Different Language, Different Music

Different Language, Different Music

On one hand, many of us can agree that music is to some extent a universal language, and that there are actually quite a few things that can be said and felt through music even if we can’t understand the lyrics sometimes.

On the other hand, the language still has some direct consecuences to the structure of a composition and the way it ultimately delivers its melodies and rhythm.

This can be obvious when you find yourself at a record store and realize that for example, “Rock in spanish” it’s a section and “Rock” is another.

While it’s not a universal rule, it does happen, and it shows that while music is a universal language, there are some differences that is interesting to take into consideration.

In an article by k-international.com, William Wier Says:

English-only listening habits deprive us of the natural rhythm and melody of other languages—the nasal vowels of French, the alveolar trills of Portuguese, the consonant clusters of Czech. That most of us don’t understand the words only allows us to better appreciate the phonology of a language and concentrate on the human voice as a musical instrument. Those throat-clearing sounds you hear in German? That’s the voiceless velar fricative, and it adds a wonderful percussiveness to “99 Luftbalons.” English speakers don’t have it; it’s one reason the Anglicized version of Nena’s 1984 hit falls flat.

The idea of thinking of the voice as just another musical instrument can be a great help for people trying to get into music in other languages. Of course it’s great to understand what the musicians want to say but it shouldn’t be a barrier between you and new music.

Music Structure and Terminology.

There are also some differences when it comes to music terminology, for example:

In Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, etc.) notes are named with solfège syllables—DO, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA, SI, DO.

The solfège system used in many countries—including the United States—was revised in the 1800’s so that all notes begin with a different letter. The 7th note Si was replaced with Ti.

Young Woman Writing Musical Note While Playing Keyboard

In American-, and British-English, the solfège syllables are DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI, DO. If you listen to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song DO-RE-MI from The Sound of Music, you will notice the lyric for the 7th note is Tea- a drink with jam and bread.

Romance languages and many other countries use a note naming system called Fixed DO. Fixed DO means DO is always equal to the note C. For example:


An alternate system, commonly used throughout the world, is called Movable DO. In the Movable DO system, DO is always equal to the root note of the key. For the key of G major, the movable DO syllables would look like this:


This is the system that is more commonly used today, however in many other languages it remains to be Do, Re Mi, Fa, So (Sol), La, Si, Do.

More than changes to the actual music, this only refers to a technical issue with its terminology. It also may be easier for some to learn it in a specific system. A more clear example of this better learning is the rythmic values difference from American english and British english, which is like this:

Double Whole NoteBreve

Music itself is a language, but within this musical language there are many different ways to sing and different ways to write, but in a way, music is a tool to help us understand all these differences, making a foreign language a small issue compared to the big picture.

Arturo Riera
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