Is Silence Music?

Piano Lessons / music theory / Is Silence Music?

The question today is, “Is Silence Music?” Naturally you may think, “How can silence be music?” Interestingly, there’s a pivotal piece of music that was composed in 1952 by John Cage called “Four Minutes, Thirty-three Seconds“. You may have heard of it.

“4’33” was written for piano in three movements and all three movements are nothing but rests. The artist comes on stage, opens the fallboard of the piano, and looks at his or her watch and waits the appropriate time for each of the three movements and that is the whole piece! What was he trying to prove? It’s actually a very interesting point that is made.

When you think about the whole universe, you cannot have matter without having space. Indeed, the space between things is as much of a reality as the objects in it. One cannot exist without the other. When I was attending the Manhattan School of Music, we studied the literary works of Carlos Castaneda in one of my classes. Castaneda conducted many different experiments to come to the realization of the meaning of life.

One of the teachings of Don Juan was when you look at a tree most people just look at the leaves of the tree, identify it and stop thinking about it because that is what we are programmed to do as human beings. He was trying to get the young man to understand that you can look at the tree and try not to classify it and indeed you can look at the space between the leaves and appreciate the beauty of that reality as well.

How does this relate to music? Music is all about timing and the rests in music are just as important as the notes. Sometimes, they are even more important. The time you take between notes is what sets the notes apart from one another. So yes, silence is music and almost all great pieces of music have silence in them. Perhaps not to the extent of Cage’s “4’33” which was really more of a statement and philosophical treatment on what music is. Silence must be taken seriously as a pivotal point in music. Thanks for joining me at Living Pianos.