The music of words

Music is an incredible medium of communication. Most think that the only way to truly communicate with others is through language. However, where there are many other levels of communication: body language, facial expressions, music, and the tone of voice. The voice is the most natural instrument we, as humans, possess. Ancient music, when spoken, was known as recitative and seen as equally musical as lyrics set to melodies.

Simply walking around my school, you can hear many different languages being spoken, each with a rhythm of their own. Listening to friends switching between English and their other fluent language, it reminds me a sudden modulation to a different key. The insert of a word in a foriegn language is similar to the use of a triplet motif in a duple meter, sudden, unexpected, but it somehow fits. The different ranges of voices mix together, some more prominent than others, blending together like a 21st century piece. The motifs unique to certain languages bring them out to the top, taking their turn as soloists.

The difference between what is usual thought of as music and the music in the spoken voice lies in the tempo. When playing in an ensemble, the musicians all adjust to the conductor or some other leader’s set tempo. They rely on the drummer or the first chair violinist or the person waving a baton in front to set the speed. The unity of the piece lies, partly, in the united tempo. The musicians know where their parts fit in to the greater scheme of the larger piece. In contrast, the music heard while walking through a mall, is not in tune so much with itself. The many tempos overlay each other and do not usually coincide. People walk at their own pace and speak at their own pace too. They speed up or slow down, raise their pitch or lower it, say what they want to, not guided by notes on a page and often not aware of the many rhythms around them. This gives the overall sound a sense of chaos or randomness that is not characteristic of most music (excluding late 20th century and 21st century music since those composers such as John Cage can be very experimental).

Music is in the words we speak. It is a method of communicating the thoughts and emotions that need to be expressed. Words are very similar in that respect. However, if the line between the melodic music and spoken music is blurred, where does the musician draw the line between music and noise?



  1. Hello Sarah,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. Your description of the sounds you hear walking around in school sounds like a great idea for a composition. Maybe you could even try something like that, a moderninst piece with possibly graphic notation, for one of the 3 required pieces…!? I am looking forward to reading your next post.

    Mr. Oswald

  2. Pingback: Music or Noise? « ivoryandstrings

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