A brief look at non-Western music

We tend to focus on learning about how things are where we live. We learn about Western history, the plants and animals that can be found in our country, the language we speak and possibly one or two other languages that are similar. And of course, we learn about Western music. But the truth is that even though Mozart and Beethoven were great and the guitar is an awesome instrument, there is a lot more to music than what we tend to think about when we play, sing, and listen to it. So, let’s take a look at some music from other parts of the world, namely non-Western music. It’s impossible to cover everything in a single blog post, but hey, we gotta start somewhere!

Non-Western music that is worth exploring

India

India is, of course, a country that has many different cultures and religions, and therefore many different kinds of music. Still, there is one form of music that is the foundation on which most other classical Indian music is built upon – the raga. Raga literally means coloring or dyeing. The idea is that music colors the mind. And when you think about it, it makes sense. It changes our mood.

A raga must be made up of at least five notes, but it can be many more. It is like a framework in which the musician can improvise. Since the idea is to figuratively color the listener, each raga usually has a certain significance. It can, for example, be associated with a mood or a season.

The raga is important in both Hindustani music from the north of India and Carnatic music from the south.
Watch the following video to listen to a raga and see what instruments you might hear in Indian traditional music!

Africa

Now, Africa is a big continent consisting of many different countries and cultures. But there are still a few common factors to consider when it comes to African music. Rhythm is very important, and drums such as the djembe drum are frequently used. Singing is also a crucial element and songs are passed down orally. Only a small percentage of African music is written down since it’s not tradition. It’s also hard to write it down using the Western music notation system.

African music often features polyrhythm, meaning that it’s rhythmically very complex. One technique that they use frequently in singing is the so-called call and response. Both this technique and the rhythms have been essential in the development of almost all modern music, like rock and jazz.

Watch this video to hear traditional West African music!

China

Traditional Chinese music is based on the pentatonic scale (a scale with five notes). This is the reason why it kind of sounds a bit Chinese if you only play on the five black keys on the piano. The music is melodic and not typically harmonic (like Western music). There is oftentimes a solo instrument or singer, or maybe a few more, but no big ensembles.

Watch this video to hear traditional Chinese music and see traditional instruments!

It’s safe to say that there is so much more to music than what we might be used to! We just scratched the surface now, but there is endless non-Western music to explore in the world!

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