In this book, the author argues that what constitutes "music" in various societies is culturally based, not the result of some universal aspect of human physical and psychological make-up. This is true not only in non-Western music cultures, but in the West as well. Contrary to popular belief among musicians and the general public, the basis of Western music and acoustics is not scientific, but superstitious. Pythagorean mathematics as it relates to harmonics does not work, a fact that mathematicians and scientists have known for years and this has important implications, for it means that Western musical aesthetics and educational programmes in music are not rooted in the laws of physics, as is often maintained, but in a belief system that is an arbitrary product of human imagination. The author describes this belief system and traces its evolution from its Greek and Roman origins up to the present day and then provides a number of cross-cultural comparisons that illuminate the role of beliefs in musical behaviour.
His final chapter outlines a pan-cultural approach to music in education, one that will allow music and music education students to understand musical art rather than trying to perform it as a means to understanding.