectively communicate with it. This paper will highlight music as a language for all, and discuss the flaws in today’s musical teachings, and what can be done to fix this.

Introduction

When we communicate, we do not often think “what is a language and how does it work?” because it is in our nature to make then noises that pass as words. But what happens when you do analyze what is considered a language and what is not? Do we find that more things pass under the definition than we previously expected, or is it proven that some of the words we even use today are not considered part of our native language? In this essay, I will focus on what a language is considered to be and show you there is more to language than just words on a paper.

As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, language is a means of communication that consists of words, sounds, or gestures between people that are often structured easy to comprehend format that is shared within a community (Oxford Dictionary, n.d.). But why is it that language is limited to what is writing in the pages or spoken word between people? I believe that while there are many languages in the world, one that is universal to all humans, and even some other species, is music. Music can be categorized under limitless genres; based on sound, style, audience perception, or place of origin, but one thing that will never change is its outreach to people. Some may say that music is not a viable language simply because it does not always contain words or an active conversation. But to those people, I would like to make the claim that music is a means of communication between groups of people, varying in many genres, and there is a little something for everyone. I do not think it is humanly possible to dislike all forms of music, because music conveys emotion, something we can all understand thoroughly.

When an artist or arranger wants to release a particular set of feelings, they can easily display their intentions through instrument composition. This is a methodical process to give the song a certain sound, which can either hold meaning on its own or can be accompanied by vocals to further boost the message. Either way, when you hear a song, you can often easily decipher the mood associated with it because of this instrumentation. While I am no arranger myself, I know that this quickly recognized tone is not a simple task to create. With some research from an online source called Music Theory, the structure of timbre, also known as sound quality or sound color (Music Theory, 2015) can be easily explained to anyone, regardless of musical experience. Sound color is an important aspect of music as a whole. When you consider the color, you often first have to focus on the instrumentation of the piece, what instruments were chosen, and more importantly, how does it contribute to the piece as a whole? The variation of instruments then adds dimension to the music, which will help the listener understand, even if they never notice the variety within the composition.

For example, think of the tone of a sad song. Then, try to associate a color group with the tone; most likely, you thought of a group of purples or blues, right? This is no mere coincidence; from the time we were children, this color group has almost always been associated with somber emotions, and the instrumentation of the song can therefore create this color palette. The song I thought of in this example was “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera. This well-known song features a dramatic piano intro, joined by the solemn tones of the singers and the flowing of the orchestra. This combination will easily convey the tone of the music, giving every component a different intensity, or in this instance, color.

How music is taught

With this in mind, it is easy to see how structured classrooms are not useful for learning the creation of music. If music is actively used to convey emotion what would be the point in replicating someone else’s pieces all day? The piece “Informal Music Learning, Improvisation and Teacher Education” by Wright and Kennellepoulos highlights the extreme creativity of young children in artistic settings (Wright and Kennellepoulos, 71). But while this is true, as students enter primary school, they are often found assimilating to the likes of the teacher’s standards as well as to fit in with their peers. This will lead to a disconnect between the student and teacher, where the teacher assigns, and the student completes without independent thought. In a musical setting, this will lead to a sense of tediousness when it comes to an assigned piece of music. In a basic music class, the student would file in, grab their instruments, and wait for the instructor to tell them the lesson plan. Oftentimes this is as simple as pulling out their most recent piece of sheet music to play all together from start to finish or focusing on a certain section for the entirety of the class. This droning of the music will oftentimes become dull after the first or second class. There would be even less excitement to attend the class if the tone of the music were not appealing to the crowd of students.

For example, if the director of a seventh-grade chamber orchestra were to assign a new piece that was somber in tone and had a slow tempo, the energetic students would not be excited to constantly repeat the sad song during class and would be less engaged overall. But if they attended the class, expecting that somber song, and were surprised with a new, upbeat piece that they had heard on the radio before, they would be more likely to participate and enjoy the day’s lesson. I believe it is common knowledge that allowing a person to pick what they want to do will overall increase their participation in the task. That can then be applied to the music classroom as well. Allowing a student to choose the song they want to practice or perform with foster an informal learning environment, increasing not only participation but also conformability. In my high school orchestra class, my teacher would often allow the class to vote on the piece they wanted to practice for the day. While this did not always please everyone, the class saw fairness in this approach and were generally more comfortable playing aloud than if they were forced to play a piece they had no fondness for.

A big question to be tackled is what is music literacy? Obviously, literacy has something to do with language, but that is not specific enough in this case. In James Gee’s “What is Literacy?,” he explained to his readers that literacy is the control of language, whether it be your primary or secondary discourse (Gee, 23). While he goes into depth about the difference between primary and secondary discourse, he says something that makes my case particularly strong. “For most of us, playing a musical instrument, or dancing or using a second language are skills we attained by some mixture of acquisition and learning” (21). The context around this quote is his discussion of acquisition version learned forms of literacy, such as learning English from home versus learning it in school. But when applied to music it is clear that these guidelines are not as strict, for music cannot be dictated the way the rules of Standard Written English (SWE) are. Music is a secondary discourse according to Gee, whereas a primary discourse would be your native language. He is correct in the claim that music is a mixture of learning and acquisition, but is that always the way that music students come about their musical careers? In the classroom, it is more often a game of call and response than it is the acquisition of new notes and techniques. Teachers have gone to school for years, hopeful to master the art of music, and in the classroom, their dominance is present because of their feeling of superiority from this time in school. Through this dominance, they are oftentimes blocking the creativity of students from the first day in class.

