What is "good music" - Whatever we like?

All topics musical, not specifically piano-related

Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Aug 28, 2007 8:06 am

I did not hear a repeated theme in the examples given in the clip - that is to say, a few of them might have been. Also, the examples featured popular, well-known pieces of music that have endured.

Perhaps you heard something different than I did. It was my impression that the musician-comedian was playing with the idea of chord progression, not theme or melody. All of the examples had the same chord progression. This chord progression is common, because chords follow certain rules of harmony (which I'm only starting to learn).

A relative of mine watched this skit with me last year. Then in an orchestra rehearsal the conductor asked that only the bass instruments play. The music they were rehearsing did not sound anything like Pachelbel's Canon. But when the other instruments fell away, this theme remained, and one could easily have laid the Canon, or any of the various works and genres in the skit, on top of what the bass instruments were playing.

So here we have a chord progression, and we have some very popular music of many genres, that all use that chord progression. It might be pure coincidence. However, I also found it educational as a student to listen to the samples in the skit, and try to pick out those four bass notes that mark the harmony.
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Postby Stretto » Tue Aug 28, 2007 12:29 pm

pianissimo wrote: All of the examples had the same chord progression. This chord progression is common, because chords follow certain rules of harmony.

The first time I analyzed a Beethoven Sonata, I expected to find deviations from "basic" chord progressions that would set his music apart from others - the very first section of the sonata was basically I, V all over the place - I literally sat there laughing out loud as I wrote in the chord progressions that I was finding nothing more than I, V practically the entire first page. While there was deviation beyond that as the piece progressed, of course, I was suprised how long Beethoven stayed on basic chords in the piece before moving on from there. Then you go over to pop music and find I, IV, V, I all over the place.

Is it because we're so used to hearing I, IV, V, I so much that we latch on to that in pieces out of pure familiarity or is it something about how these chords sound together in and of themselves?

It never ceases to amaze me when I think of something like the Theme to Star Wars in which the first two notes are nothing more than an interval of a 5th, and a guy makes a ton of money on a piece of music starting off on nothing more than such a simplistic and basic interval. I love to show that to my beginning students when they first encounter learning intervals.

I guess if we were to tie it into the thread, we could say as has been mentioned before that the music doesn't have to be complex to fall in the category outlined in the topic of the thread.

And by the way, I love Pachabel's Canon - but especially when I hear it played with string instruments - nothing quite beats that!




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Aug 28, 2007 2:16 pm

Is it because we're so used to hearing I, IV, V, I so much that we latch on to that in pieces out of pure familiarity or is it something about how these chords sound together in and of themselves?


Well I'm taking really basic harmony theory right now, in preparation for the RCM exam next year, using an old fashioned book from 1948. The second chapter's exercises is to do nothing more than write basic chord progressions in given keys, such as I, IV, V, I, but
you have to sing the notes to yourself in your head, learn to hear the chords in your head without playing them - then check with the piano to hear what it sounds like. (I remember reading something you wrote about being taught theory when young, but never being given the connection with music). When you do that for a couple of weeks, you start noticing why the chords work together they way they do. V, I and IV, I resolve the music like a question and answer, and the way those chords work, they "fit together" like a puzzle, which pleases the ear. I-IV or Plagal cadence has something a bit sad or uneasy about it, and is the "amen" of hymns, while V, I strides about proudly with its big "tada - we're done!" As I understand it, it's something about these chords in and of themselves.

(If this is considered off topic - please feel free to move the thread. I wasn't sure whether it should go in the other thread.)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Aug 28, 2007 5:06 pm

pianissimo wrote:(If this is considered off topic - please feel free to move the thread. I wasn't sure whether it should go in the other thread.)

