Among the many words and concepts that surround music and its learning, there is one that is especially ambiguous and recurring. Musical language, that expression that we have heard in so many different situations and mouths, clearly suggests some kind of communication system, but what do we mean when we put the words music and language together?

What do we understand by musical language?

Well, like so many other words and expressions, what we know as musical language can refer to several different aspects of musical theory and practice.

On the one hand, from a more academic point of view, musical language brings together issues as diverse as musical notation, reading, rhythmic, melodic and harmonic expression, ear training or even musical elements and their structure.

All this large group of areas of knowledge, so to speak, make musical language a kind of mixed bag where almost anything that is considered “knowing music” fits in everyday conversation.

Notation and music reading

This issue has been resolved throughout history in different ways, depending on the degree of technological evolution, so to speak, of each era and human community.

What in antiquity was probably an art based on repetition and memory, where oral transmission was the center of any musical activity, was accompanied by attempts to write down, through some system of signs, that information, that cultural legacy, those compositional findings of previous generations.

Thus, for centuries, the so-called musical notation was hatched . We are referring to increasingly numerous staves, notes and interpretive symbols that tried to transfer to paper, to a graphic representation, the musical works and experiences that were being created.

That today, if you have learned this code of signs, these musical spellings, we can write and read musical pieces, reproduce the intention of a composer, composer or performer, to a certain extent, at least, is due to this continuous effort of musicians. who wanted to preserve music from the past and present so that it would be accessible in the future.

What the invention of the printing press became the best way to immortalize a musical work, in the 20th century, with the appearance of musical audio recordings, it provided another way, perhaps more direct, of listening to previous works, learning and reproducing them. 

To musical expression

But apart from notation, writing and reading staves, and trying to synthesize something alive like a sung song or an instrumental piece played by humans, other often subtle but no less important details affect our perception. musical.

The way of understanding and interpreting with any instrument, including the voice, musical passages, for example, the qualities of the sound that we produce with these instruments, the use of silences and, in general, the interiorization and rhythmic execution of the melodies or the accompaniments are some of the facets covered by the so-called musical expression.

Up to a certain point, we could say that musical notation tries to be scientific, precise, scrupulous, while the expression in music, as a study discipline, points rather to the subjective, to how each one projects their inner voice and creates or contributes. to previous compositions his personal stamp, his particular character at a given moment and time.

The education of the ear

Accompanying all this rosary of signs, we have another very important component of what we know as musical language: auditory education.

Academically, it is customary to consider the internalization of musical elements as training, as a systematic and repetitive practice of the so-called relative ear, which, from a given note, can mentally recognize heard, written or memorized music.

What has traditionally been called music theory would be a part of this training, as well as melodic, rhythmic and harmonic dictations, among other related exercises.

Starting from the musical intervals and the rhythmic figures, basically, the musician should be able to reproduce the music that is proposed to him and, it is assumed, also understand its logic and purpose.

Musical elements and structure

Rhythm, melody and harmony are often mentioned as the fundamental elements of any piece of music.

Language, when we refer to music, specifically includes these elements both individually and together.

Melodic and harmonic analysis, rhythmic perception and expression, and the intersections of these elements that, in reality, cannot subsist in the real world separately, are issues that are addressed from different perspectives as part of what is considered musical language. 

The formal structure of the songs and the various ways of organizing the musical material into pieces with purposes and durations of all kinds are also the object of study in the so-called musical language.

Practice and language in music

When we are interested in a certain composer, composer or performer and we begin to listen to their works, for example, with attention, what we are going to be perceiving is precisely their musical language, the specific selection of sound elements that he, she or they, if we refer to a group, has chosen to communicate musically with the world, with us.

That is perhaps the most useful meaning for anyone when listening to music and songs, in order to complete that special communication between musicians and listeners. Understanding the combination of a certain type of rhythms, or of a particular way of playing an instrument and the final result of those specific characteristics, the whole, is one of the greatest satisfactions that an audience can obtain from a musical experience.

In the same way, as musicians or songwriters, for example, when we sing, play an instrument or create our compositions, we will be making those same kinds of decisions, and the musical language we will use will be the result of those decisions, our taste or humor or intention that should be evident in the final result of the interpretations or compositions that we make.

The musical language, as a whole, is nothing more than an encyclopedia, an inventory, a set of tools of which only a few will serve us for our, shall we say, artistic purposes.


With all this said, written and commented, we might think that musical language is a theoretical question and little else.

Musical education, especially in societies that call themselves more developed, has gradually become institutionalized and practice, which is the logical and healthy origin and destination of musical experiences, has remained almost as an accessory. of theory, as something later, in the best of cases, as a reward for the effort of years of study.

It would be good to break with this trend if we want music to have vitality and presence in the day to day of cities, towns, their communities and their families, in the most daily of our lives.

The music is free. Everyone can sing and, in fact, most of us sing without worrying about the theory that may come from our singing.

What, too pompously, is called musical language, is music itself in action.

When we sing carelessly or play an instrument in a self-taught way, for example, we are using musical languages, perhaps without the support of theoretical terminology, but with a completely authentic and real intention, with an instinct that combines everything from our genetics to the sound education that we have had, even unconsciously.