In Sheri Jaffurs’s “The impact of informal music learning practices in the classroom, or how I learned how to teach from a garage band” she discussed the traditional ways of teaching music versus her observations of her past students in a secluded setting for a group rehearsal of their garage band. Jaffurs made a point that society says musical education in two separate categories: the formal and the informal. In the formal, you would find the school educated learning path, while in informal musical development, you find your own time, wherever you desire, and take a lot of time to improvise and discover the instrument yourself (Jaffurs, 190). This conversation is just a translation of Gee’s conversation of literacy via discourse but applied to the musical world. Here, formal music is considered the right way to learn, and the informal suggestions are often overlooked or discredited. This article then focuses on what she calls “versus theory” (190), where she compares informal and formal approaches. The traditional approach to formal music has always included classical music with western styles even if she personally tried to integrate more common and popular pieces into her lesson plans (190-191). After recognizing that musicality and individuality were not encouraged with goals being set and lesson plans being introduced (191). Basically, the teacher taking charge of the class was allowing the students to sit back and go with the flow rather than coming up with unique ideas and bringing some variety to the lessons. Upon her observation of her students’ garage band, she could not help but notice the lack of planning amongst other things. This seemed to really take her by surprise because their seeming spontaneous meetings were followed by a dysfunctional decision on what to practice and what time to call it quits. Although things were not organized up to the teacher’s standards necessarily, she concluded that informal music will always be present in a musical setting (192). Essentially, even in a classroom, when the teacher turns her attention away from a section, the students are bound to fiddle in some way from boredom. Even in a classroom, when the teacher turns her attention away from a section, the students are bound to fiddle in some way from boredom.

How to fix a broken system

In my high school marching and concert band class, this boredom-induced fiddling was exactly the case. Our director would have us form a semi-circle in the band room to rehearse our music together, but if a section had trouble with a particular section of the music, her focus would shift in order to assist them, and we would find ourselves so impatient that we would play our instruments as quietly as possible, going over our personal favorite parts. While this was a helpful practice for the students to stay sharp and somewhat on task, the director heavily discouraged it. In Rontrell Callahan’s “An examination of high school directors’ use of cooperative approaches in a marching band setting” he heavily discusses the role he thinks a marching band director should play in the eyes of the student. First and foremost, the band director should clearly be capable of controlling the students in whatever way is most effective (Callahan, 3). But with this in mind, the question of what is considered too much control comes into play. In my case, my director did not want anything to distract the struggling section from succeeding in their task. But by doing this I believe that she was limiting the musical expression of the other students, while also isolating the struggling section which can consequently further worsen their performance. So, although Callahan’s article justified behaviors exhibited by my teacher such as patience, understanding of different instrument groups and music theory, and putting being a teacher first (3-4), they failed to realize how a modern student can tend to feel isolated and stunted under these conditions. In Rontrell Callahan’s “An examination of high school directors’ use of cooperative approaches in a marching band setting” he heavily discusses the role he thinks a marching band director should play in the eyes of the student. First and foremost, the band director should clearly be capable of controlling the students in whatever way is most effective (Callahan, 3). But with this in mind, the question of what is considered too much control comes into play. In my case, my director did not want anything to distract the struggling section from succeeding in their task. But by doing this I believe that she was limiting the musical expression of the other students, while also isolating the struggling section which can consequently further worsen their performance. So, although Callahan’s article justified behaviors exhibited by my teacher such as patience, understanding of different instrument groups and music theory, and putting being a teacher first (3-4), they failed to realize how a modern student can tend to feel isolated and stunted under these conditions.

In an art class for example, if you were told to paint whatever you desired, and after you were done your art was compared to the teacher’s example for a grade, obviously you would feel as though the teacher deceived you and you were being limited artistically. This is similar in a musical setting as well. I interpret music based on tone, tempo, and how it makes me feel, so to be told my interpretation is wrong because the teacher wants it a specific way is disheartening as a creative musician. Another author, Jennifer Amox, had a similar opinion to mine. She is a middle school band teacher, who specializes in flute and would later become the author of “Polished Gems: A Supplemental Curriculum for Developing the Musical Literacy and Musical Expression Skills of Junior High Flute Students.” Even based on the title you can tell how this was an enticing piece to me. Her first suggestion for improving the learning and expression of musical students was the familiarity of the instrument itself (Amox, 1-2). This fundamental is crucial to achieving musical literacy and can be done in both formal and informal settings. This familiarity with the instrument is essentially making the instrument an extension of your body, where it would be of similar importance to communication as the mouth is to us as humans.

Once the fundamentals of an instrument are fully understood, musical development can take place anywhere. The practice is a crucial part of becoming a musician, but it does not always have to occur in the classroom to be considered quality study time. In a study by Amox’s colleague Welker, it was shown that the students with high-chair placements in the Arkansas band they taught would spend at least three hours a week practicing their instruments (11). Furthermore, the fact that every middle school band student has to audition for a spot in the band will increase competition as well as practice, encouraging the students to only join if they are truly passionate about music. You can only speak music if you are dedicated to learning it, the same as any other language. Amox’s “performance plan” was that guide to becoming fluent in the language of music (12). She believed that a mental picture of your final performance and the glory of it all will help students make steps towards achieving the success they crave (12). This is similar to learning any other language as well, where you start because you want to be able to visit a specific place and fluently speak their language; it gives you a sense of belonging and accomplishment that can rarely be found anywhere else.

