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Thread: What Role Does "Skill" Play When Evaluating Music?

  1. #61
    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arpeggio View Post
    I really do not understand what exactly is meant by skill.

    Well based on what I think skill means, I have heard many works that are skillful that were duds. But I can not think of a work I am familiar with that was not skillful.

    Of course if my understanding of what is meant by skill is bogus
    I would think works lacking skill don't get much circulation.

    I can say with confidence that the chorale harmonizations and composition assignments I did in high school were not very skillful.

  2. #62
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Here’s something to think about when thinking about skill

    Why would we want to think about that?
    Last edited by Woodduck; Sep-25-2019 at 17:40.

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  4. #63
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    I've just realised, it reminds me of the start of the Rheigold overture!

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    It reminds me of an air-raid warning.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    Well that's the rub: who decides what's "worthwhile in music?" Clearly, the audience that enjoys Taylor Swift (and I count myself among them) finds her musically worthwhile, and wouldn't do so if they didn't find her expressive.
    But Taylor Swift doesn't even write her own songs. They're all written by specialized song-writers like Max Martin, who themselves aren't really musical "creators" in the sense classical music composers are. And most pop singers today don't even need to be good at singing: there's all kinds of modern technology to make up for their deficiencies in singing such as Autotune and lip-sync. I believe in order for something to be considered "art", it has to be hard for others to replicate. Modern pop music simply doesn't meet that criterion in my view.


    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Sep-25-2019 at 19:57.

  9. #66
    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    some "pop songs" that I consider skillfully written:




  10. #67
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I say skill is paramount in the determination of the greatness of a work or composer, more than taste. Webern was undoubtedly a very skilled composer, and his greatness is not diminished by not being to the taste of most listeners. Opposite end of spectrum: top 40 Billboard is to the taste of many casual listeners, but the skill is not to the level of Webern to say the least.
    One's musical skill is only determined by others' musical taste, down to the very last T, so I'm not sure I understand this point.

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ethereality View Post
    One's musical skill is only determined by others' musical taste, down to the very last T
    I agree... and yet I am puzzled how to reconcile it with my other view, that "taste" is also a skill.

    Maybe instead of taste I should say sensitivity to detail, but anyway such sensitivity is often necessary to recognize and/or develop a skill, isn't it?
    Last edited by Fabulin; Sep-25-2019 at 20:40.

  12. #69
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    I guess taste isn't a skill but a matter of taste. If the human only had one ultimate aspect of life, an 'objective' to reach, life as it's recognized might cease to exist entirely. We depend on the diversity of tastes, a subjective space to move and inquire, as oftentimes it is the novel that's of greatest quality, because we seek discovery and bore of stagnation.

    This is because humans as a whole don't conclude an objectivity to the world, but have similar tastes merely from being from a similar seed. This seed is designed to diversify. Start diversifying more and therein exists all possibilities (for taste, consciousness, perspective.) If I can imagine what the highest minds would imagine "objective best art" is, it might sound identical to silence. Or possibly a single note, sounding on. An attempt at science can never capture the heart of every individual.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Sep-25-2019 at 21:03.

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  14. #70
    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ethereality View Post
    If I can imagine what the highest minds would imagine "objective best art" is, it might sound identical to silence. Or possibly a single note, sounding on.
    These highest minds must be listening to pop music. Comes pretty close to a single note sounding on at times.
    Last edited by Fabulin; Sep-25-2019 at 21:16.

  15. #71
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    What I wrote may be generalized, but fuzzy it is not. Wash your mouth out with soap, EY!

    There is no precise, applicable unit for the "quantification" of artistic excellence. There is, though, an ability, which many possess in high degree but nearly all possess to some extent, to perceive that any number of the elements constituting an artwork have been handled better or worse by the artist.
    I did not mean it as an insult! More just "I can see what you're saying as if through a fog, but precise application of it might prove elusive."

    My concern is that "ability to perceive" corresponds less to reality and more to what StrangeMagic called ad hoc justifications for whatever our response has to be. Unlike with the concepts of "good/better/best/masterpiece," I realize that there are aspects of skill that are objective and actually quantifiable, but I'm also skeptical that we're able to distinguish all of those qualities from inspiration, or to separate them from saying "I like X so X is skillful;" and the latter doesn't have to just be an individual response, but in reference to a collective one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I disagree (unless we're going to argue about "objectively" again, which I am not!). I think that in truly great composers - let's just take Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms, my own "big 5" - the sense of a powerful mind in command of great resources is palpable, and I'll say the same for great artists in other mediums. We stand in awe of Bach's ability to search out the possibilities of his material in the most complex contrapuntal textures, the ability of Wagner to press the most flexible and far-flung chromatic harmony into the simultaneous service of psychology and structure, and the ability of Vermeer to see and transmit in paint visual phenomena in a form seemingly more real than reality itself.
    I don't disagree with this in the abstract, again, but it seems like you missed my point. In fact, your response to DaveM about skill facilitating inspiration and inspiration galvanizing skill is close to what I was trying to say; the skill alone isn't enough, it's just a tool set. Great tools don't make great art; great artists do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    All true, although the ability to spin a fine, memorable, affecting melody rests on a keen sense of form, which may legitimately be called a skill. Art isn't hocus pocus.
    Funny you should say that as last night I watched Steven Colbert's interview with Paul McCartney where the spoke about music being "magic." Paul offered the example of how the melody of Yesterday--supposedly the most covered/recorded song of all time--came to him in a dream, and he initially thought he'd unconsciously plagiarized someone else at first!

