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The Function of Music

The idea that the function of a piece of music is determined by its sound and structure has been advanced by any number of commentators. In most cases, as noted by Alan Merriam (1964), the concept of function can refer to operating or playing a part, representing non-randomness, reflecting an interdependence of elements that can be complex, and fulfilling the requirements of a situation or answering an objectively defined purpose. It is Merriam's (1964) contention that these particular approaches to understanding the function of music do not necessarily require that function be identified solely or even perhaps primarily by such characteristics as sound and structure.

Merriam (1964) believes that music is involved with emotion and is a vehicle for its expression, but also takes the position that music acquires emotion as a consequence of the attributions made by listeners. What inspires one group of listeners to feel sadness or joy may not resonate with a different group in the same way. Consequently, this would suggest that sound or structure do not necessarily determine the function of a piece of music.

In a similar vein, Howard Becker (2001) suggests that sound and structure may be regarded to a degree as conventions. However, though standardized, Becker (2001, p. 72) says that "conventions are seldom rigid and unchanging. They do not specify an inviolate set of rules everyone must refer to in settling questions of what to do." Function in the context of music may refer to the situation in which the musical work is to be performed as well as the responses that it is expected to evoke. While Becker (2001) recognizes that there are any number of different functions and related musical conventions that can be identified, the reality is that function alone cannot fully address musical experience.

Merriam (1964) contends that the function of music is not limited to evoking or releasing emotional...

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The Function of Music. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:38, October 31, 2014, from