Music has many universals. It can be found in every culture in history from any time period. Everywhere, social identity and borders are reinforced with music. It is universally used for spiritual enlightenment, atheistic expression, and religious ceremony. However, it is not a universal language.

Webster 1913 defines language as "any means of conveying or communicating ideas". The idea that music can convey ideas regardless of society or culture is flawed. Just as spoken languages differ, so do so musical languages. Just as an Indonesian wouldn't understand English, he wouldn't understand the awesome power of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo or the lyrical genius of John Lennon. Just as most Americans would hear nothing more than tonal babbling when someone is speaking Japanese, they would not understand the subtle, philosophical implications of Japanese Sankyoku. Just as a Sub-Saharan African drummer would find many Western modern rock drummers pounding out uninteresting, repetitive beats, we would find a disturbing lack of harmony and chords in Chinese Peking Opera. From a Western point of view, classical Indian music is well admired for many reasons, such as the lightning quick fingering of sitarists and the insanely fast, complex drumming beats on the tabla. However, those native to Indian music appreciate the creativity of improvisation more than musical accuracy or speed.

In short, no culture really understand another culture's music. While music can seemingly communicate between cultures, it is interpreted as if it were made for listener's culture. Personal expectations and assumptions of music distort what a foreign piece may be trying to express. Music as a universal phenomenon would be more accurate than a universal language.