The Many Functions of Music

Music has long been an integral component of human culture, from folk songs passed from village to village through generations to ceremonial songs used during ceremonies or unification efforts. Theories on its function range from Plato’s interpretation that it shows us a glimpse of divine presence to Aristotle’s contention that music expresses universal truths.


Music derives its name from the Greek term mousike, which translates as “(art) of the muses.” In ancient Greece, these goddesses of music, poetry and dance were known as Mousike.

Scientists have various theories as to the origins of music. One hypothesis states that its creation may have emerged through natural sounds such as birds’ mating calls or the random rhythms created when walking or running.

Others believe humans invented music in order to communicate important messages such as warnings or instructions, although it could have developed as an outcome of language evolution. Whatever its source may have been, music has now become universal and pervasive.


Researchers who investigate musical functions employ various methodologies and approaches. Some use questionnaires to probe respondents about their use of music; whereas, other take an empirically-oriented approach focused on uncovering potential basic dimensions underpinning its various functions.

Music has long served as a social fabric, from work songs and lullabies, national anthems and film scores, all the way through to family songs and film scores – it unites families, communities and nations around the globe.

Anthropologist Alan P. Merriam’s landmark 1964 work detailed 10 social functions of music: emotional expression, aesthetic enjoyment, entertainment, communication, symbolic representation, physical response through dancing, enforcement of conformity and validation of social institutions or religious rituals.


Musical techniques are tools used by performers to increase coordination and accuracy through regular practice. They may range from scales to complex finger exercises. Musicians may also employ etudes – short technical pieces – as a means of honing specific techniques.

Vocal technique includes vocal runs, or rapid sequences of notes that seamlessly flow within a scale or melodic pattern, to enhance vocal expressiveness and add virtuosity to performances. These techniques highlight expressive vocal performance by amplifying its expressive potential while giving performances an additional sense of virtuosity.

Music production techniques range from series sound processing techniques like equalization and compression to parallel effects such as reverb and delay. A simple production technique involves duplicating a drum track and applying heavy compression on it while leaving its original version uncompressed for an energetic result.


Musical compositions can be defined by their style. Different musical genres convey various emotions and feelings through specific melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and timbral characteristics.

Melody, or the sequence of musical notes, is an integral component in recognizing music genres and traditions. Classical music typically uses tonal melodies while jazz and traditional Chinese music feature unique modal scales and harmonies.

Rhythm and meter play an integral role in defining different music genres. Rock typically features fast tempos with drum beats while hip-hop often incorporates unique rhythmic patterns along with lyrics that tell a narrative tale.


Music genres provide an easy way to categorize musical styles. This can be useful as certain genres often share similar traits and characteristics; similar to how genres are utilized in literature – detective fiction, fantasy and romance novels all belong to one genre while novels fall into several subcategories like historical novels, science fiction and contemporary fiction novels.

Pop music refers to any form of popular music. This category covers anything from The Beatles and Michael Jackson to any number of artists today, while metal music, commonly referred to as heavy metal, combines fast tempos with distorted guitar sounds for maximum impact.


Artists have an immense impact on music in numerous ways. They can affect how a song is performed or which instruments are utilized; alter emotions and ideas expressed through it; influence its cultural/societal milieu through which its music can reflect; etc.

Even though the definition of music varies greatly, most agree it involves organized sound and silence. Some consider its purpose important; other emphasize aesthetics. A common definition for music would include its pitch (melody/harmony/rhythm/timbre).