What Are the Forms and Functions of Music?

A great song must have an infectious beat and relatable lyrics, creating an inviting experience and encouraging others to share the music with one another.

Plato and Aristotle both saw earthly music as an echo of divine musical forces; Epicureans and Stoics disagreed with this view, instead placing greater importance on sensation and human listeners as components of music’s performance.


Early human cultures utilized music as a form of expression and ritual expression, further cementing its place within all cultures. While the exact origins of music remain debatable, most scholars agree that its development predated written language; although some have associated its creation with speech development.

Ancient Greeks invented an intricate system of musical notation to accurately transcribe melodies and perfect the art of composition. Over time, medieval Gregorian chants gave way to Renaissance polyphony with composers such as Josquin des Prezi and Palestrina elevating it into a refined art form loved both by clergy and nobility alike.

Pythagoras was the first philosopher-mathematician to establish mathematical principles of music, believing certain rhythms corresponded with planetary movements. Other philosopher-mathematicians such as Rene Descartes and Gottfried von Leibniz saw music as reflecting reality. Modern era music saw incredible advances across all aspects; Internet access democratized creation and dissemination worldwide.


Studies investigating potential functions of music have been undertaken from both theoretical and empirical angles. While theoretical proposals often use deductive logic to make explicit evolutionary claims, empirical research often utilizes multiple functional dimensions with statistical techniques such as cluster or factor analyses to help identify fundamental distinct dimensions among a large set of variables.

Musical function refers to the role that specific chords or melodic ideas play within an overall compositional context. For instance, the opening theme of a sonata may have an affirmative function; or using harmonic progression from tonic dominant subdominant as modulatory devices serves a functional purpose when used correctly.

Studies conducted through open survey questions and dyadic data analysis of roommates have demonstrated the many reasons people listen to music; one such study revealed similarity in music preferences as an indicator of social bonding; other research points to background entertainment, memory recall prompting, emotion regulation and arousal regulation among others as key functions for listening.


Forms provide the framework on which melodies, harmonies and rhythms are draped. As blueprints for musical pieces, forms create expectations and elicit emotions – from classical Western sonatas to call-and-response structures of African traditional music and classical Indian raga; also, musical forms vary widely by genre – from linear narrative songs with linear lyrics to jazz’s freewheeling improvisational nature.

Popular music typically employs sectional song forms such as the AAA song form (strophic form), 32-bar song form and verse-chorus format, among others. Other genres, like rondo or canzona, use contrasting sections with one repetitive theme.

Choral music often takes the form of a ternary form, where both acts repeat (AABB). A cappella pieces such as cappella strophe or cappella aria often employ this structure as well. Other ternary forms include compound and da capo forms.


Though many musicians assert their musical integrity is paramount and they refuse to sell out, it is still necessary for them to recognize they operate within an industry and must find their audience or their career will likely come to an abrupt end.

There are numerous methods available to you when it comes to identifying your target audience. One such way is studying similar artists and their audiences. You could also utilize Spotify For Artists as a great way to discover who listens to your music; using it allows you to understand your target demographic more completely and build more effective campaigns.

Active audiences, composed of those who actively stream your songs, are the most prized segment of any audience. Next in line for value are programmed audiences – those who have heard your music through editorial playlists, Radio & Autoplay plays or their personal playlists; finally there is your super audience, comprised of your most devoted supporters.