One of the most insightful musical experiences I have ever been a part of was my time as a saxophone intern at “Amistad Caribbean Arts Camp” in the summer of 2020. Here I was introduced to a low stress (virtual) environment, with students of all ages and musical expertise. While I was initially an intern, I almost always found myself learning something new alongside the students. In this particular exchange, the music really did speak for itself. Additionally, the teachers were professional musicians who volunteered their time and knowledge to introduce many to a new culture or discourse of music. Circling back to Gee, music has all sorts of discourse based on origin, instruments, and rhythm amongst other factors. Going from school taught saxophone to Caribbean style playing was something I feel as though many formally taught musicians do not get to experience first-hand. I now know how to communicate in another discourse of music, versus just what I was taught inside of a formal classroom setting. Over zoom, I participated in drum circles, engaging lessons on culture and games just for fun. The informal setting allowed for a more personal connection with my instructs as well as the music itself.

One incredibly unique thing about this experience was the approach of the instructors. In a journal done by Lucy Green, called “The Informal Learning Approach” she discusses the steps that a teacher or instructor should take in order to best fit the needs of the students. One principal factor on this list is considering the student’s perspective (Green, 2008). By this, it is meant that the instructor takes a step back from their previously conceived headspace and consider what the students want to do as well. At my band camp, this was a common theme. During the three weeks we met Monday through Friday, there would be consistent feedback from me and my fellow interns, as well as some of the students ranging from four to about seventeen. Richard Goodstein’s “An Investigation into Leadership Behaviors and Descriptive Characteristics of High School Band Directors in the United States” a listing of desirable traits for effective learning in bands. In his research, it was found that factors such as band size, number of assistants, budgeting, and director age all directly correlated with the success of the group (Goodstein, 15-16). These attributes were prevalent in my internship group as well. The entire group was comprised of 30 people, including the staff. Goodstein said that the lesser the numbers, the more one on one interactions can take place, making it a more personal learning experience (15). We know this is true because of college student to teacher ratios. Oftentimes, a student will prioritize a school in order to get this more personal relationship with their instructor, allowing for better feedback and more realistic class sizes where everyone can get the attention they need. As far as the number of assistants goes, there were a total of ten interns scattered across the various instrument sections, allowing the younger children to have multiple outlets for questions and interaction. Our camp was funded through the Boys and Girls Club, as well as private donators, and the virtual aspect of it allowed money to be saved, which could then be redistributed to the students in other ways. And finally, the director’s age, which varied amongst the musical instructors. But this variety of ages, races, and experiences allowed for wisdom and energy to be simultaneously conveyed to the group, making every day more of an adventure.

The real takeaway from this is that music should be a victim of school standardization, for it needs to be able to flow through the creative minds of all people throughout the world. We all come from diverse backgrounds, schooling systems, and all have unique origin stories, but music can help us show all of that and more. Instrumentation, sound color, and lyrics can all be the gateway from one cultural experience to another with open learning styles and informal settings that allow all parties to be comfortable and welcome the presence of innovative ideas. Throughout all of my musical career, I can say I have learned an abundance of techniques, styles, and histories of music. But in the years that I spent in a school setting, I have never felt as comfortable being me and expressing myself through music as I did in those three short weeks at Amistad Caribbean Arts Camp. I believe all musical programs should foster this flexibility in the music as well as in the mindset they maintained.

Amox, J. (2018). Chapters 1 and 2. In 971570742 754142304 P. Quest (Ed.), Polished Gems: A Supplemental Curriculum for Developing the Musical Literacy and Musical Expression Skills of Junior High Flute Students (pp. 1-12). Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest.

Callahan, R. (2013). An Examination of High School Directors’ Use of Cooperative Learning Approaches in a Marching Band Setting (Master’s thesis, Tennessee State University, 2013) (pp. 1-4). Ann Arbor: ProQuest.

Gee, J. (1989). What Is Literacy? Journal of Education, 171 (1), 18-25.

Green, L. (2008). Informal Learning. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://www.musicalfuturesinternational.org/informal-learning.html

Goodstein, R. E. (1987). An Investigation into Leadership Behaviors and Descriptive Characteristics of High School Band Directors in the United States. Journal of Research in Music Education, 35 (1), 13-25. doi:10.2307/3345165

Jaffurs, S. E. (2004). The impact of informal music learning practices in the classroom, or how I learned how to teach from a garage band. International Journal of Music Education, 22 (3), 189-200. doi:10.1177/0255761404047401

Music Theory. (2015, September 23). Musical colors and timbre. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://www.aboutmusictheory.com/musical-colors.html

Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Alana Thigpen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Quote Investigator®

Tracing Quotations

Though Music Be a Universal Language, It Is Spoken with All Sorts of Accents

George Bernard Shaw? Alan Lomax? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Henry David Thoreau?

Dear Quote Investigator: I believe that the famous playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw said something like the following:

Music may be a universal language, but it’s spoken with all sorts of peculiar accents.

