2. Music is everywhere

Music is everywhere – in our modules you’ll discover how music works and explore what music means and what it does.

Music is all around us, all of the time. It isn’t just something which happens in designated spaces like concert halls or clubs. Take the supermarket, where it has been shown that the choice of background music can influence wine buying habits; or restaurants, where playing classical music apparently made customers spend more (this research is summarised here). This shows that music can be a powerful influence on how we act, all the more so because we’re not always conscious of it.

This might make music seem very mysterious, perhaps leading to the assumption that it is a difficult subject to study from scratch as an adult. Often people think that it’s necessary to be an expert instrumentalist or singer to understand music in more depth, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Each of us has a rich and diverse experience of music which we bring to our study of the subject. We do often recommend that students take part in a musical activity, such as singing in a local choir, alongside their studies with us and we are currently making plans for this sort of activity to become part of our curriculum. But there are other ways of being actively involved with music other than performing, such as dancing, and also listening. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on studying listening to music as an activity (including in the OU’s Listening Experience Database project). This OpenLearn unit gives some ideas about how musicologists study the reception of music; that is, how it is perceived by listeners.

To be able to understand something about the power of music and why it effects us in so many different and subtle ways, it’s necessary to understand something about how music works. Our level 2 module A224 Inside Music focuses particularly on the ‘elements’ of music and how they fit together. Our podcast on the song ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz provides a useful introduction to this.

A342 Central questions in the study of music puts all this knowledge into context to understand what music means and what it does – whether that’s looking at the role of music in films like Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, studying how music in Scotland since 1980 relates to its national social and historical context, or the various meanings and usages of National Anthems, as Rosemary Golding, Ben Winters and Byron Dueck discuss here.


You might find it interesting to reflect on the role of music in your life. In 2006, the BBC Radio Four programme Front Row invited people to keep a ‘listening diary’ for a day, noting all the music which entered your life during that 24 hours. The results of the experiment are analysed here.

Studying our modules gives you insight into your everyday experiences of music and perhaps even opens your ears to types of music that you didn’t enjoy or even know about before.

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