What Is Music?

Music is the art of combining vocal or instrumental sounds for aesthetic or emotional purposes, structured according to cultural norms of rhythm, melody and harmony. From folk songs to Stravinsky compositions – they all belong in this category.

Many scholars have studied the potential uses of music from a theoretical standpoint and made explicit evolutionary claims about its benefits.


Music’s origin is widely debated among scholars and historians. Some argue it evolved in similar fashion to human language, while others see more similarities to animal mating calls or vocalizations than human ones. Furthermore, there remains uncertainty as to when or whether music first emerged alongside language.

Experts speculate that humans first began creating music by clapping their hands together; others theorize that early instruments may have been made from bones (e.g. swan and vulture bone pipes). Some of the oldest recorded songs date back about 39,000 years.

Many cultures have developed unique musical traditions. Music includes pitch, rhythm and harmony elements which can be combined to express emotion, ideas or meaning. Sound effects such as dynamics and timbre may also add further layers to this expression of sound. Musical tradition can serve many functions within both personal and communal environments: entertainment, ritual or social cohesion amongst them all.


Over time, scholars from different fields–psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers and musicologists–have made various speculations on the original purposes of music. Since it’s impossible to obtain physical proof of its beginnings, these hypotheses remain mostly theoretical yet still provide useful starting points for analysis.

Many theories concerning music’s evolutionary roots focus on its supposed biological and evolutionary roots: music as an indicator of biological fitness, social bonding agent, means to ease anxiety about mortality or provide transcendent meaning or escape. Others focus on its cultural or emotional effects such as lullabies or national anthems that bring people together – family, communities or nations alike.

Researchers have used statistical techniques to help uncover basic distinct dimensions among many variables – musical functions. Their studies typically use pre-defined collections or categories of musical elements and then conduct factor analyses on these components to find which are most influential. It has generally been determined that listening to music fulfills four functional categories: social, emotional, cognitive or self-related and arousal related.


Music genres are classification systems used to group together songs that share common characteristics. This may include the time and purpose of the song, its instruments used and style/form/format of its arrangement. Some songs can even span more than one genre at the same time – these hybrid genres are known as fusion genres and often combine styles from multiple cultures into one song.

Music genres have changed with time to reflect social, cultural, and political realities in which they were made. For instance, during Renaissance and Baroque eras classical music represented religious beliefs and cultural values of its day; in contrast, advances in technology allowed new genres like rock and hip hop music to emerge during the twentieth century as consumer culture and mass media increased their presence; additionally, musicians could more easily record and distribute their songs than before, leading to popular genres like jazz and country emerging alongside it.


Music provides entertainment value, but it can also have psychological benefits. Music increases serotonin levels, fosters social bonding through oxytocin production and relieves stress and anxiety while increasing melatonin, adrenaline and noradrenaline production; research even indicates an increase in immunoglobulin A antibodies for improved health and immunity.

Music’s influence can be felt around the world and has been used to promote human rights, dismantle walls and barriers, educate communities and amplify underrepresented voices.

Significant historical events have long had an influence on musical genres and styles, such as during the Renaissance when secular art flourished and gave birth to multiple composers who ultimately gave rise to modern musicians who pushed boundaries by experimenting with sounds, instruments, recording techniques and new forms of composition resulting in hybrid genres such as Reggaeton (a combination of Latin music with hip-hop) and Afrobeat.