Music as Water: The Functions of Music from a Utilitarian Perspective

doi: 10.26913/80s02017.0111.0006

Liam Maloney
University of York, UK


The rapid increase of technologically enhanced listening platforms gives listeners access to music with ever-increasing ease and ubiquity, giving rise to the suggestion that we should now conceptualize music as a resource similar to water; something that is utilized to achieve everyday goals. This paper proposes that music is a utilitarian resource employed by listeners to augment cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological aspects of the self. To better explore these notions this paper examines the potential role of the “functions of music,” first espoused by Alan P. Merriam in 1964. Merriam suggested music has a situational use and an underlying function (music’s ability to alter the self through listening).

The research presented here asserts that listeners interact with specific musical materials to achieve or orientate themselves towards contextually-rooted goals. Reinforcing Tia DeNora’s suggestion that music is a “technology of the self” this research presents the results of a 41 publication meta-analysis exploring the possible functions of music. The resultant Aggregate Thematic Functions Framework (ATF framework) identifies 45 possible utilitarian functions of music, spread across five domains of action. The framework also proposes a meta-domain and an emotional sub-domain.

Keywords: augmentation; functions; goal; listening of music; reg⁠ula⁠tion; resource;

Cite as: Maloney, L. (2017). Music as water: The functions of music from a utilitarian perspective [Special Issue]. AVANT8, 57–67. doi:10.26913/80s02017.0111.0006

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