Dedicated to helping others learn, play, compose and record music. Updated Mondays.

New here? Read the Beginner's Guide to Becoming a Musician.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Music Appreciation

Often I've found myself in social situations like a date or a party where someone asks me "what kind of music do you listen to?" This question usually confounds me. I like good music. How do I convey this to others without sounding like a jerk? I haven't quite figured that out yet, so I usually just end up haphazardly listing several different musical genres and artists that I'm into at the time. Something like "Oh, I like classic rock like Queen and Kansas, I also listen to a lot of scores for videogames since that's what inspires me in my career. I love bluegrass. Camille Saint-Saens is my favorite composer, and I love all the folks at OCRemix. Oh yeah, and some punk and electronic stuff as well. Oh and I just started getting into modern funk. Er... What about you?"

At this point I've just about killed the conversation. Anyone else have this happen to them?

There are many folks out there who are dedicated to a particular genre . They are the type who will have hundreds of CD's, possibly alphabetized. They can name all of the obscure sub-grenres within their genre of choice, and they'll know the vast differences between two different bands when, to us outsiders, they all sound the same.

Then there are those who will just say that they listen to a little of everything. Other music fans tend to look down on these people. The devoted fans will say that those who claim to like any type of music aren't really listening and don't appreciate music on a deeper level.

This is bull
. You should spend some time and learn to appreciate any type of music you can find.

Let's go back to my original point. I like good music. I think we can all agree that this covers a wide variety of genres. I like anything that has these elements, in order of importance:

1. Strong Melody
2. Interesting Rhythm
3. Compelling Atmosphere

Having only these three simple requirements means that I can enjoy just about every genre imaginable. I do tend to have a hard time with rap music since there is usually no emphasis on melody, but there are still a few in the genre that I enjoy.

Do not be too afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to enjoy music outside of your usual comfort zone
. Our appreciation for music comes almost entirely from our experience of it, meaning our appreciation doesn't actually come from some built-in musical part of our brain. For instance, if you were to raise a child exposing her to only music in the minor scale, and then as an adult she heard a major scale for the first time, it would sound completely alien to her, with half-step and whole-step changes that didn't make sense. You can try this on yourself by simply making up a completely arbitrary scale that doesn't match any known ones and then playing it. What is built in is a sense of rhythm and the ability to recognize the space between notes. Everything else is piled on by the music you listen to.

We will appreciate a song if it has, in our subconscious minds, an equal balance of familiarity and surprise. Too much familiarity and the song becomes boring, like listening to an old children's song. This is why I hate slogging through most beginner piano books. On the other hand, if the song has too many unfamiliar elements it will sound grating and generally unpleasant. This is why many folks don't like jazz or metal: they break too many conventions of music that other genres adhere to.

As we age, it seems that our definition of 'unfamiliarity' grows wider, and our perception of what is familiar becomes more narrow. By the time we are adults, we've pretty much decided what music we like and what we don't. But remember that these concepts of familiarity are not built in genetically; they are slowly constructed, song by song, out of what you've listened to your whole life.

So engineer your own music appreciation. Challenge yourself, and your understanding of music will grow, as well as the music you enjoy. And great new music is always a good thing.

No comments: