The Nature of Music

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Ethnomusicologist Karl Signell proposes a fresh approach to thinking about music. In twelve half-hour programs originally heard on National Public Radio (USA), The Nature of Music series offers new ideas from the experts, from musicians such as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, from scholars such as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, and from people in the business such as record producer Amy Horowitz. It attempts a grand synthesis of old truths and recent discoveries about music, from psychoacoustics to biomechanics, from poetry to philosophy. By searching for universals, The Nature of Music asks what it means to be human.


  1. Music & the Performer - What is the best way for a young musician to learn? How do you get music out of notes on a page? What is greatness? Individuality?

  2. Music & the Listener - What are you supposed to listen for in music? How do we use music? Why do we seem to need music on so much of the time?

  3. Music & Commerce - What kind of business smarts does a performer need? How does an independent record company survive? Do multinationals control all?

  4. Music & Time - How does music create its own time? Why is musical time different from ordinary time? Is rhythm more primal than melody?

  5. Music & the Creative Spirit - How did humble musical craftsmen become god-like artists? Do you need royal guilds to create great music? Where does music come from?

  6. Music & the Body - Can we hear music with our bodies? How does a performer convey musical ideas with nonverbal signs? How important is the body?

  7. Music's Tools - How does a conductor play his instrument, the orchestra? How does your instrument fit you? Why is a piano anti-physiological?

  8. Music & Words - When are words themselves music? How are words and music different? Same? Which came first? Can words describe music?

  9. Music & the Brain - How do children learn music? What is musical genius? How does our brain make sense out of musical sounds? Why do we have scales?

  10. Music & Technology - How do radio, cassettes, music video affect music? For better or for worse? Is what you hear determined by a technician's taste?

  11. Music's Meaning - Does all music have an ideological meaning? Why did Mozart sales surge after "Amadeus"? Does music video freeze interpretation?

  12. Defining Music - What is music? How do you decide what is music and what isn't? Is there such a thing as great music? Why is music so human?