Music Theory and Composition : Music Theory and Composition

Friday, December 15th, 2017

The Components of Musicality


Musicality and Its Components by Don Rath Jr

Musicality - Article TopMusicality is made up of parts or components which are relatively easy to learn. The components of musicality teaches us how we can answer this question, is my composition musical or not musical? After all, that is the question. How is being musical or having musicality achieved? What tools within the principals of music theory are available to a composer for achieving this? Just exactly what is musicality anyway? Within this series of articles we will be discussing the components of musicality with the intention of conveying the importance of each component, the interactivity among the different components, referencing other existing articles or adding additional articles which expand our overall presentation about achieving musicality when composing your music.

Musicality – The Goal of the Composer

In preparation for moving into several presentations on the structure of musical scales, as they are used when composing music, we must look at the entire idea, the concepts, components and tools of musicality, where we define musicality as having or being of a musical nature.

It does no one any good to have all of the tools in the world without the knowledge of how to use those tools. What are the possibilities and limitations of their use, in what context, in what respect and for what purpose are they to be used, singly or collectively? The answers to those questions lay in the serious study of music in general and in specifics, and within the repeated act of applying music theory for achieving fulfillment as a composer of new music. Also, for reaching to new and higher levels of understanding music as an avid and active listener of music which contains a high degree of musicality.

First and foremost for any composer is the primary goal to create music that is truly musical in nature (with a high degree of musicality) and secondly, that of securing, learning and applying music theory and composition theory as a means in which the musical ideas can be conveyed, (as well as any chosen musical message) to his or her audience effectively. This may take the form of music notation (manuscripts) or through a recording of the production of music via a musical instrument or directly via the actual performances of the music by the instrumentalist(s).

The goal of a composer is to create music which embodies a high level of musicality which is chosen to cause some specific type of reaction within the listener and where the listener’s response or reaction is congruent to their intent or message.

Musicality – The Intention

Under the assumption that a composer’s intention is to produce sound or a series of sounds that is perceived as music, it becomes necessary to know and understand that a composer uses or selects from a group of concepts, inclusive of specific music notation tools as provided for in the study of music theory. Among those tools, the composer selects those which cause or attempts to cause a specific reaction or series of reactions within the listening audience. The results from the effective use of the notation tools, the interaction among them (within the composition), the structures, concepts and ideas embodied within music composition together formulate the foundations of what we call music. The interpretation and artistry of the performer(s) plays a significant role in the deliverance of music and as a result the overall message or intent can be enhanced or diluted from the original intention based primarily upon the skill and artistry of the performer and their effective interpretation of the music notation.

Notation is the written form of musical communication. Collectively, the practice of music notation or dictation is used to convey the musical ideas and intentions within a composer’s head. The more specific and detailed the composer is when notating music the more likely the performance will be interpreted and performed as desired by the composer. The effective use of these tools adds musicality to the composition once the music is in written form and/or when it is performed.

Musicality – The Process

The process is rather simple. A message, reaction or emotion, of a specific nature, is chosen by the composer. The selection is driven either by inspiration or pure creativity or through pure cognitive intention. The selection of an appropriate tool or set of tools within music notation practices is then used for solidifying the intention behind the musical thought ideas or message(s) in the form of a manuscript and then by a recording or sound file. The performer transforms the written notation into audible sound or the notation is transformed by some other method of sound production such as when using a musical instrument to create the audible sounds of he notation or through the use of digital/midi devices and sound samples. The music (sounds) produced, when heard by the audience, are again transformed into physical movement or emotional movement through our sensory based observations of the sound and our individual reaction to the sounds we hear. Hopefully, the reactions by the listening audience are congruent to the chosen message or intention made by the composer or more simply put, the audience loves you!

The message itself is not the music rather the music is the vehicle for conveying the message.

The performer plays the written music, hopefully as intended by the composer, causing audible sound to be heard by others. As the saying goes, “…if a tree falls in the forest…” so too must a composer and the performer require an audience closing the loop from creation to observance of their music.

The chart below shows that knowing and understanding the components of musicality which are the foundations a composer and a performer need for composing music and interpreting music in preparation for a performance. One of the means of music production, in this case music notation, opens the door for the possibility of outwardly hearing the music rolling around in the composer’s head, made possible via the performance of it. Each needs the other unless the performer is also the composer.

Performer - Musicality - Notation ImageThis particular understanding though rather basic actually provides the foundation for a more complete understanding of a means of making music from this global perspective.

Musicality and its Components

First, music is created using several major musical concepts or components, such as performance techniques, musical form or structure, rhythm, melody, harmony, tempo, dynamics, etc. The application of each of the components of musicality has a direct and an indirect impact or influence on how we perceive music as a listener. Collectively, the composer must consider and use the various concepts or components of musicality in an attempt to create a musical masterpiece with a high degree of musicality.

Virtuosity is the highest degree of musical performance ability and a composition, when it is considered to be a musical masterpiece, is said to embody the highest degree of musicality. Ultimately, a virtuosic performance is only as valid as the attending audience’s ability to hear it.

Key Distinctions within Musicology

Musicology is basically the scholarly study of music. There are several disciplines within the context of musicology such as music history, geographically related influences on music, music theory, composition, the development of and the historical significances of advancements made in music notation, performance and methods of performance, instrumentation and orchestration, among others.

For our purposes (within this article) we will be focusing on the music theory aspect of musicology, more specifically, on the components of musicality. We will begin by focusing on three main areas of interest; music theory, music notation and musical performance as detailed below. Again, the one assumption we are making is that there is an audience which is actually listening.

Musicality and Music Theory

Music Theory is a branch of musicology or music scholarship which focuses on the tools or materials and the structure of music both of which assist in defining/describing music and in creating music. The very nature and idea of music theory suggests and attempts to support defining how to create what we call music and secondly, that music has some form or structure to it which can be defined and written down for others to observe, come to know, understand and perform as music, in one form or another. The nature of music and the thought ideas which have a musical character, which reside originally within the mind of the composer, remains elusive without some means of conveying those thought ideas to another.

This is where the concepts, principals and ideas within music theory and notation becomes of utmost importance. The effective use of the tools within both is only as good as the composer’s ability to use them and only as good as that they accurately reflect and convey the actual intended message. Albeit limited to date, the tools of music notation and the proper use of them is the subject matter for our overall presentation.

Music Theory is not music rather it is the study of the tools and structure of music.

Musicality and Music Notation

The practice, act and use of music notation tools can be thought of as a language comprised of symbols, words, phrases and other marks which a composer uses to communicate their internal creative ideas (of a musical nature) and bringing those ideas into the physical world, writing them down. In this way music notation enables them to convey their musical message or intent to others, first to the performer and finally to the active listener of the audible representations of the written concepts which most closely represents the composer’s musical ideas and intent and as written in the manuscript. If the composer’s notation is accomplished well and the ensuing performance is also done well, the results we hear have qualities and characteristics of musicality or as stated slightly differently as “of or having a musical nature”.

Therefore, music notation is the art and skill of transmuting thought ideas into a written language which is understood by those who learn the meaning of the symbols, words, phrases and other marks, as used to represent musical thought ideas. This is the value of music notation, the vehicle used by a composer to convey inanimate musical thought ideas into a tangible thing and which then can be performed creating audible sound.

Musicality and Performance

High artistic ability, to play an instrument well, takes years of focused practice. What begins as noise with little to no musicality soon becomes musical with practice. The amount of quality practice along with the innate and natural ability of an artist and the guidance of a well trained teacher, speeds the time it takes to learn high level performance skills and increases the artist’s ability to interpret and perform music. Perfecting this practice supports the composer and it permits the attainment of well played music. Hopefully, the musical thought ideas contain a high degree of musicality.

Playing an instrument does not necessarily mean the performer can compose music although many do. Also, the ability to play music does not imply nor does it represent one’s ability to read or write music notation, as many do not. A performer may reach a high level of fame without learning any or with a limited ability to read or write music. However, the ability to read and write music, using music notation practices, enables the performer to extend their learned and natural performance abilities and expands greatly the available repertoire available to them.

Music Notation becomes audible sound through the act of performance. Notation and performance exist as separate ideas within the context of music and action is the common denominator. Simply put, the composer must write it down and the instrumentalist must perform it in order for us to hear it.

Black and Yellow - Creativity and Musicality

Musicality and Creativity – Beyond the Basics of Music Theory

Coincidental to articles being written about music theory and the basic components therein, the articles in this series opens the door to a much broader understanding of music as a whole idea rather than a singular component or a much smaller or minute concept within music and within music theory itself, such as; what is a note, what is a staff, etc. We must think of it as an expansive set of ideas from which we, as composers, can select from and then use in such a way as to create new music with a high degree of musicality.

This is a difficult task as the tools of music theory only give us a collection of markings and the concepts behind the structure of music. It does not provide the inspiration or the application of the creative process which transmutes simple marks into music which contains a high degree of musicality. In this regard, music theory is only one of the necessary ingredients of a musical composition and not the creation itself or the actual process of creation and they are not the cognitive ideas behind the music either, they are the tools we use to represent the ideas in the form of music. Also, they are only the representations we have accepted which allow us to recognize the concepts embodied within them.

With that said we must also come to know the process of creation as it resides and as it is understood, within our self as an individual. This is the purpose of the article series on creation titled, The Seven Keys to Creation, which we will be reintroducing and expanding upon in the coming weeks ahead.

The chart below reflects the series of concepts needed to effectively compose music from the position of creativity, producing music, performing it and listening to it which is the full cycle of music creation in the basic sense.

Musicality - Music Composition - Creativity Chart


In conclusion, as composers of music, we must be able to effectively utilize several factors when making music. We must expand our thinking about the music making cycle from creation all the way through to the observations made by the audience as well as their responses to our music. Collectively, the Components of Musicality coupled with several additional ideas which include; the principals and concepts within the Seven Keys of Creation (which includes inspiration), music notation, performance and performance method and an audience, comprise or make up the parts of the complete set of considerations within the cycle of music creation. It is imperative that in order for us to actually (and more effectively) create something that has never existed before, which holds a high level of musicality and which is accepted by others as great music, the composer’s collective focus should include all of these concepts and ideas. If we have all of the tools but do not know how to use them, how can we create anything new, especially if we expect it to be well received?

With that question we come to understand the necessity of learning many things in order to create an expression of high musicality and to effectively convey musical ideas to others. The entire process encompasses several major musical concepts. These include but are not limited to performance techniques, musical form or structure, rhythm, melody, harmony, tempo, dynamics, etc. Each of these concepts support and collectively help us to create what we call music. The creative use of the tools of music notation, the symbols, words, phrases and marks when effectively assembled within any one of the collection of musical forms and executed properly through quality performance skills produces a high degree of musicality. In this way, we (as composers of music) have a fivefold focus, creativity and the process of creation, competence in music theory and composition, music notation (based upon accepted practice) and performance, as a means to an end, that being the creation of audible and pleasing new music which has a high level of musicality.

Articles for Further Study

Throughout the remainder of this article series we will be presenting information about each of the components of musicality through the filter of our fivefold focus. Each will be defined and briefly presented as an overview followed by an extensive review of the symbols, words and phrases, which are specifically used by composers to convey emotional intent to the performers of the music.

Lastly, due to the extensive nature of each of the components of musicality, more than one article or article series has either been written or is planned to be written about each them. For convenience in locating these articles, a link will be provided for ready reference in the chart shown below. Some, as noted, are already completed while others are in the process of being written now. As they are completed the links will be added for navigational convenience.

Reference Links

Basic Music Theory

Music Theory – Level 1 – A collection of 13 multimedia articles series covering the basics of music theory including note and rest values, barlines, repeats, brackets, braces, the fermata, ties and slurs, etc.

Music Theory – Level 2 – A collection of 10 multimedia articles covering such topics as dynamics, time signature, some basic performance techniques and much more!

Music Theory – Level 3 – A large group of articles presenting the ideas, principals and concepts on such topics as musical expression, embellishments and performance techniques.

Advanced Articles Within the Above Series

Expression in Music – Part 23a – a 4-part article series presenting the ideas, concepts and the tools in music notation used to alter the emotional effects being conveyed through marks, symbols, words and phrases as used in music notation. These multimedia articles address musical dynamics, instructional words and phrases and other concepts used to add color to the performed music.

Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a – Establishes the foundation for the article series on embellishments in music often referred to as musical ornaments. The series opens with its introduction and proceeds through a lengthy series of articles presenting an array of musical ornaments used to embellish the melody within the composition. Embellishments such as the grace note, appogiatura, trill, mordent, etc. are presented.

Introduction to Violin Articulations – An introduction to articulations in general and more specifically to those aplied to the stringed instruments. This article focuses on those basic articulations as available to the violin.





Speed in Music – Tempo – A multimedia presentation about tempo and the influence of tempo on note and rest values as related to duration and based on the shape of the note or rest. Further presentations about tempo include information about the effect of altering the tempo on the resulting performance of the music.


Dynamics – Music Theory – Level 2 – Part 21a – A multimedia presentation about dynamics as applied to music. Loud, soft or in between. The marks and symbols which direct the performers as to the intensity or the volume the notes are to be played.

Dynamics – Music Theory – Level 2 – Part 21b – The conclusion to the 2-part multimedia presentation about dynamics. Demonstrates several dynamics using mp3 sound files.

Scales in Music

Acoustics of Music

Acoustics of Music – Part 1 – Series Introduction – A 9-part article series about human hearing, frequencies, amplitude, over tones and the FFT (Fast Fourier Transform). Looking at music from a slightly different perspective, this article series takes a peak at what music looks like graphically along with ideas as to how you might use this material to enhance your music writing efforts.


Thank you for taking the time to review this information. We hope that you have enjoyed (and maybe learned something of value) from your reading of this introduction to the Components of Musicality article series enough so as to cause you to come back and visit us. Thanks in advance!

The Components of Musicality

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