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Music is generally defined as the art of arranging sound to create some combination of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, or otherwise expressive content. Exact definitions of music vary considerably around the world, though it is an aspect of all human societies, a cultural universal. While scholars agree that music is defined by a few specific elements, there is no consensus on their precise definitions. The creation of music is commonly divided into musical composition, musical improvisation, and musical performance, though the topic itself extends into academic disciplines, criticism, philosophy, and psychology. Music may be performed or improvised using a vast range of instruments, including the human voice.
In some musical contexts, performance or composition may be to some extent improvised. For instance, in Hindustani classical music, the performer plays spontaneously while following a partially defined structure and using characteristic motifs. In modal jazz, the performers may take turns leading and responding, while sharing a changing set of notes. In a free jazz context, there may be no structure whatsoever, with each performer acting at their discretion. Music may be deliberately composed to be unperformable or agglomerated electronically from many performances. Music is played in public and private areas, highlighted at events such as festivals, rock concerts, and orchestra performances, and heard incidentally as part of a score or soundtrack to a film, TV show, opera, or video game. Musical playback is the primary function of an MP3 player or CD player and a universal feature of radios and smartphones.
Music often plays a key role in social activities, religious rituals, the rite of passage ceremonies, celebrations, and cultural activities. The music industry includes songwriters, performers, sound engineers, producers, tour organizers, and distributors of instruments, accessories, and sheet music. Compositions, performances, and recordings are assessed and evaluated by music critics, music journalists, and music scholars, as well as amateurs.
The modern English word ‘music’ came into use in the 1630s. It is derived from a long line of successive precursors: the Old English ‘musike’ of the mid-13th century; the Old French musique of the 12th century; and the Latin mūsica. The Latin word itself derives from the Ancient Greek mousiké (technē) —μουσική (τέχνη) —literally meaning “(art) of the Muses”. The Muses were nine deities in Ancient Greek Mythology who presided over the arts and sciences. They were included in tales by the earliest Western authors, Homer and Hesiod, and eventually came to be associated with music specifically. Over time, Polyhymnia would reside over music more prominently than the other muses. The Latin word musica was also the originator for both the Spanish música and French musique via spelling and linguistic adjustment, though other European terms were probably loanwords, including the Italian musica, German musik, Dutch muziek, Norwegian musikk, Polish Muzyka, and Russian muzïka.
The modern Western world usually defines music as an all-encompassing term, used to describe diverse genres, styles, and traditions. This is not the case worldwide, and languages such as modern Indonesian (musik) and Shona (musakazo) have recently adopted words to reflect this universal conception, as they did not have words that fit exactly the Western scope. In East Asia, neither Japan nor China have a single word that encompasses music in a broad sense, but culturally often regard music in such a fashion. The closest word to mean music in Chinese, Yue, shares a character with le, meaning joy, and originally referred to all the arts before its narrowing in meaning. Africa is too diverse to make firm generalizations, but the musicologist J. H. Kwabena Nketia has emphasized that African music’s often an inseparable connection to dance and speech in general. Some African cultures, such as the Songye people of the DRC and Tiv people of Nigeria, have a strong and broad conception of ‘music’ but no corresponding word in their native languages. Other words commonly translated as ‘music’ often have more specific meanings in their respective cultures: the Hindi word for music, sangita properly refers to art music, while the many Indigenous languages of the Americas have words for music that refer specifically to a song but describe instrumental music regardless. Though the Arabic musiqi can refer to all music, it is usually used for instrumental and metric music, while khandan identifies vocal and improvised music.
An individual’s culture or ethnicity plays a role in their music cognition, including their preferences, emotional reaction, and musical memory. Musical preferences are biased toward culturally familiar musical traditions beginning in infancy, and adults’ classification of the emotion of a musical piece depends on both culturally specific and universal structural features. Additionally, individuals’ musical memory abilities are greater for culturally familiar music than for culturally unfamiliar music.
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