I checked some quotation references and was unable to find this statement. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In December 1890 George Bernard Shaw wrote a music review that contrasted the divergent sounds produced by orchestras in Manchester and Lancashire. The drummer in Manchester employed “mighty drum-sticks” which could perform well on the “final crescendo roll” of the “Trold King’s dance” in the Peer Gynt suite. But the drummer in Lancashire excelled in pieces that required greater delicacy. Boldface has been added to excerpts: [1] 1949 (Reprint of 1932 edition), Music in London: 1890-94 by Bernard Shaw, Volume 1 of 3, (Music review dated December 10, 1890), Start Page 90, Quote Page 91 and 92, Constable and Company Limited, … Continue reading

Thus, though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents; and the Lancashire accent differs sufficiently from the Cockney accent to make the Manchester band a welcome variety, without counting the change from Cowen or Cusins to Hallé.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Shaw’s remark about accents was built upon a pre-existing figurative framework. Indeed, describing music as a universal language has a long history. For example, in 1826 a periodical called “The Ladies’ Monthly Museum” printed the following passage: [2] 1826 July, The Ladies’ Monthly Museum, Volume 24, Carl Maria Von Weber, Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Printed and Published by Dean and Munday, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Music, beyond any other art or science, seems to be the result of intuitive taste and feeling. Some persons are born with a peculiar sensibility to the harmony of sounds, while others are destitute almost of the power of distinguishing the relations between them. Music is the universal language of nature; and man, whether in a savage or a civilized state, seeks for gratification from the charms of this divine art; which becomes generally interesting, because it appeals directly to the senses and imagination.

In 1835 the prominent poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea”, and he referred to the universality of music. Longfellow’s fame assured that this quotation was placed in multiple reference works: [3] 1835, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea by H. W. Longfellow, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 1: Ancient Spanish Ballads, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google … Continue reading

The goatherd of Switzerland and the Tyrol—the Carpathian boor—the Scotch Highlander—the English ploughboy, singing as he drives his team a-field,— peasant—serf—slave—all, all have their ballads and traditionary songs. Music is the universal language of mankind,—poetry their universal pastime and delight.

Around 1840 the notable author Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay that was published many years later in 1902. The posthumous work was titled “The Service” and included the following idealized conception of music: [4] 1902, The Service by Henry David Thoreau, Edited by F. B. Sanborn, (Editor’s note stated that the essay was written about 1840), Chapter 2: What Music Shall We Have?, Start Page 11, Quote Page … Continue reading [5] 1902 July 26, Literary Digest, Volume 25, Number 4, Posthumous Essays By Thoreau, Start Page 101, Quote Page 102, Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

There is as much music in the world as virtue. In a world of peace and love music would be the universal language, and men greet each other in the fields in such accents as a Beethoven now utters at rare intervals from a distance. All things obey music as they obey virtue. It is the herald of virtue. It is God’s voice.

In 1890 Shaw referred to music as a universal language as noted previously in this article. Additional context was provided by the following extended excerpt: [6] 1949 (Reprint of 1932 edition), Music in London: 1890-94 by Bernard Shaw, Volume 1 of 3, (Music review dated December 10, 1890), Start Page 90, Quote Page 91 and 92, Constable and Company Limited, … Continue reading

Again, the son of thunder who handles the drums in the Manchester band could hardly, with those mighty drum-sticks, play the solo passage in the finale to Beethoven’s E flat Pianoforte Concerto as delicately as Chaine does whenever the pianist gives him a chance; but then Chaine is equally at a loss when he comes to that final crescendo roll, with its culminating stroke upon the last note of the Trold King’s dance, in the Peer Gynt suite, a moment which would be one of the highest in the life of his Manchester rival. Thus, though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents; and the Lancashire accent differs sufficiently from the Cockney accent to make the Manchester band a welcome variety, without counting the change from Cowen or Cusins to Hallé.

In 1949 a folklorist and music collector named Alan Lomax wrote a review titled “Tribal Voices in Many Tongues” in the “Saturday Review of Literature” that included a thematically similar quotation referring to “a devilish lot of dialects”: [7] 1949 May 28, Saturday Review of Literature, Tribal Voices in Many Tongues by Alan Lomax, Start Page 43, Quote Page 43, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

I suspect it was on a tourist’s visit to Naples in the nineteenth century that some sentimental literary gentleman opined, “Music is a universal language.” This absurd notion has bedeviled collectors of folk and primitive music ever since. I only wish I could hold the author’s head firmly against the bell of my loudspeaker while I played him a series of albums. Soft-headed as he was, he would be forced to say, “Music may be a universal language, but what a devilish lot of dialects!”

In 1979 the well-known pianist and conductor André Previn edited a book called “Orchestra”. He used the remark by Shaw as a chapter epigraph: [8] 1979, Orchestra, Edited by André Previn, Interviews by Michael Foss, (Epigraph of Chapter: In Another Country), Quote Page 65, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

Though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents. BERNARD SHAW, Music in London (1890)

In 1997 an article discussing orchestras that was printed in the “New Statesman” of London included a short quotation from Shaw: [9] 1997 January 10, New Statesman, “You want to feel Berlin? Visit it. The orchestra just plays music” by Dermot Clinch, Start Page 42, Quote Page 42, Statesman & Nation Pub. Co. Ltd., … Continue reading

A century ago the question didn’t arise: George Bernard Shaw took a trip from London to Manchester and suffered an acute attack of culture shock. Music, he wrote, may well be a universal language but it spoke “in all sorts of accents”.

