In a major publication of 1983 Bruno Netti identified the explanation of musical style as a central problem in ethnomusicological research. This essay is intended to offer a partial solution of that problem, seeking to define musical style as an abstraction of the matrix of cognitive and physical aspects which constitute human music-making. In the cognitive part of this equation I include the critically important role played by social context, concurring with John Blacking's statement that ‘the creation of a musical style is the result of conscious decisions about the organization of musical symbols in the context of real or imagined social interaction’. However, in this category, I accord equal recognition to the body of musical and music-related knowledge held by a musician or any other member of society, whether this knowledge is implicitly assumed or explicitly acknowledged, historically conditioned or geographically referent, abstractly theoretical or firmly practical. The ‘conscious decisions’ Blacking points to are indeed made in the actual or perceptual domain of social interaction, but they are also considered from the cognitive perspective of acquired musical thought. Physical ingredients which help form the concept of musical style include the limits and possibilities of the human body and its movement patterns and material factors such as the parameters of any musical instrument (size, shape, posture, potential playing techniques, etc.) and performance location.