Are Musical Symbols For Sound?Posted by Mike Schuck
There’s been an interesting trend in music lately that seems to be disappearing as of late: musical symbols. These are little sounds or fragments of sound within songs, some very short (a few notes) and others longer. They typically go by something like “ooh-ahh” or “la la laaaaaaa da daaaahhhh!”
What makes them different from other types of sounds is that they don’t necessarily relate to another tone or note, but instead create their own internal rhythm. Some musicians refer to this as creating a sense of “chime” or “tingle.”
These types of sounds can sometimes help identify a song or region of a song. For example, there’s a one-measure guitar riff in almost every chorus of Taylor Swift’s song “Blank Space.” The tinglingly rhythmic sound she uses in that riff is a musical symbol known as a trill.
History of musical symbols
The use of music as symbolic language has been going strong since ancient times. Many cultures have used music to convey messages, from celebrating an event to communicating feelings or ideas.
Musical symbolism in art is very common and many artists use it effectively.
Music has long influenced how we perceive time. For example, some songs seem to go on forever while others feel like they’ve flown by too quickly.
We also associate certain sounds with different emotions. A few examples are whistling, which may make you feel happy or angry depending on what you're doing, and pounding rhythms, which can be motivating or calming.
This article will discuss ten important musical symbols and how they relate to sound. You'll learn about several types of symbols, including tone colors, rhythm, and theme.
Popular music symbols
Many musicians and songwriters use certain lyrics, melodies, chords, or sounds to represent something about their songs or themselves as artists. These are known as musical symbolism.
Some examples of popular music symbolic meanings include:
The main theme of your album is celebrating life, so you use lines like “party” and/or “life is a party” several times in the song.
Music can be very motivational, thus parts of the song may emphasize messages such as “keep going!” or “you have permission to feel this good.”
Certain notes, chords, or melodies convey an emotional quality that matches the tone of the song. For instance, the second chord of the Beatles' classic song Hey Jude is the minor-chord version of the submediant (the third degree of the major scale), which gives it a feeling of resignation. The same chord is used in many other songs with a similar effect.
Music has a rhythm pattern that corresponds to how quickly things move around us. Some songs use these rhythms more than others, creating a sense of familiarity. This helps set the stage for internalizing the feelings the song invokes.
Movie and TV show symbols
Music has played an important part in many movies and television shows. The songs that are used as leitmotifs or thematic music represent something specific within the movie or show. For example, every scene of the movie Gone With the Wind features the song “Dixie” which represents Southern heritage and loyalty.
The use of musical symbolism is very powerful tool in filmmaking. It can help tell the story and add intensity to certain scenes!
For more information about using music effectively in media, check out our article: How To Use Music In Media Settings.
Classical music symbols
Another way to identify classical music is through its musical symbols or motifs. These are small sections of music that repeat themselves within the piece. For example, the opening theme from The Lion King has a recurring sound called the leitmotif — short for motive là-leilôt (or motivation in French).
This section begins with some flute music and then slowly adds bass notes, drums, and brass instruments as it repeats twice. This repeated pattern is what makes this music symbolize the song’s title “The Circle Of Life.”
Music writers use these types of themes very effectively by incorporating them into other pieces. For instance, Gustav Holst uses an extended version of his circle of life motif in his suite Planets. You may have heard this piece during the beginning or ending credits of various science documentaries.
Holst also includes references to his earlier work The March To The Sea which features a similar circle of life melody.
Song lyrics symbols
A few examples of song lyric symbolism include references to nature, religion, politics, and even science. These are sometimes called music theory or literary concepts because they apply to all types of songs, not just ones that are totally about relationships!
A lot of these concepts come from earlier generations of musicians and songwriters who were aware of what meanings some parts of a song contained. Some people may now look at these ideas as inspiration or clues to how to write your own songs.
This article will go over five common rhyme schemes and their corresponding colors. What is a rhyme scheme? That’s a way writers use to structure their poems or songs – like double-syllable lines with a little break between them.
We'll discuss why this mattering of rhymes is important, along with tips on how to use it in your writing. Then, we'll do an exercise using a familiar tune as our material.
Alphabetical list of musical symbols
The next logical step in decoding music is recognizing what kind of sounds are represented by each symbol. These are called musical symbols, or sometimes referred to as graphemes or notes.
Most people are familiar with some of these musical symbols like the note A, chord names such as G major, and even some rhythm patterns like the backbeat.
But there are way more than just those! You have several options when it comes to defining symbolic notes. For example, you can choose between using frequency (as we did before) or intensity-based music theory.
In this article, we will go over an alphabetized list of all the different types of musical symbols and how they relate to other parts of music theory.
Things to try to do musically
A musical symbol is when you take an element of music (note, rhythm, or key) and apply it to something else. For example, the quarter note is a musical symbol because you can use it to represent any time frame — like one second!
A common way to identify a musical symbol is by its function. If what the symbol does is relate to other notes or parts of music, then it’s considered a motif, or a recurring theme. The half-note line up in the first instance is a motif because it looks similar to a whole note and a dotted quarter.
Other ways to recognize a musical symbol is if there are no rules about how it has to be used, and if you could probably just choose whichever part you wanted to use it with and it would feel right.
There are several types of symbols that work well in music. Some examples include tritone substitution, parallel motion, and octave displacement. All of these have different names depending on who created them but they all achieve the same thing – creating new melodies or expanding existing ones.
Tips for using musical symbols in conversations
The next time you find yourself having a conversation with someone that seems to go nowhere, try incorporating some music into it!
Using songs as “transitions” or “breakouts” is a fun way to change the tone of your talk and get different responses.
You can even use this method outside of talking — like singing a song along to what you're doing. For example, if you are going somewhere in your car, start singing!
Musical symbolism isn't always about sounds alone, there are also non-verbal components such as body language and facial expressions. When used together, they can be powerful tools to understand who people are and how they feel.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
If you have any questions or concerns or just want to drop us a line, don't hesitate to contact us! We always appreciate the feedback.