Essay On Music Without Words Is Meaningless

Music without Words is meaningless. Is it true?

Essay Topic: ‘Music without words is meaningless.’ Is it true?

Note: This essay was submitted by a contributor.

The Oxford dictionary itself justifies that music is ‘art of combining sounds for reproduction by voice or instrument(s) in rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic form.’ From a pre-school kid to an old-retired man, every age group of people, love to listen to music in one form or the other. A pre-school kid gets the first taste of music when his teacher plays a nursery rhyme to teach him the basic numbers and the letters of alphabets, whereas, an old-retired man enjoys his final days of life by meditating to soothing music or listening and singing religious hymns; “Bhajans”.

The development of music occurred with the developed of human civilization in the past. In those days music was used as a language to communicate as no proper languages were developed for communication. One used a branch of a tree as a musical instrument by shaking it, which produced scratching sound and notified everyone around about the danger. These music or sound didn’t have words but they did have a meaning. Similarly, many other music without words such as Paanche-Baja were created in the past but have been continued to play in many of the special festivals and ceremonies till date as they have meaning and also have historical and cultural significance in Nepalese societies.

There are many musical theatres in various countries which lure huge number of audiences who buy tickets to hear the soothing music of various instruments such as piano, violin, guitar and orchestras by famous instrumentalists.  In some of the international theatres, the ancient music without words such as Beethoven and Mozart are played and are liked by many. This music injects their contained feelings into the listeners and provides relaxation to the tired once.

Every person has his own taste of music. Some prefer music words whereas some prefer music with words. To some extent we can agree that words do clarify the meaning of music but this does not mean that music without words are meaningless.

Music touches the heart and expresses the hidden feeling inside an individual. Though they may or may not contain words, they are music to our ears. Hence, we should very much appreciate and well respect each and every type of music.

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We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the hair oil we order online as a means of avoiding Whole Foods is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, the importance of instrumentation, lyrics and the combination thereof.

Holli Ryan Clements writes: "I'd be interested in hearing you discuss the value that you place on lyrics when digesting a new song, as opposed to simply the 'sound world' the song inhabits. Do you hold these two in equal regard, or is one more important than the other to your initial listening experience?"

Which is more important: The word "Hallelujah" or music that says "Hallelujah" on its own? iStockphoto.com hide caption

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iStockphoto.com

Which is more important: The word "Hallelujah" or music that says "Hallelujah" on its own?

iStockphoto.com

If you were to poll the hosts of All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen listens to lyrics first, while Robin Hilton listens to the music first and barely notices the words until later. Working in close proximity to the two of them is like living inside one of those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials, but with "music" and "lyrics" swapped in for "chocolate" and "peanut butter." Except those commercials didn't have people arguing about which is more important to the taste of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. So wait. Okay, working in close proximity to Bob and Robin is like whichever beer commercial has dudes arguing over "tastes great" versus... Look, Bob and Robin argue about this a lot, okay? Breaking the tie would make one of them happy, so I try to stay out of it entirely.

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So I'll split the official verdict right down the middle: When judging a song based on first impressions, my primary concern is that 1) the music is done right; and 2) the words, whether in content or presentation, aren't done wrong.

Putting it that way, strictly by definition, lyrics and singing play a slightly secondary role to music: Music without lyrics is still music, but lyrics without music are poetry. Massive swaths of jazz, electronic, classical and other forms of music subsist just fine without words; I've got a gigantic folder in my iTunes marked "Ambient For Editing," which is stuffed with the wordless (or largely wordless) works of Stars of the Lid, Eluvium, Pantha Du Prince, Arvo Part and others, which is saying nothing of Justin Bieber's hit "U Smile," which an enterprising DJ turned into a gorgeous ambient work by slowing it down to a 35-minute crawl. Like so much instrumental music, these works access emotions just as efficiently as words do, if not more so.

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Lyrics and singing, on the other hand, are music's greatest deal-breakers; I can't tell you how many times I've pushed play, been sucked into a perfect sound world and sat nervously, thinking, "God, please don't let the singer screw this up." As often as not, he or she does just that. Vocals and lyrics are far more subjective than other sounds: What tugs at my heartstrings may well work your nerves. Which, in turn, makes great words and great vocals harder to come by — and, perhaps by virtue of their scarcity, more valuable in the long run. But, since you asked, there's clearly no wrong way to listen, much as I'd love to tell Bob and Robin that they're doing it wrong. Call it a draw, but let's agree to tell Bob and Robin that they've both lost.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at allsongs@npr.org or tweet @allsongs.

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