Looking under the hood

Have you ever wondered what it is that draws us to music? Why are we attracted to a collection of chords, strung together with a beat and augmented with a melody that meanders on top of the chord structure?

We immerse our self in music via passive listening to radio, commercial jingles, hallways of large public areas, and a myriad of other sources. Listening is part of our culture.  When we spend hours with music, our emotions are touched.  What about the rest of our thought processes?  How do we rationally examine music and separate the wheat from the chaff?

It has been my observation, when discussing music and other art forms, we seem to have modest reluctance to search for and identify the source of pleasure we derive from art. Perhaps this is because we do not want to interfere with or spoil our enjoyment.   What if we dissected Mozart, Beethoven, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, and Lady Gaga songs using spectrum analysis tools searching for patterns in dominate scale usage and harmonics, forming opinion of what and why specific chord arrangements consistently draw the attention of listeners.  Too much information?  Perhaps we are fearful the lure of the art will diminish if we rationally think through the attraction.

What about Tony Bennett’s assertion that there are only two types of music, good music and not so good music. He seemed to be saying the style of music (Rap, Blues, Jazz, Pop, etc) is not as important as the universal distinctions that separate good music from noise.  Of course, we must address the obvious question of what are these universal rules that define good music?  Tony Bennett says – “if their foot is tapping, then listeners like the song and the song is good music”.

Bennett is much more of a singer or an interpreter of music, than he is a music composer.  Therefore, his observation should receive much credence.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we must view his universal practice with caution.  Why?  The alleged practice of foot tapping might reveal nothing more than a composer who built songs similar to previously successful songs (formula songs as in Tin Pan Alley).

I believe we should discern between composers who create music to fit in with the prevailing hits and the composers who create music that explores uncharted waters.  However, at the same time, I believe that the foot tap is an extremely good sign of a well written song.

I suspect the search for truth in Art becomes very convoluted when we permit consumers (people with money) to define good Art. When we study, we should learn new ways to think about things.  Then we should learn to think about thinking itself.  Finally, we may learn enough to inject our thoughts, ideas,  memories and understanding into composed music.  I think to really assess good music we must find the casual relationships between the influencers of our taste, look at the broad diversity of tastes within each person, how the influences became part of their life, and then look at how people absorb the art they consume.  However, we must find the channels that artists use to communicate and then define the best practices used by the artists to communicate.  We should give credence to the creation of art, the purity of the art creation, and the demonstrated universal that we can create art.

Furthermore, to understand any art that seems to resonate with a large section of the population, I believe we must look below its surface into the psychological and rational details of its creation (composer) and absorption (listener).   You may recall my previous verbosity on the topic of communication.  We are back to that topic, but this time we are approaching communication from a different angle.  This time we are looking at the notion of music preference.  Why do you seek a message or an emotional change from your chosen music?

Please think below the surface about songs you have in your collection. Why do you have the songs taking up space in your collection?  Consider what music you would listen to even if no one else would ever know you were listening to that song or that composer.  Crawl into your private space, be completely alone, and find the music you love, the music that causes you to tap your foot, causes your mind to soar, the music that causes your heart to move.  Then when the time is right, come out of your private space a new listener, committed to the songs that speak to you even if no one else is listening.

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