Unfortunately, it's a lot of work to move off-topic posts to another thread. One can move an entire thread easily to another forum, but the only way to move single posts to another thread is to laboriously cut-and-paste them one at a time between threads. You may have noticed that I try my best to keep threads on topic; that's the reason. :)
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Aug 28, 2007 5:19 pm

Well, for me it is on-topic, since my understanding of the universality of music tends to go on the theoretical side. However, if you consider it off-topic, I can also copy it to another thread where it would fit under a different context. I don't know how far I can stretch within the topic of this thread. That's why I was asking.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Aug 28, 2007 6:09 pm

pianissimo wrote:Well, for me it is on-topic, since my understanding of the universality of music tends to go on the theoretical side. However, if you consider it off-topic, I can also copy it to another thread where it would fit under a different context. I don't know how far I can stretch within the topic of this thread. That's why I was asking.

Since most music has chords, chord progressions and cadences, it's hard, for me at least, to see how one could use the presence or absence of such nuclear features to differentiate "good music" from other music. To me, it seems a bit like saying that "all good music has notes"; it's true, but does that statement help us understand what distinguishes good music from other music? I think your discussion is valuable, but perhaps getting a little far afield. If I'm wrong about that, feel free to set me straight. :D
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Postby Stretto » Tue Aug 28, 2007 6:24 pm

Since I posted in reply to pianissimo about chord progressions, I was thinking about how it related to the topic in my post. I was thinking at the time, "I should explain why I think this relates to the topic". I guess I should have. I do think it relates to the topic but give me some time to formulate why and I'll get back - have a busy day tommorrow so it may be Thurs. or Fri. :;):
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Aug 29, 2007 8:43 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:As I was thinking about an earlier post I made, it occurred to me that one aspect is an interesting topic in itself. What is it that makes a reasonably musically knowledgeable person able to recognize an unfamiliar work as being "a Beethoven" or "a Mozart"? Each composer seems to have individual characteristics that, as a whole, mark his (her) music. For example, Beethoven's frequent use of syncopation was fairly rare for other composers of his time and could be said to be one pointer to "Beethoven style". If people are interested, we could start another thread on this topic.

I've thought a little more about this and decided that I have a point to add to it. Not only are certain composers' music easily discerned as their creations, but some of those same composers have, apparently purposefully, imitated the style of other composers as a way of paying homage to them.

One example (of many) that comes to mind immediately is Beethoven, who had a great respect for the music of Handel. His Consecration of the House overture starts with a rather long Grave introduction that sounds for all the world like the introductory section of a Handel work (e.g. Royal Fireworks music). It then launches into a much faster section that is vintage Beethoven in every respect, leaving behind the introduction section. Note that this is not a borrowing of a theme or melody, in that, as far as I'm aware, the Grave section theme is not present in any Handel work.

My point here is that good music not only has characteristics that carry over from work to work and genre to genre, but that those characteristics can be purposefully imitated by a "superstar" composer to provide a sound like that of another composer he holds in high regard. To me, this is evidence that good music does have definable attributes. :)




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Aug 31, 2007 10:53 am

Let me come back to a question I asked when I started this thread: "Should we try to teach our kids how to be discerning, without trying to change their tastes, per se?" Even if we can't agree on all the characteristics which differentiate good music from lesser works, should it be possible to "teach" discernment of "good music" or is it just a matter of experience at random? I can only speak from personal experience, but I developed my taste for classical music from a college music appreciation course! I guess that shows that I was trainable. :D
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Fri Aug 31, 2007 4:37 pm

If, as has been suggested, good music has attributes that make it inherently popular, then theoretically a child would gravitate toward good music instinctively, unless caused to deviate through peer pressure or commercial exploitation and manipulation of young people's tastes. That is "theoretically". Secondly, is it possible that our particular young family members might listen to good music that we don't recognize as such, because of our own prejudices? Can mutual openness toward music be an additional key?

My own young people are both adults now, and ironically if I look back, I find that I am the one who received the education. My recognition of good music is more eclectic, broader, and better informed though I am still learning.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Aug 31, 2007 5:32 pm

pianissimo wrote:If, as has been suggested, good music has attributes that make it inherently popular, then theoretically a child would gravitate toward good music instinctively, unless caused to deviate through peer pressure or commercial exploitation and manipulation of young people's tastes. That is "theoretically". Secondly, is it possible that our particular young family members might listen to good music that we don't recognize as such, because of our own prejudices? Can mutual openness toward music be an additional key?

