A musical idea is a concept expressed in music. Rather than being ideas about music, musical ideas are creations of composers that represent the conceptual pieces of their artwork. Some define a musical idea as the composition of a theme or musical combination. Others simply leave the definition of musical ideas up to the composer.
The use of the musical idea coincides with certain kinds of music philosophy. Many of these philosophies were more prominently entertained during the eras of classical or instrumental music than they are in today’s mainstream community of composers. While today’s music market could be seen as essentially market-driven, in previous eras of musical composition, music was a way to express a wide range of ideas, including but not limited to psychological impulses, commentaries, and even concepts in higher mathematics.
Experts point out that musical ideas are rarely accessed by the listeners. Many academics who teach music contend that musical ideas are typically at a higher level than what reaches the average listener. They are seen as a kind of elite aspect that only the trained musician can understand.
An example of musical ideas can be obtained by studying the use of fugues in the era of music in which they were primarily used. By assessing the overall construction and organization of the fugue, listeners could identify certain themes or patterns that some would call musical ideas. In trying to identify a musical idea, the listener might identify smaller parts of the music from arpeggios, counterpoint, and other types of note structures, to the repetition of motifs and other patterns in a greater musical setting.
Since the understanding of musical ideas is highly subjective, and quite solidly attached to similar theories, such as literary theory, it’s necessary for the seeker of musical ideas to read widely about musical composition and other art forms. Through evaluating how established composers come up with pieces of music, and learning more about how artistic theory works in general, the student can gradually develop a more vibrant idea of what would constitute a musical idea, and how these ideas might be expressed in sound. Reading the work of composers from different periods of time is also helpful for understanding the use of musical ideas in different eras.