In conclusion, in December 1890 George Bernard Shaw did write a sentence that strongly matched the one presented by the questioner. His comment was prompted by the dissimilarities he heard in the music played by two orchestras in England.

(Great thanks to Allan Kolsky whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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IELTS Writing Task 2: Music Essay (Band 9)

Here’s my band 9 sample answer for the question below.

Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

1. Sample Band 9

It is often said that music has the power to unite and connect people, regardless of their cultural backgrounds or ages. I completely agree with this view, and will give my reasons below.

Music can certainly reach across cultural and national boundaries and bring people together. Perhaps the best example of this would be the Live Aid concerts that took place back in the 1980s, and which were broadcast to a global audience. Two live events were held simultaneously in the UK and the US, and the objective was to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. The concerts were a huge success, both in terms of the number of people around the world who watched them and their impact on international public awareness of the famine. They demonstrated, I believe, that music truly is the planet’s global language.

Just as it transcends cultures, music also has the ability to connect people from different generations. Regardless of age, we can all enjoy a memorable melody, a strong rhythm or a beautiful singing voice, and the best songs seem to have the same magical effect on all of us. This would explain why televised music competitions, such as ‘The X Factor’ or ‘The Voice’, are such popular prime-time shows. These programmes attract incredibly broad audiences because singing and popular songs appeal to children, parents and grandparents alike. I would argue that no other form of entertainment can bring families together in this way.

In conclusion, I believe that music is unique in its capacity to create shared experiences between people, irrespective of culture and age.

(265 words)

2. Sample Band 9

Many believe that music is an effective means of strengthening the bond between people from different cultural backgrounds and generations. From my perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with this point of view.

To begin with, music has an exceptional ability to  evoke a wide range of feelings  of the listeners such as sadness, anger, and happiness regardless of their country of origin. Although it is true that the lyrics of a song might be  incomprehensible  due to the language barrier, its melody is  linguistically neutral . In fact, in order to feel the melody of a song, the listener does not need to fully understand the language in which the song is written. For example, a Vietnamese may fall in love with a Korean pop song or a Japanese may shed tears while listening to a  melancholic piece of music  written by an American musician. This is a clear evidence that shows music is a universal language that  transcends  all cultural boundaries.

In addition, music is a  common ground  for people to understand each other better  irrespective  of their age. Nowadays, it is not surprising to see young individuals are fond of the  nostalgic feel  of a song released years ago, and likewise, modern music genres such as hip-hop, rap, and techno are also becoming increasingly popular amongst older people. For instance, it is commonplace to see a family of different generations gathered together in a karaoke room, singing and dancing to the same song with much joy.

In conclusion, music is an important part of people’s lives and it can also act as a powerful means of  uniting  people of different cultures and ages

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Why Music Is Not a Universal Language

Physics and culture shape music, but as a recent video essay breaks it down, the results are more varied that most people think

Maris Fessenden

Former correspondent

Koto performance

Every so often, a study grabs headlines as researchers attempt to answer the question: "Is music a universal language?" The way that chords can tug at heartstrings and tear ducts without words might lead people to assume that music can transcend differences of speech to convey emotions. Ethen of the Sideways YouTube channel ,  however, makes  compelling case for why the answer is a strong "No." Or, at least, a thoughtful  "This is a badly worded question."

Yes, there are some elements that music traditions around the world seem to share. But, as Sideways' latest video essay  points out, "That's because we're all basically the same from an anatomical perspective and we all live on Earth, which exists in the universe and has to abide by the laws of nature."

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As the video explains, j ust as  large animals that are more likely to be dangerous to humans made louder, low frequency sounds, small animals make higher pitched, softer sounds. So it makes sense that Gustav Holst composed " Mars, the Bringer of War " in his suite  The Planets  to feature low, powerful brass lines. Or why  the haka , a traditional dance challenge in  Māori  culture, involves shouting in a deep voice rather than speaking softly.

Additionally,  t he physics of how things vibrate does give us a common series of notes seen in Western music and some other traditions. Human brains seem wired to associate rhythms with movement and hence dance.

But to say that music is a universal language because of this is oversimplifying things. Th e latest research supports the idea that music similarities aren't really all that similar. For instance, in a recent study of  200 musical field recordings from 137 countries , a whopping 1,706 were flagged as outliers by computer analysis.

Other studies offer mixed results. In  one large survey published in 2018 , researchers suggest that maybe people can tell if a song is a lullaby or a dance and sometimes if it is a healing song, but don't fare so well with identifying love songs. Though music in general does seem to  light up areas of the brain  associated with reward, this might have to do with the way music sets up patterns of expectation and then fulfills them. So people's brains do universally react to music in similar ways. But a specific song won't necessarily elicit the same emotional response in every person. As  the Sideways video points out, interpreting patterns of expectation can be subjective and cultural. 

When you break it down, what does seem to be universal when it comes to music? That humans enjoy it, however their culture has learned to make it.

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Maris Fessenden | | READ MORE

Maris Fessenden is a freelance science writer and artist who appreciates small things and wide open spaces.

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  • Sample Essays

Music Has Been And Will Be The Universal Language Of Human Beings | Band 7.5 IELTS Essay Sample

by Manjusha Nambiar · Published June 8, 2022 · Updated November 8, 2023

Music has been and will be the universal language of human beings. Do you agree or disagree?

