Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Learning music

image source: teachingmusic.tumblr.com

Don't like the music? Well maybe the music is not the problem, but rather YOU might be, according to this story from our friends at Tone Deaf. A new Australian study has attempted to confirm that musical knowledge is not innate but can be learned.

I've been thinking on this theme for ages and i tend to believe that a little bit of music appreciation 101 would be beneficial to everybody. You don't need to be an expert, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. It does appear that, even though most of us learn music to some degree in high school, we forget it as soon as it is over. The great shame of that is that is one of the most valuable skills you can take with you throughout your life.

Years ago, albums came with lots of sleeve notes that informed you of some of the ideas concepts at work in the music on the record. Jazz and classical records have been doing it for years and still do. Pop records started to include them and then after about 1970, the practice was to including more photos of the band and much less text. My guess is that on pop records, the sleeve notes were not much more than PR spin conjured up by someone in the band's organisation. Some record companies even became quite opportunistic and added heaps of text plugging other LPs by other artists on the back covers of their LPs. But in hindsight, it probably wouldn't have hurt to have kept something of substance there.

If I'm listening to a piece of music I've never heard before, and i just can't get into it, I'll research a bit about the piece or the artist on The All Music Guide or Wikipedia and that often helps me to get some context behind the music and it helps me to make sense of it a bit more. In a lot of cases, the music you hear for the first time may be years old, and therefore you are quite removed from the hype and the spin of the time. All you have is the music in the grooves of the record. But if that doesn't make sense, I need to dig a little deeper to find out more information. In some cases, merely listening to an album over and over again doesn't help matters.

image source: lyrics.wikia.com

A case in point: "Trout Mask Replica" by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. This is a tough album to listen to, but it is routinely cited as one of the greatest LPs of all time - that was the premise upon which I was motivated to buy the album. Listening to the album over and over again will soften the initial shock of hearing the music for the first time, but it still doesn't make much sense until you read up on the history of the band, the history of the Captain and some of Lester Bangs' writings about the album. Then, you get an idea of what the Captain was trying to achieve with this music, and then the music makes some semblance (notice I said some, not complete) of sense.  Before long, you appreciate the record for the true piece of genius that it really is.

So, a little bit of knowledge beyond the everyday is not a bad thing when it comes to music.  We can't all be experts, and not everybody needs to be.  Besides, you learn it in school, why not use it?  It can make listening to music a much more rewarding experience.  Learn the rules, and then develop an appreciation for they way they can be used, and the ways they can be broken too!  In an ideal world, this would assist in helping to remove the snobbish elitism than music fans tend to harbor.

Then again, it could make it worse...

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