The Development and Application of Music Technology in Western Music

I. Introduction

The origin of word “music” can be dated back to ancient Greece (Wikipedia, Muse). In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Muses are several inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. Muses were considered as the origin of poetry, lyric songs and myths for centuries. However, the origin of music may be earlier – at the time sounds were made, music was born.

People have been considering all kinds of methods to improve music for thousands of years. Although music is always considered as a form of art and a cultural activity related to pure art and society, music cannot develop without science and engineering. This is why music technology matters in music development.

Different cultures have their own music styles, however, since the western music has formed a well-established system of music theory and music education, in this paper, I will focus on western music rather than other music.

Music technology is the study or the use of any device, mechanism, machine or tool by a musician or composer to make or perform music; to compose, notate, play back or record songs or pieces; or to analyze or edit music. Music technology has a great impact on music instruments, music theory, music performance, music recording and so on. With the development of information technology, music technology is more and more combined with computers and electrical devices nowadays. However, music technology has a much longer history.

II. The origin and the history of music technology

The first music instrument was invented based on the knowledge of music technology, and it was also the first practical application of music technology.

According to Physics, sounds are generated by vibration of all kinds of objects. The biggest difference between music and other sounds are the pitches, which are measured by Hertz (Hz). By using the vibrations of objects, people invented the first wind instruments, which was the antetype of flutes.

The first instrument may not be considered as an instrument according our standard today, because it cannot produce standard pitches. However, it’s a great breakthrough which helps people to perform music without singing (Winternitz, 1967).

Scientists discovered that besides air vibration, string vibrations and even hitting the objects can also make music. Music instruments were then classified into three categories in Greece and Rome: Greek named string instruments as enchordon or entata, wind instruments as pneumatempneusta and percussions as kroustukon; Roman named string instruments as tencile, wind instruments as inflaile and percussions as pulsatile (Campbell, 2009).

Apart from music instruments, music theory has also made great progress with music technology.

Physicists discovered that two strings with a length ratio of 1:2 can produce a very coordinated sound when plucked at the same time, but the sound constructed by only using the string length of twice the relationship is too monotonous. Therefore, people tried to use other string length ratios to make proper sound, and this is the origin of Equal Temperament Theory. Different string length ratios will make different vibration frequencies, which will lead to different pitches. Classical music theory categories the frequencies in octaves and in an octave, frequencies are divided into 12 pitches, C, #C, D, #D, E, F, #F, G, #G, A, #A, B.

When electricity was invented and utilized, people started to record the music. In the early age, musicians have to performance in quiet environment to prevent recording the noises. However, with the application of noise reduction technology, audio becomes clearer and clearer. Audio processing and signals processing has become an important field in electrical engineering, which allows the music to be recorded clear enough even in a noisy environment.

Electricity also changes music instruments. The appearance of electric pianos, electric guitars and other electric instruments made the music more colorful. There are more and more music styles and more and more bands which allow people appreciate different kinds of music.

In 1946, the first computer was invented in University of Pennsylvania. Computer music, a new style of music, appears in people’s lives (Holmes, 2002). Computer music is the application of computing technology in music composition, to help human composers create new music or to have computers independently create music, such as with algorithmic composition programs. By using artificial intelligence, computer can produce fantastic music. The exploration of music technology is endless. At the present time, we still don’t know how much surprise it will bring us in the future.

III. The Connection between Music Technology and Chinese Music Market

With the continuous development of computer technology and the improvement of related software, computer music has gradually taken shape as a new generation of art, penetrating into all fields of music creation, production, instrument performance, commercial music, education, and entertainment. At present, music has extended from specialization and professional music to socialization and popular music. However, the rapid development of computer music has also brought many drawbacks accordingly. One of the most serious problem was the more and more music with low quality.

According to a user preference analysis report in Kuwo Music, Tencent Music Entertainment, 72% professional musicians are not satisfied with the top 10% music on the leaderboard of Kuwo Music APP. However, oppositely, the top 10% music on the leaderboard has nearly 10 times that of the music ranked from top 10% to top 20%, which indicates that audience has a totally different taste with professional music. There are two reasons lead to the current situation.

The first reason is that only few APP users have received professional music education. Lack of professional education prevents them from assessing the quality of music, they tend to listen “popular” music which are recommended by friends and their idols.

The second reason is that there only a few song writers in China can be regarded as professional musicians. Most of them are amateur musicians who don’t even know basic music theory. A questionnaire shows that 87% song writers registered in Kuwo APP don’t know the difference between major triad chords and minor triad chords. The high cost of music education prevents song writers to produce high-quality music. Usually, professional composers need to be talent enough and learn music for at least fifteen years in average. Lots of families cannot afford the cost. Moreover, music recording and song arrangement needs professional music which is still a high cost.

Less professional works were produced and audiences’ appreciations would trend to unicity, the two phenomena now lead to a vicious circle in Chinese music market. Therefore, music technology based on computers and electrical engineering is especially meaningful. By using music technology, the cost to produce a song will be reduced and the songs can be produced at a high efficiency.

IV. The Future Development and Application of Music Technology

In 21 century, music technology has gradually become the key research direction of many universities and there are three major research fields of music technology: electrical engineering emphasis, computer science emphasis and music emphasis. The potential areas of study include technologically assisted composition, technologically augmented performance, computer music systems and technology, music signal processing, music information retrieval, acoustics, sound recording, music instrument design, music cognition and perception and so on.

Till now, the most important field is still computer assisted composition. The artificial intelligence composer is quite mature that it can even pass the Turing test. Another important field is music recognition. Lots of music APP in the market has the function of music recognition, which enables users to search songs by playing a piece of song. However, the function is not well-developed now because it cannot recognize songs which changes their keys. Also, there are essential differences between audio recognition and speech recognition, which lead to great difficulty in distinguishing lyrics and melodies.

In the future, perhaps there may be a revolution of music instruments and music devices with the development of high technology. With the help of music technology, the future of music market is bright and worth expecting.

V. Conclusion

With the development of information technology, music technology has improved a lot. It is worth noticing that music also keeps pace with the rapid advancement of technology. Music technology is not the opposite of traditional western music. On the contrary, it combines traditional western music theories to create new era music. There have been many successful examples showing that electronic music is widely welcomed by the public, and some of the music composed by artificial intelligence is even better than the music composed by human beings. We have enough confidence that, in the future, music technology will occupy a greater proportion and inject fresh blood into the music market.


Winternitz, E. (1967). Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art: Studies in Musical Iconology.

Campbell, M., Greated, C. A., & Myers, A. (2009). Musical instruments: History, technology and performance of instruments of Western music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winternitz, E. (1979). Musical instruments and their symbolism in western art. New Haven (Connecticut): New Haven, Yale University Press.

Holmes, T. (2002). Electronic and Experimental Music. New York: Routledge.

Wikipedia – Lyre:

Wikipedia – Music:

Wikipedia – Muse:

Wikipedia – String instruments:

Data Sources: Provided by Kuwo Music, Tencent Music Entertainment

Kathleen Li
  • erotik

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