Here is a band 7.5 IELTS essay on this topic written by one of our students. Need help with IELTS writing? Get your IELTS essays, letters and reports corrected by me.

Band 7.5 IELTS essay sample

Music is present in almost all parts of the world. It has always had a great influence on humans and their civilization. Most people will agree that it is the universal language of human beings.

Music brings people of different backgrounds together and people develop a bond during a musical experience. We have seen people singing in unison in a football stadium and some people among them do not even know what they are singing. We can see a guy in India or China humming a tune of a western song. The huge crowd, anywhere in the world, at a concert of a big music star is another example of the influence of music. Music transcends the border. Indian music is loved in Pakistan even though both countries have a sore relationship. Music can influence everyone regardless of their culture, ethnic background or nationality.

Music can soothe a crying child and decrease the anxiety of a troubled person. Studies have shown that the palpitation and anxiety in a person can be brought down by calming music. It is a very interesting fact because heart rate and breathing are controlled by autonomic nervous system and it can be altered by music. We have also seen music galvanising the crowd in a protest rally or inspiring a soldier in a war. If we say that we do not know the full extent of the effect music has on humans, it would not be an understatement.

To conclude, music has been a universal language since ancient times and it will be in the future too. Music makes the world a beautiful place and I am sure that the musicians will keep up the great work and inspire the future generation.

Music has been and will  continue to be the universal language of mankind – Band 7 IELTS essay sample

There is no doubt that music has become an integral part of people’s lives all around the world. Although,  music plays a significant role in humans’ lives and the same will continue, I believe that it is not the language of the universe.

Firstly, music is a form of performing arts, and not all living individuals can produce such art pieces. This is because producing a song or melody involves the complex cognitive process of the brain which requires creativity, music literacy, and skills which many people do not possess. For example, people who can create music forms have spent their entire childhood for learning these skills and have molded their brains to acquire such knowledge to reach the stage, at which, this art form can be composed.

Another important point to consider is that each song has a distinctive meaning to different people. The reason for this is that people connect a variety of memories and various emotions with tunes and lyrics. For instance, lyrics of the sound-track title “Try Everything” might motivate people to push themselves beyond their limits whereas it may arouse sadness in a few as they may feel that they are not attempting all the possible avenues and this could agonize them. Furthermore, cultural aspects could also lead to multiple interpretations of the specific words written in songs. By contrast, if mankind displays the same understanding of this title track, that would have justified music being the common lingo of the cosmos for humankind.

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that music is not the universal language as it can neither be produced by every individual nor does it communicate the same meaning to everyone.

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music universal language essay

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  • Music Essays

Sample Essay Paper on Music as a Universal Language

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With music, according to Patel, A. D. (2008), an individual can choose to communicate across different linguistic boundaries or cultures. This is not possible with ordinary language. As a result, I tend to agree that music is a universal language. Many may not understand the lyrics of foreign songs, but we all share the same emotions when we hear similar chords and melodies (Ockelford, 2013). Based on emotions, individuals can easily detect the various emotions allied to new music idioms and the beats conveyed. It is worthwhile noting that high pitch, more fluctuation in pitch and rhythm as well as faster tempo conveys happiness while the opposite conveys sadness (Bannan, 2012).

The term universal describes something for every individual. When music is universal, according to Ockelford (2013), it has no limitations or exceptions based on geographical boundaries. Accordingly, when a product or service is universal, it becomes ubiquitous because all people in the world can access it. More so, everyone has a right to enjoy its benefits. On the other hand, language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other. Human language has the properties of productivity, recursively, and displacement of emotions, and relies entirely on social convention and learning.

Therefore, after exploring the meaning of the word universal and language, I still feel that music is a universal language. According to Bannan (2012), music brings people together irrespective of religion, culture, or race. With music, no barriers exist. More so, people can relate to all music regardless of the genre. It is also worthwhile noting that music enhances peace among people because it helps create friends.

Bannan, N. (2012).  Music, language, and human evolution . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ockelford, A. (2013).  Music, language and autism: Exceptional strategies for exceptional minds . London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Patel, A. D. (2008).  Music, language, and the brain . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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  • Music: A Universal Language

Music: A Universal Language - Essay Example

Music: A Universal Language

  • Subject: English
  • Type: Essay
  • Level: Masters
  • Pages: 1 (250 words)
  • Downloads: 19
  • Author: imoore

Extract of sample "Music: A Universal Language"

Music: A Universal Language History has inevitably witnessed how music creates significant impact to shape a culture, reform a state of mind, and allow the world to know the extent of human potentials when it comes to craftsmanship with a variety of possible sounds and approach to lyrical substance. In this manner, music is able to transcend time and space since it generally depicts subjects with which every appreciative human, regardless of age, may relate. Whether a personal milestone or a prevailing experience, a particular song conveys either through its suitable blend of rhythm, words, and the meaning entailed by them.

One concrete instance is the world-renowned Bob Marley whose association with the band “The Wailers” has altogether brought the reggae genre to hit mainstream. Characterized by offbeat style with its rhythmic pattern, majority of people from different nations find it rather effortless to jive and be familiar with its danceable tunes as they speak to human nature. In terms of lyrical content, it taps into broader themes of love, peace, sex, politics, and several other social issues which amply concern almost every individual, regardless of race and color.

