How Asian Music Is Able to Overcome the Barriers of Language and Space

Introduction to Barriers of Language and Space

Many researches and studies have been and are still being done in the field of Psychology to find out the scientific reasons behind how music has an influence over the mind such that it has the capability of being used as a communicative medium. For example, an infant hears and interprets the sounds which are accompanied with the words that are being said to it by the people around (Cross, 2014). Moreover, music as a communicative medium has application in music therapy as it has been used to treat children and young adults with autism who communicate verbally and non-verbally in a limited manner (Wigram and Gold, 2006), and in language development of children with delayed speech development (Groß, Linden and Ostermann, 2010). Asian music such as Indian Classical, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese Music styles possess the power to become cross-cultural. These genres of music possess unique attributes and beauty that enable them to have recognition all across the globe.

Role of Music in Overcoming Barriers of Language when Fusion of Cultures Takes Place

A classic example of this is the film Mozart in China that was produced in 2007. In this film, one will find the overlapping of German and Chinese cultures in aspects of language as well as music. The film beautifully depicts the differences in the two cultures and addresses the issues of discrimination, prejudice, racism and cultural barriers. The play could be well understood by German as well as Chinese speakers, not only because actors used gestures while speaking in German or Chinese, but also because of the unique music that is heard time and again as the movie progresses. The music is a blend of Western Music and the major pentatonic scale, which is scale on which basic Chinese music is based (Zheng et al., 2017), and successfully conveys the emotions associated with the particular scenes in the movie. The intensity is heightened by the romance that sparks between the protagonists whose intercultural differences are not a barrier for them to be united. Though these protagonists do not speak the same language, they still find love because after all, music not only conveyed audience about their emotions, but was also able to play the role of a strong metalanguage that was able to overcome the linguistic barrier and unite the lovers (Yang and Saffle, 2017).

The Role of Music in Uniting People

There are various types of situations where one can find music overcoming linguistic challenges, such as in the case of multi-cultural choirs wherein members come from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In a case like this, the cultural and the language barriers should impose challenges in a manner that members might not be able to communicate their ideas with each other. However, music is what is able to unite the members, as seen in the case of an India based choir group, Coeur Crescendo (Fernandes, 2018). India being a very diverse country with 22 officially recognized languages gives a very good example of how music prevailing from each language is able to overcome linguistic barriers. For example, various national music festivals connect artists from different regions of the country to music lovers (Bureau, 2012). Thus, music has a major role to play in uniting a diverse country like India. This prompts one to think that a diverse country like India might be united because of music and the various types of it found within the Indian border.

There are issues of hostility among people belonging to different religions within a state, as well as situations of hostility amongst ultra-nationalist states. Inter-religion jamming sessions, for example a fusion music performance by Moroccan, Indonesian and Italian singers performed at IIC, Jakarta in 2017, break rather than just overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers at times like these when political tensions amongst states is high. All music requires is hearing, which is not the case with language. Vocal music may involve words. However, it is accompanied with notes that have the capability of appealing to the soul of an individual. Language requires translation, but music does not. Music can be used to form instant connections amongst people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds (TAMPUBOLON, 2017).

Study of Regional Music Imperative to Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers

The music of a particular region embodies the culture of the region in question, and it is true the other way round as well – that is, the culture of a region is shaped by the music of the region (Cross, 2014). Understanding music of a region can very well help an individual to get to know about the culture of that area and to connect with its people. For example, some foreigners in Japan choose to intensively study taiko in order to better understand the music and the culture of the Japanese people, and connect with them. Taiko is a broad term used to refer to Japanese percussion instruments, and it essentially embodies Japanese tradition. Japanese language is very difficult to learn as a second language and foreigners find it difficult to fit in and connect with the people. Learning and studying taiko is one very effective way of overcoming this language barrier (Jaffe and Johnson, 2008).

