Saturday, August 27, 2011


One of the ideas I'm working on for the 2.0 series is coming up with a workable definition of what music making is. Defining music itself is a rabbit hole I don't particularly want to fall into, but being able to say what I think music making is about has to be part of the ground plan for any approach to helping people do it.

That definition has to include the idea of approximation. Part of the deep attraction of music making is that you can always get closer and closer to being better able to express yourself musically. If that's not part of your practice of music, burnout becomes probable. 

What's so recharging about music making is that the more you do it, the more it helps you understand what it is you're trying to express. That other great American poet, T. S. Eliot, in his usual grim way, gets at this issue here:

. . . one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate . . .

It's like blogging. The more I try to say what I think I mean, the better I understand the thoughts beneath the language trying to find a way out. And the same goes for music making, with each approximation getting closer and closer to pure expression, but rarely, if ever, getting there.


  1. I don't bother tryng to define music making. I just get on with doing it :-)

  2. Well now, Mr. Jonathan ;-)

    Had I been blessed in the realm of music making by nature and nurture as you were I might feel the same way - but I wasn't, and my path to music making is way different from yours. But I do take your point - over thinking can be deadly to the spark of music.

    In a mad rush this a.m. Will respond to that other wonderful comment sometime later - Thanks as always for adding your thoughts. At some point I may have to officially make you a co-blogger of this site.

  3. It seems to me that you are making music if you are producing sounds which the listener enjoys and perceives as being musical.

    This covers a range of things beyond what we might regard as traditional music. For instance, Ernst Toch's "Geographical Fugue" uses no pitched notes for its human voices, but it uses musical rhythms.

    The lilt of a speaker's voice as he or she recites a piece of poetry may be regarded as musical, in that the cadences and inflections of the voice may give pleasure to the listeners independent of the meanings conveyed by the words.

    These examples might be regarded as being near the edges of music making, but I would argue they are just about inside rather than just outside.

  4. Jonathan - I very much agree with what you've said here. After I wrote the post, though, it came to me I don't have to define music - the client does and either I can get my head around what's wanted and how I can help or I can't.

  5. That sounds like a very sensible approach.

    It would seem to me that in music therapy what matters most is whether it is effective as therapy, rather than whether what you're doing falls into somebody's definition of music.

    As a result, it also seems to me that if you try to impose your definition of music on the client, then it is hardly going to end up being good therapy.

  6. Agreed - Falling into other people's definitions of things can create problems. My problem is sometimes rejecting other people's definitions out of hand. Growing up it was often noted I had my maternal grandmother's family trait of "contrariness" ;-)