Despite its Jamaican origins, reggae music like that which B. Marley portrayed in composing the song “One Love”, evidently, possesses an essence that occurs unfading with time, having been tuned into frequently by those who have studied and loved the music at depth. Moreover, during the 80s or the “New Wave” era, bands such as the Spandau Ballet, Modern English, ABC, Simply Red, and Tears for Fears are among the artists who introduced a funky revolution which reflected both social and industrial changes taking place in reality.

With the objective to advance from the mellow and groovy moments of the retrospective period of the 70s, New Wave music may be recognized with a trend based on rapid and percussive rhythm with an electrifying effect. At the time, the music did manage to establish a pop culture which similarly manifested itself in the sense of modern fashion and new commodities bought into by many followers. By being adaptive to the emotional needs of a certain time and multitude in history, a genre of music is eventually responded to by listeners in a way that later generations become equivalently affected.

Music, as it turns out, is communicated effectively that phrases and melodies combined readily stick to memory. There exists versatility in each musician whereby the techniques employed in lyrical creations are designed such that they enable music to embody a form of fluid language passing through the veins of the basic senses leading to the vulnerable core.

  • Jamaican Culture
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The role of typological universals in sla, universal grammar: evidence from language acquisition, the transformational power of music, are human emotions universal, animatics - the importance of music around the world, color, language, and perceptual categorization, french studies: approaches to language, music of the world.

music universal language essay

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David Ludden Ph.D.

Is Music a Universal Language?

Expressing the shared human experience..

Posted July 31, 2015 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

Music is a universal language. Or so musicians like to claim. “With music,” they’ll say, “you can communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries in ways that you can’t with ordinary languages like English or French.”

On one level, this statement is obviously true. You don’t have to speak French to enjoy a composition by Debussy. But is music really a universal language? That depends on what you mean by “universal” and what you mean by “language.”

Every human culture has music, just as each has language. So it’s true that music is a universal feature of the human experience. At the same time, both music and linguistic systems vary widely from culture to culture. In fact, unfamiliar musical systems may not even sound like music. I’ve overheard Western-trained music scholars dismiss Javanese gamelan as “clanging pots” and traditional Chinese opera as “cackling hens.”

Nevertheless, studies show that people are pretty good at detecting the emotions conveyed in unfamiliar music idioms—that is, at least the two basic emotions of happiness and sadness. Specific features of melody contribute to the expression of emotion in music. Higher pitch, more fluctuations in pitch and rhythm, and faster tempo convey happiness, while the opposite conveys sadness.

Perhaps then we have an innate musical sense. But language also has melody—which linguists call prosody. Exactly these same features—pitch, rhythm, and tempo—are used to convey emotion in speech, in a way that appears to be universal across languages.

Listen in on a conversation in French or Japanese or some other language you don’t speak. You won’t understand the content, but you will understand the shifting emotional states of the speakers. She’s upset, and he’s getting defensive. Now she’s really angry, and he’s backing off. He pleads with her, but she doesn’t buy it. He starts sweet-talking her, and she resists at first but slowly gives in. Now they’re apologizing and making up...

We understand this exchange in a foreign language because we know what it sounds like in our own language. Likewise, when we listen to a piece of music, either from our culture or from another, we infer emotion on the basis of melodic cues that mimic universal prosodic cues. In this sense, music truly is a universal system for communicating emotion.

But is music a kind of language? Again, we have to define our terms. In everyday life, we often use “language” to mean “communication system.” Biologists talk about the “language of bees,” which is a way to tell hive mates about the location of a new source of nectar.

Florists talk about the “language of flowers,” through which their customers can express their relationship intentions. “Red roses mean…. Pink carnations mean… Yellow daffodils mean…” (I’m not a florist, so I don’t speak flower.)

And then there’s “ body language .” By this we mean the postures, gestures, movements and facial expressions we use to convey emotions, social status, and so on. Although we often use body language when we speak, linguists don’t consider it a true form of language. Instead, it’s a communication system, just as are the so-called languages of bees and flowers.

By definition, language is a communication system consisting of (1) a set of meaningful symbols (words) and (2) a set of rules for combining those symbols (syntax) into larger meaningful units (sentences). While many species have communication systems, none of these count as a language because they lack one or the other component.

The alarm and food calls of many species consist of a set of meaningful symbols, but they lack rules for combining those symbols. Likewise, bird song and whale song have rules for combining elements, but these elements aren’t meaningful symbols. Only the song as a whole has meaning—“Hey ladies, I’m hot,” and “Hey other guys, stay away!”

music universal language essay

Like language, music has syntax—rules for ordering elements—such as notes, chords, and intervals—into complex structures. Yet none of these elements has meaning on its own. Rather, it’s the larger structure—the melody—that conveys emotional meaning. And it does that by mimicking the prosody of speech.

Since music and language share features in common, it’s not surprising that many of the brain areas that process language also process music. But this doesn’t mean that music is language. Part of the misunderstanding comes from the way we tend to think about specific areas of the brain as having specific functions. Any complex behavior, whether language or music or driving a car, will recruit contributions from many different brain areas.

