What is "good music" - Whatever we like?

All topics musical, not specifically piano-related

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sat Aug 18, 2007 10:30 am

On the other hand, I believe that good music identifies itself by its qualities, not by what I think of it.


Is it possible to identify these qualities genre by genre? This is what I was trying to get at in my last post. As a student, learning about music, including theory and history, go hand in hand with being able to appreciate and even play that music properly. I would imagine a teacher's choice would keep these qualities in mind, and that these qualities would to a large part already be defined within the genres. I would not want to choose my own repertoire, and when I am given a piece, I tend to ask "What can I learn from this?" rather than "Is this popular?"

I did not mean to imply that the question should not exist: but to stand it on its head by beginning with the qualities. In fact, this is what you are saying too. But can such qualities be defined across all genres? Melody, for example, would have different roles in different genres and eras. But what about within the genre?
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Postby Stretto » Sat Aug 18, 2007 6:45 pm

At the end of Dr. Zeigler's last post and also in pianissimo's last post, the word "quality" appears. I know I've been harping on wording during this thread and I have been thinking already earlier in the thread the word "quality" would be a better fit in discussing music that transcends time. What many would define as "good music" isn't always "quality" music.

In teaching piano, one of my favorite things about teaching is the chance to "keep alive" some quality music that seems to be becoming less heard and less known in the minds of the next generation although I am pleased to hear from my kids and students that some music that they are learning in music class at schools are past songs worth not dropping by the wayside. One example of such music I like to expose students to is Stephen Foster songs and I think they are learning and studying these and about the composer in some of my students music classes at school. Also Civil War songs. I listened to these on a record my parents had when I was a kid and the songs just stuck. Also, a lot of old Disney songs have stuck with me.

Now when I listen to these records or hear old songs on the Disney movies, I realize one of the differences is that these were done with orchestra whereas now there are so many "cheap" recordings of famous tunes where the quality and depth of sound is lost. Perhaps there is something to be said in the recordings or instrumentation (or lack of) and the depth of sound from a particular performance or recording when comparing music which lasts vs. music that doesn't. I think of some of the cd's of children's music that I've picked up for my kids that are $1. The vocalists are amateur and the instrumentation is electronic/digitized. It does lack depth and is just not the same as some of the recordings of children's music I listened to as a kid where the children's songs were performed by a children's choir or adult vocalists with orchestra. A similar thought came up on the thread in the digital keyboard forum regarding keyboards and acoustic pianos where pianissimo brought up the observation that kids aren't exposed to the quality of sound in the instruments as in acoustic instruments in their modern day music listening.




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Postby Stretto » Sat Aug 18, 2007 6:58 pm

P.S. I forgot to mention there was an article during this past year in one of the National Federation of Music Teacher's magazine about the roll piano teacher's had in keeping folk music alive.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Aug 18, 2007 7:12 pm

Stretto wrote:At the end of Dr. Zeigler's last post and also in pianissimo's last post, the word "quality" appears. I know I've been harping on wording during this thread and I have been thinking already earlier in the thread the word "quality" would be a better fit in discussing music that transcends time. What many would define as "good music" isn't always "quality" music.

I have to keep this post short because I working from a wounded, though new, computer. I may have contributed to a misunderstanding here. My use of the word "quality" in this thread is intended to be synonymous with "attribute" or "characteristic", not "good".

I believe that much "good" music in most genres will share many of the same qualities (attributes), though not necessarily to the same degree or in the same relative amounts. Moreover, they will interact with one another. For example, in a work that has a strong and memorable melody, our reaction to the melody may catch our attention before the composition as a whole does. In other works, we may admire the structure and creativeness of the composing more than the melody at first, but come to love the abstract and unsingable melody as we learn the work better. We respect both works but for different reasons (and in different ways at different levels of understanding), even though we sub-consciously consider some of the same factors in evaluating them.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:07 am

My use of the word "quality" in this thread is intended to be synonymous with "attribute" or "characteristic", not "good".


This is also how I meant the term: the plural "qualities" might make it more clear.

Before going further, you mention Dr. Leland's "Nuts and Bolts" article and "melody" in the beginning of this thread. It probably defines melody within a context, and you refer to melody again here. Where might this article be found?
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Aug 19, 2007 10:44 am

I have found the article.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:15 am

pianissimo wrote:To appreciate music one must be able to understand it. As an adult student I would opt to be widely and deeply taught, and that this would extend to music theory and history. Then there is a dialogue between what you learn, what you play, how you interpret it, what you hear in others' interpretations - perhaps this extends across genres and cultures if taken deeply enough. I have read just a little bit about Indian music, and understand that there is a complex structure and symbolism, even in choices of pitches. Unless there is some understanding of these structures, and an ear for them (how many of us can hear quarter tones and smaller nuances?) can we appreciate this music?

