What is Music? by Dan Zambas

The word music comes from the Greek word mousikê (tekhnê) linked directly with the Latin word Musica.

According to the Wikipedia article ‘Definition of Music’ this derives from the Greek word ‘Muse’, from the daughters of the gods Zeus and Hera. From this link it can be assumed that the root for the word music is ‘Inspiration’. This would ring true with most musicians as without inspiration where is the drive to be a musician?  The following quotes have been extracted from the documentary ‘Music’ by Andrew Zuckerman:

what is music


  •  ‘I believe it more than other stuff’ – Iggy Pop
  • ‘A transaction between people that takes place in the world of sounds’ – Philip Glass
  • ‘It’s amazing how you can hear an instrumental piece of music with no words and it can alter your consciousness, or you can listen to something that’s in another language that you don’t understand and it can alter you consciousness” – Lenny Kravitz
  • ‘It doesn’t change you, you change it’ – Ornette Coleman
  • ‘The property of music is magic’ – John Forté
  • ‘Music is life and life is music, of all people Nietzche said that “life without music is an error”’ – Henry Rollins
  • ‘In a mad way I think it might be another dimension’ – Dizzee Rascal
  • ‘Scientists have proved how it can help blood pressure. It has an effect on animals, on plants. It can make people go into meditation. It can help, a lot’ – Ravi Shankar
  • ‘I think that music somehow encapsulates everything. There’s some kind of interlogging with people that doesn’t seem to happen any other way quite as grandly and totally.’ – Fiona Apple
  • ‘The musicians job is to work in a disciplined way and learn as much about music as possible so that they can get completely out of the way’ – Trey Anastasio
  • ‘If you were to read a paragraph from a book you’re not going to think about how am I going to say the word morning or the word hero. But am I going to say exciting? Or exciting? After a while when you play an instrument you should stop playing the instrument, because you know how to play the instrument. So forgot about playing the instrument, now start talking the music’ – Itzhak Perlman


bhangra musician

It’s a fascinating experience to hear musicians talk about their craft. The differences in approach and style can be vast but the emotion binding them all together is something very much shared. In the song ‘Packard Goose’, from Frank Zappa’s album’ Joe’s Garage’ 1978, the lyric that satires philosophical thought states; ‘Remember, information is not knowledge; knowledge is not wisdom; wisdom is not truth; truth is not beauty; beauty is not love; love is not music; music is the best.’ The true meaning can have many interpretations but at its heart is the closing statement. It seems obvious, for Zappa,  that nothing came close to music.
Mozart stated ‘I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.’ This inspires musicians to trust their own judgement on their art and not to pay overt attention to praise and criticism. By doing this their true art can be realised without corruption.
The book ‘The Music Instinct’ By Philip Ball offers a profound insight into what the author believes music is in actuality. He states ‘It is the most remarkable blend of art and science, logic and emotion, physics and psychology, known to us’. He also states ‘We know of societies and even without visual art – but none, it seems, lack some form of music.
This then offers the theory that music is not just in our nature, but potentially part of our evolution as a species. That for some reason we have developed this digestion of our aural world and created formula and construction to define it to ourselves.
The author closes his first chapter with a desire; ‘I hope this book might encourage you, as researching it encouraged me, to listen again to music that you previously dismissed as too boring, too complicated, too dry, too slushy,  or just plain incomprehensible. I doubt that there will be a single one of us whose musical horizons could not be broadened with a little more understanding or what music is doing and why.’