Music certainly isn’t a universal language in the sense that you could use it to express any thought to any person on the planet. But music does have the power to evoke deep primal feelings at the core of the shared human experience. It not only crosses cultures, it also reaches deep into our evolutionary past. And it that sense, music truly is a universal language.

David Ludden is the author of The Psychology of Language: An Integrated Approach .

Patel, A. D. (2008). Music, language, and the brain. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Slevc, L. R., Okada, B. M. (2015). Processing structure in language and music: a case for shared reliance on cognitive control. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22, 637-652.

Tan, S.-L., Pfordresher, P., & Harré, R. (2010). Psychology of music: from sound to significance . New York, NY: Psychology Press.

David Ludden Ph.D.

David Ludden, Ph.D. , is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College.

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Music as a Universal Language, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 493

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Are the Words Extra?: Lyrics and Music

One of my favorite songs from the 1980’s has to be “Rock Me Amadeus”. Although I acknowledge that the song comes off a little corny as it switches between the distanced cool of the 80’s know-it-all and the strange mix of German and English- Would we call this mix Germlish or Engman?- it is just nonsensical enough to make me smile each time that I hear it. The tone of voice, the choice of the musical backdrop, and the genre tell the listener most of what they need to know about music, and, in most cases, the lyrics do not carry the song so much as fill up space so that the listener fully enjoys a good sax, drum, or guitar part. According to About.com, the first German-English hybrid verse translates to:

“He was Superstar, He was popular. He was so exalted, Because he had flair. He was a virtuose, Was a rock idol. And everyone shouted: Come on and rock me Amadeus!”

The German lyrics are not necessary to understand the tone of this song, no, but the best songs combine the musical tone with great lyrics to bring something extra to the table. (For the record, I am not including this in one of ‘the best songs’.) Understanding the lyrics is necessary only when they add something to our reaction to the music. In fact, Chik argues that many artists choose to record in English simply because it is recognizable worldwide. By the same token, some artists may choose their native, local languages as a deliberate stylistic choice to remain

“authentically local” (2010, pp. 508-509). In other areas, such as Hong Kong, Chik writes that the use of many languages indicates a cultural awareness and trendiness, and the ability to interpret bits of many languages gives an artist and listener an insider status.

The cool factor aside, music is both an industry and an art form. The decision to translate lyrics depends on the lyrics. People who do not speak German, Italian, Spanish, etc. frequently go to see opera performances in a language which they do not understand. The performance itself should carry the work, and this richness of tone has inspired writers as well. On the other side of this argument, some lyrics have no equal in another language, especially if they have special terms or peculiar expressions which hold meaning only to a certain cultural group. The novels of Russian writer Alexander Pushkin have not widely been translated into English, because his talent with the arrangement of words does not fully translate in a literal way (Bullock, 2011). The same problem may also occur in the translation of musical lyrics.

About.com. (n.d.) “Falco: Rock Me Amadeus.” Song Lyrics in German and English. Retrieved 30 May 2014 from <http://german.about.com/library/blmus_falco01e.htm>.

Bullock, P. (2011). Untranslated and Untranslatable? Pushkin’s Poetry in English, 1892-1931. Translation & Literature , 20 (3), 348-372. doi:10.3366/tal.2011.0036.

CHIK, A. (2010). Creative multilingualism in Hong Kong popular music. World Englishes , 29 (4), 508-522. doi:10.1111/j.1467-971X.2010.01678.x

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IELTS Academic Essay 20th Jan 2022 India 9 AM

Music has been and will continue to be the universal language of mankind. to what extent do you agree or disagree.

Makkar Ielts Essay Book

It is believed by some that music is universally understood across cultural and linguistic boundaries. I completely agree that music is one language that everybody understands no matter what tongue they speak.

The main reason why I believe that music is the universal language of mankind is that music expresses feelings that everyone understands. People can understand the emotion conveyed in the music even if they don’t understand the lyrics. The components that make up music like pitch, tempo, and rhythm are present in all cultures. Humans can easily interpret the two basic emotions happiness and sadness by analyzing a song’s acoustic features. For instance, higher pitches and a faster tempo convey happiness. Songs like the Korean Gangnam song, Spanish Despacito have been hits globally. This is a testament to the universality of music that regardless of the language, people appreciate and interpret music in the same way.

Moreover, music is universal because it’s an important part of all cultures, all over the world. In all the different types of music, one common attribute is that it brings people together, whether it’s by dancing to the music, singing to the music, or just celebrating the music. It is a vital part of religious ceremonies, weddings, birthday parties, and other social activities. It is also therapy for many as it can help with anxiety, depression, and stress and uplift one’s mood.

Finally, because of technological advancements music has had the opportunity to blend with music of other countries and transcend cultural differences. As such, music is in a unique position where it contains bits and pieces from every place on Earth. For example, Bollywood songs contain, English, Japanese and Spanish words. Therefore, music is one way that people are able to communicate with each other when words fail.

In conclusion, music is universal because it exists in all societies and people can understand its meaning regardless of the cultural background.

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  21. Music as a Universal Language, Essay Example

    Music as a Universal Language, Essay Example Pages: 2 Words: 493 Essay Hire a Writer for Custom Essay Use 10% Off Discount: "custom10" in 1 Click 👇 HIRE A WRITER! You are free to use it as an inspiration or a source for your own work. Are the Words Extra?: Lyrics and Music One of my favorite songs from the 1980's has to be "Rock Me Amadeus".

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