Lots of interesting thoughts. First, I don't think anybody has suggested that good music's attributes make it "popular", although some have argued that popularity helps define good music. That second clause may be true in a limited sense (popularity as indicated by the lasting nature of good music), but in the sense most people think of popularity (Top 40, records sold, etc.), virtually all classical music would have to be seen as "unpopular" and therefore, not good music - a position most people wouldn't agree with.

I don't see how it can even be possible for a child to "gravitate" to good music instinctively, if, as is true for most children these days, they never hear it in most of the media or at home. I cited my own example precisely to show that, despite my love for and knowledge of classical music now and despite the fact that I lived in a good home, I never heard classical music until college. My family had never heard it until I started bringing home classical LP's during holidays from school.

I think it's entirely possible that there is music that is loved by young people today that will come to be seen as lasting in multiple cultures. I've pointed that out in a couple previous posts in this thread. That's the way it has happened in the past. I see no reason that shouldn't continue in the future.

I have also suggested several times that an open mind can be valuable in evaluating music - just as it is in all sorts of judgments. I would merely add that open-mindedness should go both ways among generations and be encouraged by those of us who are old enough to see the value of even those views we disagree with. Kids should hear classical and other forms of good music, just as we should try to maintain some contact with the popular music scene (for example).

The question is not whether everybody should be entitled to his or her own tastes, but whether everybody should have the opportunity to explore fully exactly what those tastes might be. I still like most of the music I listened to as a teenager, but my tastes are far broader now than then, mostly because somebody took the effort to expose me to more and different music.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:51 am

It seems that my last post disappeared into cyberspace even though it shows as "existing".

By "popularity" I meant the type of definition that was established in this thread: music which lasts for a long period of time and is liked by a sufficient number of people: not what a "top 40" chart designates as being popular and is here today, forgotten tomorrow. The explorations in this thread suggested that "good music" is not defined solely as classical music, that it goes across genres and cultures, and that it has certain attributes across genres which make it "good", cannot be easily defined, but that these attributes create this kind of longlasting "popularity". Furthermore, in the case of Ravi Shankar and Indian music, the audience was not educated to discern this music as being good - they recognized and embraced it. If that is so, then maybe there is something inherent in human beings, and in music, that creates some kind of recognition and attraction to what is good music.

If all of this is true, I wondered whether, all things being equal, children would naturally gravitate toward good music because it is within their nature to do so. But all things are not equal. They may be exposed to a limited type of music at home (as in your example), identify with the tastes of peer pressure, be subject to commercialism that is directed at this age group and tries to tell them who they are and what they are supposed to like. We live in an age of unprecedented choices: radio offers a wide selection of music, the Internet lets us hear anything under the sun, therefore it is all available to us. But maybe the cards are stacked against children availing themselves freely to such a selection. In that case, we should play a part in unstacking those cards. This is what you are suggesting.

One thing that incenses me is the stereotype to which young people are subjected, and that they may be led to believe in that stereotype and even imitate it as an identity. The salesperson in a music shop told me that an unprecedented number of teens were coming in looking for Gregorian chant to put into their Walkmans. We don't hear about that. We see commercials on television in which something unpleasant, boring, unpopular is paired with beautiful classical music, followed by a pleasant, exciting, popular alternative with an immediate change to raucous loud stuff which is supposed to be music (pardon, my prejudices are showing) and the message about the value of classical music or "good music" is clear. These things are a form of "education" and guidance to young people. They are not neutrally disposed. There has to be a counter-influence, and maybe some discussion about what is being seen, and what the hidden messages are.

One also reads complaints by young music students who are accosted by the commercial stereotypes, and want their tastes to be recognized rather than assumed.

I think it's entirely possible that there is music that is loved by young people today that will come to be seen as lasting in multiple cultures.