Role of Technology in Enabling Music to Overcome Barriers of Language and Space

In the earlier times, ‘recordings’ made music of one region accessible to another. Music has become cross-cultural as the times have progressed, thanks to the improvement and advances in technology, and this is one major factor why Asian music has become popular all over the world. Western music getting influenced by Indian, Indonesian and Japanese music is one impact of music being able to overcome the barrier of space. Another impact is of invitation of various Asian artists to first world countries for presentation of their art in the form of musical performances. Indian artists like Late Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar had performed in the US, Europe, Australia and his concerts were attended by large audiences, even at a time when the news of concerts spread only through fliers, radio and newspapers, further substantiating the claim that music has the power to overcome the barrier of space. Music has been deemed as a universal metalanguage which has the capability of expressing one’s true emotions and feelings, and translation in music is unimportant as a ‘musical connection’ is being formed. (Raffel, 1964).

The much popular tradition of guru-shishya parampara is involved in the teaching of Indian Classical Music – both Hindustani Classical Music (North-Indian Music) as well as Carnatic Music (South-Indian). This tradition which depicts the pupil and the teacher’s relationship encompasses a lot of characteristics – including the complete surrender of the pupil to the teacher (Schippers, 2007). Indian classical music Gurus are often stern and unbending, but now changing times have changed the mindsets of a few teachers, who agree to teach the Indian Ragas to their pupils through ‘online’ means, thanks to the Internet. In Indian Classical Music, Ragas must be played/sung at a particular time of the day. This is often disrupted if the student and the teacher are in two different locations of the world, say India and USA (Vedabala, 2016). Nonetheless, Internet has further assisted Music in overcoming barriers of space.

The Distinct Style of Each type of Music Influences the Manner in which it Overcomes Barriers of Language and Space

Gamelan of Bali and Java in Indonesia refers to the instrumental ensembles in which instruments such as flutes, percussion, xylophones are pre-dominantly played. The music is based on both pentatonic as well as the seven note scale. Dr. Helen Loth, a music therapist, mentions in her personal account how she was able to connect with gamelan music, despite previously learning only western music for most of her life. She mentions that when she had just started learning about gamelan, besides realizing that it was something completely different from western music, she found herself connecting with the members of the gamelan group more than she was able to connect with her peers in the western music groups she was a part of. This happened despite the fact that she did not know Balinese – and neither did she had encountered this type of music before.

She felt more accepted in these groups and was able to connect with the members at an altogether different level even though she did not share a common verbal language with them. Rather, she shared a common ‘musical’ language with them. She mentions how there is no exchange of words, but an exchange of ‘musical understanding’ when one plays in a gamelan, and this is in alignment with how gamelan is performed – without a conductor and with aural communication (Loth, 2006). As discussed in her personal account, the various features of Balinese music appealed to Dr. Loth, and essentially these unique features of the gamelan attribute Indonesian music with the capability of overcoming linguistic barriers.

Similarly, the notes of Indian classical music, have been compared to the sounds which are made by birds in nature. The Indian Ragas – compositions made of Indian notes and Languages spoken in India such as Hindi, Farsi, Punjabi etc.- have often been acknowledged to contain melodies that can directly appeal to the emotions of a human, and even ancient Indian scriptures highlight the potential of Indian Classical Music in Music Therapy as well as in healing of the mind and body. In Ragas, specific notes are used, and sung in a specific style, which affect the emotions of the listener, and he is affected despite not being able to understand the meaning of the composition (Sanivarapu, 2015).

Studies reveal that tonal perceptions of individuals are much more distinct than we know (Matsunaga et al., 2018). Each and every individual in this world is distinct and unique, and each and every one has their own preferences. It is highly probable that an individual might feel more connected to one form of music than the other. Characteristics and features of one type of music are distinct from the other and may appeal to one individual but not someone else. Nonetheless, music as a whole offers the opportunity to all members of the society to discover the music that makes them feel most connected to.

