Why music is not a language…

…and why people keep saying it is.

The slogan ‘music is a language’ is nonsense taken literally, but points to the fact that music does have important similarities with language. That analogy rests on the relationship between speech melody and music, and on the function of harmony as a musical syntax.

00:00 Intro
00:36 A truism
01:59 A metaphor?
04:46 ‘Language of feelings’
11:22 Grammatical and ungrammatical music
18:14 Universality

The topic is discussed in detail in: L. Muns, Classical Music and the Language Analogy. Dissertation, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2014.

An important source for cognitive and neurological research on the relationship between music and language is: A. Patel, Music, Language, and the Brain. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Text fragments:

  • Th. W. Adorno, Fragment über Musik und Sprache. Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 16. Suhrkamp, 2003.
  • I. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft. Werke Bd. 10. Suhrkamp, 1977.
  • F. Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschlisches. Werke in Drei Bänden, Bd. 1. München: Hanser, 1954.


  • L. van Beethoven, Sonata in A-flat major op. 26, Andante con variazioni (Theme and variation Nr. 4). Piano*
  • L. Muns, ‘Grammatical’ and ‘ungrammatical’ music. Piano*