Music, Rhetorically Speaking


When Aristotle broke rhetoric into three parts — credibility, logic, and passion — maybe music was his muse.

The mathematical, rhythmic structure of music, Western music, at least, is built on logic: Clefs command. Notes beat. Rests pause. Chords progress.

Passion rips in equal measures through Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Melissa Etheridge’s “Like the Way I Do,” despite a chasm of centuries, and despite different instruments, inspirations, form and feeling.

Credibility is harder to pin down, but there must be dependability, like staying on key (except if you’re John Cage, or Lucille Ball). There must be believability, whether it is  Neil Diamond crooning ballads like “Forever in Blue Jeans,” Steve Martin strumming a banjo, or Johnny Cash singing about Folsom Prison.

So if music fits the rhetorical test, can songwriting, with its logical rhymes, passionate melodies and lyrics and meaningful messages be far behind?

The expressive command of language — the language of words, eighth notes, drum beats or vibrating strings — awakens all that is eloquent in us.

2 thoughts on “Music, Rhetorically Speaking

  1. Hmmm. I thought I was being clever, since the question about songwriting aka music being equal to rhetoric was in fact a rhetorical question.

    Maybe I need to spell out the message? I tend to like to imply and suggest without putting too fine a point on the meaning but maybe I’m just being oblique. Obtuse? One of those.

  2. As always, I enjoy reading your posts, but in this one, I didn’t know the point of it until the fifth paragraph. And, even then, what I THINK is the thesis is posed as a question. There is no firm stance.

    What I think you’re doing is comparing music to Aristotle’s rhetoric to music, but, “maybe music was his muse” doesn’t really say that. You can go many different ways from that opening paragraph.

    After re-reading this to properly critique, I now see what you were trying to do, but, it doesn’t normally take a second read to fully digest your work.

    It seems like the main issue is the lack of a firm stance anywhere in this piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s