And if the music that the particular young people love today happens to be a Bach cello suite, or Gregorian chant, this will indeed be true. For some young people, this is where their tastes may lie. In other cases, the "popular" (generic meaning) music have these attributes which will make it last well into the future and cross-culturally. We are probably saying the same thing, coloured by different experiences.

The question is not whether everybody should be entitled to his or her own tastes, but whether everybody should have the opportunity to explore fully exactly what those tastes might be. I still like most of the music I listened to as a teenager, but my tastes are far broader now than then, mostly because somebody took the effort to expose me to more and different music.


The same thing happened to me, except that my tastes were limited to a relatively narrow range of classical and folk music, and I was taught about music in a knowledgeable way by someone of the younger generation. The opportunity, exposure, and guidance are definitely good things to have for whatever generation. If we adults are to teach discernment to our children, I suppose we need to start by educating ourselves.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Sep 02, 2007 11:01 am

pianissimo wrote:It seems that my last post disappeared into cyberspace even though it shows as "existing".

The explorations in this thread suggested that "good music" is not defined solely as classical music, that it goes across genres and cultures, and that it has certain attributes across genres which make it "good", cannot be easily defined, but that these attributes create this kind of longlasting "popularity".

As we have already discussed privately, I didn't delete the post and, indeed, was in the process of answering it when I noticed that it was gone. I think this is first time we've ever "lost" a post! Since your most current post differs substantially from the one I was responding to, I assume that you decided not to regenerate it. Sorry for its loss. :( If this happens again, I'll look into what's happening and post the results of the inquiry.

Although I don't wholly disagree with what you said in the second part of the quotation below, I would change it slightly to reflect my understanding. I think good music does have some, perhaps a significant number of, elements that do tend to appear in different works, but to different degrees and in different relative amounts. If I thought the attributes of good music were completely, or even mostly, undefinable, I wouldn't have started this thread.

I've come to realize more fully the importance of the interplay between the elements of good music. I guess that is just another way of saying that good music is more than the sum of its parts. It involves more than just my ability to appreciate completely any given work or genre or any one performer's ability to realize that music.




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Sep 02, 2007 12:15 pm

For the life of me I can't remember what I wrote the first time around. My guess is that because I was editing the post at the same time that you were responding to it, the cyber-goblins got confused and made the post "poof" into another dimension. :p

There are probably elements of good music. Across the cultures they could not be defined with such things as melody or harmony, for example, since either would not exist in recognizeable form, or simply not exist, in one or the other culture. However, a complex and well developed interplay of pitch, tone quality, rhythm, symbolism, cultural richness might be the common element to all of them, in which the sum is greater than the whole.

Discernment can be in recognizing good music as opposed to music that is not good, through exposure to the same.

Another aspect comes from learning about music, its structures and attributes, which will allow us to hear and appreciate what we would not do otherwise. This is where the importance of music education and music teachers comes in. My appreciation and acceptance of other genres came when I was led to hear things I would not have listened for before opening brand new vistas.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Sep 03, 2007 10:09 am

pianissimo wrote:However, a complex and well developed interplay of pitch, tone quality, rhythm, symbolism, cultural richness might be the common element to all of them, in which the sum is greater than the whole.


Another aspect comes from learning about music, its structures and attributes, which will allow us to hear and appreciate what we would not do otherwise. This is where the importance of music education and music teachers comes in. My appreciation and acceptance of other genres came when I was led to hear things I would not have listened for before opening brand new vistas.

I think I would agree with most of what you said here. I also agree that a knowledge of structure and musicology is helpful in understanding both the meaning and the language of a work. As I've said before on the Board, familiarity with music doesn't breed contempt, but respect and, even, appreciation.

However, as I said earlier, I think many people can recognize good music well before they develop enough knowledge to "dissect" it in all the relevant senses (theory, structure, cultural milieu, historical influences, etc.). For example, most people can recognize the Beethoven 5th Symphony as a great work, with little or no formal musical training. They may or may not "like" it, but they can see that it has special value. This is evidence of the "universality" I've talked about several times. :)
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