Your point here is at the crux of what might constitute good music. Indeed, your citation of Indian (as in India) music is an excellent example. It is so different from what our ears are used to hearing that we might be inclined to disregard it, yet, it doesn't take more than a couple times through the best of it to realize its value, even though it is distinctly non-Western.

Although you're too young to remember the Woodstock Music Festival of the late 60's, I'm more than old enough. It had a lot of great (to me and many others) rock music. What is often forgotten is that the late Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitarist, performed several ragas at the festival and was widely adored there. Thus, even though most of the people there had never heard Indian music before, they could appreciate great music performed by a great artist.

That situation suggests that good music has some qualities that many people can recognize, even if the style is unfamiliar. I'm not suggesting that ALL people will necessarily recognize those qualities all the time or even like all such music. Nonetheless, I would think that good music can speak to many people of different cultures and times.




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Aug 21, 2007 5:05 pm

I have to thank you for that! I have not been called too young for anything in a few decades. :)
What is often forgotten is that the late Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitarist, performed several ragas at the festival and was widely adored there.


He played with the Beatles, and the information on him might be interesting for other music students. Ravi Shankar There are cross-cultural exchanges, and influence of musical styles going back and forth. George Harrison became interested in chant, Ravi Shankar was exposed to Western cultures (was his music influenced by it?), Yehudi Menuhin began experimenting with quarter tones and maybe smaller tones, and I have been told that the Beatles used tones that could be considered "off key" in order to create mood. The altering of pitch is part of Indian music.

I don't know if this brings us any closer to a universal definition of what constitutes good music, or even good musicianship (the performer(s) must make a difference), but maybe it's an argument for not making the repertoire too narrow.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Aug 22, 2007 6:56 am

pianissimo wrote:I have to thank you for that! I have not been called too young for anything in a few decades. :)


I don't know if this brings us any closer to a universal definition of what constitutes good music, or even good musicianship (the performer(s) must make a difference), but maybe it's an argument for not making the repertoire too narrow.

It shows how long in the tooth I'm getting (or how young others are) when it seems just about everybody is chronologically younger than me! :D

I'm not really aspiring to a "universal definition" of good music here. I suspect we'd be doing well if we could simply identify a few attributes of good music that would apply in most cases and understand a little about how those attributes interact to affect our perception of works as "good music".

Thanks for the additional information about Shankar. As you might have guessed, I have greatly admired Shankar's work for a long time. Unlike some of my personal tastes, I would recommend to anyone an exploration of his music in particular and Indian music somewhat more generally. :)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Aug 22, 2007 7:04 am

Stretto wrote:
Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:. . . good music speaks to us on many levels that we slowly uncover each time we listen to a work. Thus, the experience is new each time. As I've said, most pop music lacks that kind of depth.

That brings up another thought: much music that has lasted through the years is that which is easy to remember. A piece of music that people have a hard time remembering how it sounds, or the words is less likely to stick around. People can remember a simple song like "Mary had a Little Lamb". The first section of Fur Elise is easy to remember as far as how it sounds but how many people could remember how the whole piece sounds or even realize there's more to it than the part most everyone recognizes.

That is an interesting thought. I doubt that it applies much to most classical music, even for those who have a memory for music and can "play out" whole symphonies in their heads. However, I can see that it might well be true in many genres. It does raise the interesting question: Do we remember the music because it is "catchy" (substitute any other characterization you like there) or is it memorable because it has the qualities of good music? I suspect there is no one answer to that question, but it's interesting to think about.




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Postby Stretto » Wed Aug 22, 2007 7:58 am

Here's some examples of classical music I can think of that while hardly no one if any could perhaps play out the entire piece or symphony in their heads (perhaps if you played in a symphony or were a conductor), parts of these "stick" in a person's mind when heard: Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Haydn's Suprise Symphony, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, Bach's Minuet in G, Ode to Joy (derived from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9). These are just a few examples. We even have music books for teaching these and other famous classical works with titles such as "Favorite Classic Melodies", or "Classic Themes by the Masters". Most elementary age students immediately recognize all those works I listed as examples.

