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Thread: What elements of music are you most attracted to in a piece of music

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    Senior Member violadude's Avatar
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    Default What elements of music are you most attracted to in a piece of music

    Since the thread about what makes a composer's music great blew up and became a lot of bickering, I offer to purpose the question this way in a slightly altered version of the original question and I think this will give truckload more of the types of answers he was looking for.

    This allows people to share their personal experience with what they consider to be great music, rather than trying to guess at what objectively great music (if there is such a thing) might be.

    So if you are listening to a piece of music what kinds of things about it make the most impact on you? Does it depend on the genre? Is there a standard that you hold all music up to?

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    I think it does depend on the genre, but generally speaking the two things that pull me in most are interesting harmonic progressions (I'm less fussed about individual harmonies - more about where they lead), and strong thematic material that is extensively developed in a variety of ways while still being fundamentally recognisable. I prefer the development to be quite tight as well - not ideas that are run with, but ideas that are stuck to.

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    Senior Member some guy's Avatar
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    I don't think you can control the way threads go, and if you have people who are diametrically opposed, with no common ground, you will generate some heat in any thread, regardless.

    That was the prolegomena. Next is the prelude.

    I do not consider greatness one way or the other while I'm listening. I have preferences, which I can think about when I'm not listening. Well, I can think about them while, but it's a distraction. I try to have as few distractions as possible.

    Now for the answer to violadude's question.

    What makes the most impact on me at first is the totality of the experience. On subsequent listens, I might attend more carefully to things like form or development, especially if those elements seem to have been important to the composer. But at first and also principally, I listen to everything at once as it happens, savoring each event and each element as it happens. Part of this is just who I am; part of it is a discipline. I write about music, so when I'm covering a concert, I need to be on the qui vive. A lifetime of listening largely to music (and even to types of music) that I've never heard before helps.

    Perhaps the most important element for me is the sound itself, the sensual experience of sound waves making my ear drums vibrate and all the other stuff that goes on when sound waves get going.

    In older musics, I've noticed that I respond most noticably to modulations, making composers like Schubert and Berlioz some of my favorites. When I first started listening to twentieth century music, I was aware of strong reactions to asymmetry, to asymmetrical rhythms and to asymmetrical (unpredictable) pitch movement. (Also good for enjoying Berlioz, come to think about it.) I remember a time when pieces would disappoint me if they did not have these elements pretty prominently. An insatiable hunger for new music helped me overcome that limitation (just as an insatiable hunger for more Janáček got me over my dislike of opera). I also favored complexity, then, and liked a lot of very dense and busy music, but years of personal contact with Cage and with his philosophy and with his music pushed me beyond that boundary as well.

    I have a real thirst for extremely sparse music now, for small events isolated in a vast space of silence, but that doesn't keep me from loving all the other things I've ever loved. Thank God. And while I enjoy a range of music from extremely simple to extremely complex, from extremely quiet to extremely loud (thank you Nile for my tinnitus*), from extremely boisterous to extremely calm, I cannot get very enthusiastic about what I call rudimentary music (to distinguish it from simple). That includes much of what I would call pop.

    So am I back in the band?

    *Wear your prophylactics, kiddos!!

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    Fugues and counterpoint and polyphony.

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    Not sure how to rank these things, but -

    - virtuosity
    - emotion - but sometimes this can be too intense for my tastes
    - clever manipulation of motifs and melodic variation
    - harmony/timbre (that is, the sound itself at a given moment) - this is what I personally usually mean by "beauty"
    - rhythm

    Edit:

    - just plain pretty melody
    - novelty, anything surprising (sometimes more or less)
    Last edited by science; Mar-23-2012 at 07:58.

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    It depends on my mood...sometimes I want to be moved in a simple nostalgic way, sometimes I like to be challenged. One of the greatest feelings for me is feeling like a piece of music has expanded me in some way - enhanced my understanding of the capabilities of music itself, or partially illuminated something hidden within the subconscious realm of my psyche.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    - emotion - but sometimes this can be too intense for my tastes
    This made me curious haha. Can you give examples of composers or pieces that are too intense for you?

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    Quote Originally Posted by violadude View Post
    This made me curious haha. Can you give examples of composers or pieces that are too intense for you?
    Brahms gets really close to the edge, but what I'm really thinking of in this case isn't classical music but some of country, pop, or new age music. I can't stand music that is sentimental without even the slightest edge of satire or cynicism.

    For example, in country music, I like George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" because, to me, it has a nice sharp edge of cynicism, self-mockery. He knows what he's doing, he does it very well, and he thinks it's funny. I don't like "Butterfly Kisses" because it is so genuinely, authentically naive in a way that I can't believe - it feels fake. Right on the edge is Garth Brooks' "The Dance." If it were any sweeter, I'd have to reject it, but it mentions pain just enough for me to accept it.

    I'll put some thought into the classical music side of it. Off the top of my head I haven't been able to think of any classical music that is just too sweet for me. Obviously some crossover stuff, but that's too easy and anyway I also think some of that stuff is pretty good.

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    Motivic development and emotional content, mostly.
    Nothing happens to me. -- Famous last words of Dr. John H. Watson

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    Counterpoint first and orchestration second. It's the main reason why I rarely listen to Chopin's piano concertos.
    Cheers, Jeff W (another awesome dude), thanks for the signature mention!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Counterpoint first and orchestration second. It's the main reason why I rarely listen to Chopin's piano concertos.
    Are those the only elements that are important to you? Or are they just the first two in your rank?

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    Quote Originally Posted by violadude View Post
    Are those the only elements that are important to you? Or are they just the first two in your rank?
    They are the first two in my rank.
    Cheers, Jeff W (another awesome dude), thanks for the signature mention!

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    It depends on a number of things, but trying to summarize...

    - Development of the different parts of the composition and the "flow" between them.
    - Timbre.
    - Mood and emotional content.

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    For me its an inseparable relationship between form and content.

    A chord is an example of content, but is only interesting in the overall structure due its relations to other chords, for this reason one could argue that form is more important. However, no matter the proficiency of form, if the content is rubbish the piece will be too.

    The same goes for melody, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration the whole lot.

    /my lame answer
    Last edited by emiellucifuge; Mar-23-2012 at 17:22. Reason: spelling
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    Your statements re Form and Content are not lame. I was going in that direction when I read your post - I cannot separate rhythm, harmony and melody - I mean how do you separate out your favorite single concept from a work, say the Ruhevoll from Mahler's 4th Symphony? These concepts and others (e.g. counterpoint and orchestration) all work together as symbiotically connected as an organism of many systems. I'm fierce on counterpoint, but it has to be swathed in all the other concepts to be musically interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by emiellucifuge View Post
    For me its an unseparable relationship between form and content.

    A chord is an example of content, but is only interesting in the overall structure due its relations to other chords, for this reason one could argue that form is more important. However, no matter the proficiency of form, if the content is rubbish the piece will be too.

    The same goes for melody, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration the whole lot.

    /my lame answer
    Last edited by NightHawk; Mar-23-2012 at 16:13.

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