Is music a form of language?

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For centuries, language has been a part of the means of communication between humans. But, is music a form of language? This is what we will define in this article.

Definition of language

Language is an expressional function of thought and communication between humans. Implemented through speaking or writing. It is also a sign system for communication.

Definition of music

Rousseau once said “Saying and singing were once the same thing”. Note that music is an art of combining sounds according to rules, of organizing a duration with sound elements. But is music a form of language?

Origins and History of Music:

You should know that music has been around for centuries. It is thought that music started in prehistoric times. It was present in the form of songs, the clapping of the hands and the clashes of stones and wood.
However, the history of “known” music only really begins with musical notation (Solfeggio) in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Music tends to evolve quite quickly over time. the point where two styles of music are born and end in the same period.
If you remember your college music and art history lessons, then you are certainly familiar with certain periods. In particular with the presence of the most famous artists of these periods.

  • In the Baroque period (1600-1750), there is our dear Antonio Vivaldi with his work “The Four Seasons”
  • Period of Classicism (1730-1820), with Mozart and his work “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
  • In the period of Romanticism (1815-1890), with Richard Wagner. His name may not appeal to you, but his work “The Ride of the Valkyries” should, speak to you more explicitly.
  • In the Post-Romantic period (1860-1910), with the Russian Piotr Ilyïtch Tchaïkovsky and his work “Swan Lake”.
  • Period of Modern Music (1900-1950), with Claude Debussy and his work ” Moonlight”.
  • In the Contemporary Music period (1950- to the present day) with many artists, singers, and rappers who have appeared.

Origin and history of language

There are three theories that have been revealed about the origin of language:

  • The first being the myth of the Tower of Babel. Let me explain its history to you. At the beginning, Men all spoke one and only one language since the birth of the world. Under the leadership of King Nimrod, they decide to build a tower that would touch the sky.

It was an opportunity for them to show that their power was equal to God. The latter finding the Men too proud, inflicts a terrible punishment. He decides to disperse them to the four corners of the Earth and multiply their languages. In this way, they could no longer understand each other.

  • The second theory would be linked to the appearance of Homos Erectus around 1 million years ago. They would have adopted a form of language that linguists call protolanguage. It is a form of communication that would have allowed them to describe simple and concrete situations such as designating objects, people or an action. Example: “me eat meat”, “me go hunt”. At that time, grammar did not exist.
  • The third and final theory is that of the appearance of Homo Sapiens about 300,000 years ago. They in turn adopt a complex language, that is, they develop and transmit abstract thoughts and concepts to maintain peace in the Sapiens tribes, to calm conflicts and to promote sociability. .

However, if music is a form of language, are there similarities between the two?

Similarity between language and music

As previously mentioned, language is built with various sounds, and graphic equivalences or symbols, such as the letters of the alphabet used to designate an object, a person, a thought , is this the same for music?

Of course, music is a form of language! As you can see from this score, we can recognize the solfeggios (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti) which are therefore the equivalents of the alphabet ‘A, B, C …). Here, musical notes are like “letters”.

It may sound strange, but music also has a “conjugation”, and the latter shows the relative duration of a musical note. In other words, the note’s “pronunciation” time is the equivalent of the conjugation of a verb. Example: I come, you come, etc… (verb conjugation).

For a musical note, we count the time, in other words the rhythm (1, 2, 3, 4…). Of course, it all depends on whether the percussion of the music is fast or slow, in which case the “conjugation” of the note will change as well.

Music also has “accents”. These change the intonation or sound of the letter they are added to. For example, the flat which lowers the note in front of which it is placed by a semitone.

The Sharp raises the note in front of which it is placed by a chromatic semitone. And finally, the Bécarre which is placed to the left of a previously altered note, in order to restore it to its natural tone.

In music, there are also “punctuation marks”. They help with the comprehension and reading of handwritten texts, whether read silently or aloud. Take the example of the clef at the start of the staff which indicates the pitch of the notes associated with each line.

Remember, there are three clef figures: the treble clef, the clef of ut and the clef of fa. Of course, there are other punctuation marks in music including: tablature, repeat bars, barline and reinforcement.

All this to say that music has an alphabet, eight distinct letters, which are musical notes, a “conjugation”, “accents”, and “punctuation marks” by opposite symbols on the score. But does music represent a means of communication?

Music, a means of communication?

Until now, we notice that music can be a language. But is this the case for everyone?
During a study, we notice that the majority of people seem to agree on the fact that music is not a language, and that only musicians are able to understand the message because they have “the musical ear” .

To help you understand this communication between instruments, I invite you to listen to an excerpt from this J.S. Bach concerto for oboe and violin.
Another example that might interest you, is that of the gwoka.

In this video, one can feel a strong communication between the musicians and the dancers. Mainly between Drum Marker Ka and the dancer (s). The Marker is inspired by the steps that the dancer takes for his marking.

In the video, during a sequence of precise sounds, the dancer changes dance steps while the Marker changes Marking. Known in traditional dance as “Repriz”.

The usefulness of the Repriz in gwoka allows direction of the boulas (drums playing one and the same rhythm, eg Toumblak) in order to avoid losing the tempo by dint of listening to the marking offbeats.

So, is music a form of language?

We can say that music does have a language. We can also say that music and language have similarities between them. Music is a good way to express feelings, even without words, as noted in “classical” music.

But on the other hand, we see that compared to languages which allow us to exchange with others, music does not allow an exchange or communication between people except for musicians and dancers. These people have a musical ear that allows them to interact with each other.

I hope this article was informative for you. If you would like to know more about the history of music, I suggest this article on music through time.