What about them has made them so loved, so familiar to many, and still around so long? Is is because parts of them are easy to remember or "unforgettable" in sound? and/or other? How many people could hear one of the examples I mentioned and at least parts play over and over in their mind all day after hearing?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Aug 22, 2007 8:23 am

Stretto wrote:Here's some examples of classical music I can think of that while hardly no one if any could perhaps play out the entire piece or symphony in their heads (perhaps if you played in a symphony or were a conductor), parts of these "stick" in a person's mind when heard: Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Haydn's Suprise Symphony, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, Bach's Minuet in G, Ode to Joy (derived from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9). These are just a few examples. We even have music books for teaching these and other famous classical works with titles such as "Favorite Classic Melodies", or "Classic Themes by the Masters". Most elementary age students immediately recognize all those works I listed as examples.

What about them has made them so loved, so familiar to many, and still around so long? Is is because parts of them are easy to remember or "unforgettable" in sound? and/or other? How many people could hear one of the examples I mentioned and at least parts play over and over in their mind all day after hearing?

I can't speak for anybody else, but I can tell you that, as a result of singing it well over 200 times in high school, as part of a performing classical choral group, I still remember the bass part of the Hallelujah chorus completely. I remember the other parts only when they carry the melodic line. All of that is just a result of repetition and the need to sing it from memory every time. I think you might find that such memory is more common than it might, at first, appear.

That said, let me ask the question I asked in my previous post in another way: What is it about those works that makes them "unforgettable in sound"? Everybody knows the first eight notes of the Beethoven 5th, but they are hardly singable (in the usual sense). (I might add that I have taught our Moluccan cockatoo to whistle the first eight notes of it, so it works even for birds! :D ) Your list of easily recognized classics is a good one. Another that comes to mind is Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, made famous by dancing hippos in Fantasia. We all remember works like these, but why?
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:13 pm

Thanks for the additional information about Shankar. As you might have guessed, I have greatly admired Shankar's work for a long time. Unlike some of my personal tastes, I would recommend to anyone an exploration of his music in particular and Indian music somewhat more generally

I would be curious to find out to what degree Shankar might have adapted his performance, or chosen his pieces, to fit with the Western environment. Did he perform the same music in the same manner to an Indian audience. The Indian would have a background in the particular attributes of this genre, and would be listening for these attributes with some discernment. The Indian music that would please a Western audience would not necessarily please an Indian audience, and vice versa. It would be interesting to delve more deeply into the artistry of Shankar and other cross-cultural exchanges.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Aug 23, 2007 6:48 am

pianissimo wrote:I would be curious to find out to what degree Shankar might have adapted his performance, or chosen his pieces, to fit with the Western environment. Did he perform the same music in the same manner to an Indian audience. The Indian would have a background in the particular attributes of this genre, and would be listening for these attributes with some discernment. The Indian music that would please a Western audience would not necessarily please an Indian audience, and vice versa.

The performances at Woodstock certainly seemed to be Indian ragas. I have heard a Shankar recording, imported from India, of one of those same ragas. It appeared to my untrained ears to be virtually identical to the Woodstock one. I suspect that, just as there are some Western classical or rock performances that Indians appreciate, there are probably some overlaps in taste with respect to Indian music. That's a part of the basis for my past indications that good music is likely to have some elements of temporal and geographical universality, though it's not necessarily true that ALL good music will be equally appreciated or appreciated in the exact same ways everywhere and for all time.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu Aug 23, 2007 7:34 am

This is starting to get interesting. Do we need to consider that as far as audience/listener appeal, the music and the artist(s) are factors? Would an excellent musician, but trained in the Western classical tradition be able to play ragas and have the same effect?

I've done a bit of research or Shankar, but also trying to see the larger picture. The training is a long one, it taking one year simply to learn to hold the sitar. The nature and attributes of the music seem to be extensive and take a long time to learn and absorb. That would also indicate that there is a lot of substance to the music. This is probably true for all "good music".

An interview with Shankar reveals a strong spiritual element. There is "meaning" to music (maybe even expressing meaninglesness has meaning). This interview is fascinating: "The Highest Form of Music is Spiritual"

The popularity of Indian music in the West also coincided with the search for other spiritual paths which led many young people to India. Shankar actively tried to bring the West and East together, tried to prevent Indian music from becoming just another fad, and embraces the New Age for being more serious spiritually without feeling it needs to rely on drugs to do so. Cultural values; or values of a group; plus depth in the music; plus depth in the artist; plus enough proficiency (training, knowledge) in the artist to encompass the music, his art, and something beyond that?

But I may be reflecting my own biases. Music must have depth or substance of some kind.
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