Expression Through Music When One Lacks Native Proficiency in a Language

If one is unable to express himself through language, he can do so through the medium of music. Expression of feelings, emotions, opinions and views is possible not just through words, but also through music. When one is not fluent in a particular language, one might feel hesitant to converse in that language with another individual. However, exchange of preferred music styles and songs might spark a connection between the two individuals.

Conclusion on Barriers of Language and Space

This essay substantiates the fact that music has the capability of overcoming barriers of language and space and also puts forward reasons as to how it is able to do so. Through national and international music festivals, artists from all over the globe can present their art forms in front of large audiences who get to explore and appreciate different types of music. Jamming sessions amongst people with different musical backgrounds, formation of multi-cultural choir groups, production of cross-cultural movies have not only promoted cross-cultural exchange and united people of different backgrounds, but has also given birth to fusion music, which is not only overcoming cultural barriers, but also promoting neoculturation. Through music, one can learn about the culture of a region, without actually knowing the language, such as in the case of learning of Japanese Taiko. The advent of internet has further made access to a particular region’s music much faster, further enabling music to overcome barriers of space. Music is also able to overcome barriers of language and space also because different music styles possess distinct features – Balinese gamelan and Indian ragas are much different from each other and thus have different affects on different individuals. Music is certainly a metalanguage that does not require translation as the notes, rhythm and melodies are enough to touch an individual’s soul and affect his emotions – and that individual might be in any part of the world – which is why the ‘musical language’ is the most powerful tool to overcome the barriers of language and space.

References for Barriers of Language and Space

Bureau, M., 2012. Music breaks language barrier at National Youth Festival. The Hindu, [online] Available at: <>

Cross, I., 2014. Music and communication in music psychology. Psychology of Music, 42(6), pp.809-819.

Fernandes, S., 2018. Overcoming language barriers through music. Times of India, [online] Available at: <>

Groß, W., Linden, U. and Ostermann, T., 2010. Effects of music therapy in the treatment of children with delayed speech development - results of a pilot study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 10(1).

Jaffe, J. and Johnson, H., 2008. Performing Japan: Contemporary Expressions Of Cultural Identity. 1st ed. Folkestone, Kent, UK: Global Oriental, pp.55-60.

Loth, H., 2006. How Gamelan Music Has Influenced Me as a Music Therapist - A Personal Account. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, [online] 6(1). Available at: <>.

Matsunaga, R., Yasuda, T., Johnson-Motoyama, M., Hartono, P., Yokosawa, K. and Abe, J., 2018. A cross-cultural comparison of tonality perception in Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and American listeners. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, [online] 28(3), pp.178-188. Available at: <>.

Raffel, B., 1964. Music, Poetry, and Translation. The Antioch Review, 24(4), p.453.

Sanivarapu, S., 2015. India′s rich musical heritage has a lot to offer to modern psychiatry. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, [online] 57(2), p.210. Available at: <>.

Schippers, H., 2007. The Guru Recontextualized? Perspectives on Learning North Indian Classical Music in Shifting Environments for Professional Training. Asian Music, [online] 38(1), pp.123-138. Available at: <>.

TAMPUBOLON, H., 2017. Overcoming barriers with music. THE JAKARTA POST, [online] Available at: <>

Vedabala, S., 2016. Indian Classical Music in a Globalized World. Sangeet Galaxy, 5(1), pp.3-9.

Wigram, T. and Gold, C., 2006. Music therapy in the assessment and treatment of autistic spectrum disorder: clinical application and research evidence. Child: Care, Health and Development, 32(5), pp.535-542.

Yang, H. and Saffle, M., 2017. China And The West: Music, Representation And Reception. 1st ed. Michigan: University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor, pp.76-79.

Zheng, X., Li, D., Wang, L., Shen, L., Gao, Y. and Zhu, Y., 2017. An automatic composition model of Chinese folk music. AIP Conference Proceedings, [online] 1820(080003), pp.080003-1–080003-5. Available at: <>

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