Classical music refers to a style of music based in the European tradition of music, both secular and liturgical. The term has come to characterize music that is viewed as an art form rather than as entertainment or serving some other subsidiary function.
As with most Western music, classical music is generally in written form, using staff notation, such that the performance (i.e., pitch, speed and meter) of a piece is a literal interpretation, and improvisation or embellishment by the artist is limited.
Other qualities attributed to classical music include the use of a variety of orchestral instruments (e.g., piano, violin, clarinet), the use of intricate form and composition, an advanced technical proficiency in its artistic performance and exclusivity in taste and appeal.
Classical music is often described in terms of the historic period of its composition with the Medieval (6th through 15th centuries) and Renaissance (15th through 17th centuries) periods describing the Early Era, and the Baroque (1600–1750), Classical (1750–1830) and Romantic (1815–1910) eras delineating the Common Practice Period.
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The philosophy of music involves a study of basic questions regarding music, such as what music really is, what are the conditions that classify something as music (as opposed to noise, for example), how does culture influence music, how music is perceived as pleasurable and what is the relationship between music and emotions.
While music has been defined as organized sound, many people maintain that this definition is too broad, as human speech and the noise produced by machinery are also organized sounds. Music can refer to a printed piece of paper, sound waves traveling through the air to reach the listener’s ear, magnetic tape or a CD (the physical object the music is recorded on), the electrochemical changes occurring in the brain when music is listened to or the action of fingers strumming across guitar strings.
Although music can be defined as the art or science of combining instrumental, vocal or both instrumental and vocal sounds together to produce beauty and harmony, many pieces of music are neither beautiful nor harmonious. The lack of harmony has been described as a rebellion against traditional European musical values.
Ambient music, a term coined by Brian Eno in the mid-1970s, refers to non-traditional music that can be listened to or ignored. Used as soundtracks for films, television shows and video games, ambient music often consists of random sounds of nature, industrial machine noises, echoes and reverberations. Some controversial musical compositions have consisted of silence or of various background noises of a restive audience fidgeting and wondering when the real music is going to start.
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