Copyright

What Is Secular Music? - Definition & History

What Is Secular Music? - Definition & History
Coming up next: Crescendo in Music: Definition & Notation

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Defining Secular Music
  • 0:59 Secular Music's Purpose
  • 2:30 History of Secular Music
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

Simply put, secular music is any music not written for the church. This lesson will examine the history of this important musical genre and look at how it became what it is today.

Defining Secular Music

Secular music is any music not written for the church. There's got to be more to it than that, right? Nope, that's it. It's a really broad category that encompasses everything from contemporary pop music to early troubadours.

Here's the thing about that though: the earliest forms of written music were almost entirely for the church, called sacred music. Secular music wasn't typically written down. Why? A couple of reasons really. First, paper was expensive and hard to get in the 900s, so why waste it on music that didn't need to be written down? Second, sacred music was written down so it could be passed out to congregations to perform. If you're making money as a secular musician, you don't want somebody else to have access to your music and take money away from you. Third, early secular music was an oral tradition, the purpose of which was purely entertainment.

Secular Music's Purpose

Quick, picture a troubadour. Did you picture the classic, Shakespearean troubadour, traveling town to town with their lute? Or the bard character from your Dungeons and Dragons game? Either way, that's not actually a troubadour. What you're picturing is a minstrel. A troubadour played music for the rich, was associated with the upper class, and quite frequently was a part of the upper class (like the knight Philippe de Remi, for example).

Where the purpose of sacred music was to unify church congregations, typical early secular songs were either epic poems or love ballads. Though, the earliest written secular songs discovered so far were particularly raunchy party music, spread by goliards, the wandering students and clerics of medieval Europe. These Goliard Songs were monophonic, meaning they had a singular melodic line, typically unaccompanied, and were notated in a manner that we're still unsure how to decipher exactly. The lyrics were about women, wine, and satire.

Early creators and performers of secular music were called either troubadours or trouvères, depending on the region. They both mean basically lyric poet, and there were some seriously important musicians who can be counted as early troubadours, including Adam de la Halle, Josquin des Prez, and Guillaume Dufay. tThe final two were prolific sacred music composers as well.

History of Secular Music

As we saw with the earliest forms of recorded secular music, there is a sharp distinction between sacred and secular music. This continues to be the case today, though there are certainly some examples of crossover musicians.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support