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    What some people "think" and "consider" isn't necessarily a guide to anything.
    And yet what is all we do around here, or what critics do in general, but what we/they think and consider?

  16. #72
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    I agree with the thrust of your point, Gilmour's solo is less technical and more moving. But as far as your claim that any first year guitarist could play and compose something like it? No. If that were true we wouldn't consider it so exceptional, few people can put feel into a solo the way he does, and find that sweet balance between melodicism and blues. You just can't teach that. Gilmour is a jedi master at bending strings, few people can play the way he does.
    A first year guitarist could certainly play it--I know as it was one of the first solos I learned. As for composing something like it, what I mean is that if you just discuss it from a technical standpoint, pentatonic licks on a B-minor scale at that tempo, then, yes, a 1st year guitarist could also learn to write something like it. The problem is that what they wrote wouldn't be as good. I don't believe the reason it wouldn't be as good would be because of any lack of skill, an inability to put those notes in that order and in time, but because of a lack of inspiration, of artistry, of feeling what notes fit where and when.

  17. #73
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    Bad choice of words on my part with the "worthwhile in music", I'll change it to "musically significant". There's nothing bad about Swift, she is an ok to good songwriter. Her music is just not really significant in any way. I agree great music doesn't need to be overly complex. In fact it takes great skill to write something significant and connect with listeners. I heard some people diss Dvorak on this board, but to me he has a rare gift of being able to write more accessibly expressive, and very well put together music. Who determines what is musically significant are those who've heard and analyzed a large part of what's out there (what I call the initiated, after Bane's use in the Dark Knight Rises ).
    I don't think "musically significant" is any better; again we still have the problem of "who decides?" I'd certainly like to think I've "heard and analyzed" (at least to some extent) a good chunk of what's out there across mediums, so do I get to decide? Yay me? I'd rate Swift better than "OK to good" as well, so even on that we disagree, and that seems rather common since even those who've "heard and analyzed" much of what's out there have their biases, preferences, and opinions, and there isn't a hive mind--just look at how even the well-heard/well-educated folks here vigorously disagree!

  18. #74
    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    A first year guitarist could certainly play it--I know as it was one of the first solos I learned. As for composing something like it, what I mean is that if you just discuss it from a technical standpoint, pentatonic licks on a B-minor scale at that tempo, then, yes, a 1st year guitarist could also learn to write something like it. The problem is that what they wrote wouldn't be as good. I don't believe the reason it wouldn't be as good would be because of any lack of skill, an inability to put those notes in that order and in time, but because of a lack of inspiration, of artistry, of feeling what notes fit where and when.
    Some first year guitarists could play that solo if they had natural talent and practiced around 4 to 6 hours a day (or more) during that year. Saying any first year guitarist could do it is in my opinion not true. I've taught guitar for over a decade and I have not encountered any students who reached that level of proficiency in one year. Gilmour is known for his bluesy style of bending and was influenced by Eric Clapton. To be able to acquire the ability to hit notes on big bends like that accurately is very difficult and most guitarists never achieve that ability - to the degree of players like that. Further, post-secondary institutions that focus on classical and jazz, don't put a lot of focus into bending strings. Many jazz and classical performers cannot do that kind of bending. Bending like that creates a lot of strain and wear and tear on the hands. Blues (though simple) is one of the most physically punishing styles of music to play. Players typically find as thin of strings as possible or down tune to avoid causing extensive damage to their hands over time.

    Some players learn all the notes of a particular solo and then feel they can play that solo, when in reality the tone and feel they get in their presentation of those notes is no where near the tone and feel of the performer doing the original solo. Sometimes they cheat and also slide to certain notes rather than bending the strings. They may feel they have it right, but they aren't achieving the same tone that is created by the bend nor are they hitting the 'notes between the notes' or microtones that are achieved through bending.

    Now there are some players that are exceptional talents that can learn skills like these and play like the 'greats' quickly, but these players are exceptions and not the rules.

    When someone says they can perform a certain guitar solo, I would have to hear a recording of it to be convinced they are playing it with the degree of skill as the original. That skill is what makes a player like Gilmour so highly regarded.

    All this said I have not attempted to play that particular solo, it is possible it is little easier than some of his others, but I remain skeptical.

    On the other hand there is Syd Barrett who in my mind was a more original and innovative guitarist than Gilmour (and I feel his style was a perfect fit for a psychedelic act like Floyd, where Gilmour's bluesy approach as amazing as it is doesn't mesh quite as well), but Barret was less skilled. Who is the better guitarist between those two is also debatable.

  19. #75
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    But Taylor Swift doesn't even write her own songs.
    That's flat out false. She has solo writing credit on a good chunk of her songs including the entirety of her third album (her best, IMO). When it comes to the songs she's co-written, she's extensively documented exactly how the process happens; she writes the lyrics and melodies, and then her collaborators might tweak a few things in the writing or production phases. Max Martin has literally said that Swift comes to him with essentially "finished" songs and he just does minor tweaks or adds things with his production expertise.

    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    They're all written by specialized song-writers like Max Martin, who themselves aren't really musical "creators" in the sense classical music composers are. And most pop singers today don't even need to be good at singing: there's all kinds of modern technology to make up for their deficiencies in singing such as Autotune and lip-sync. I believe in order for something to be considered "art", it has to be hard for others to replicate. Modern pop music simply doesn't meet that criterion in my view.
    You've posted this before and I've corrected you before. Yes, Martin (and many others) do write songs that are then given to some artists who don't write (much of) their own material; no, this is not an industry-wide consistent but varies from artist to artist. There are artists who write or co-write (most) all of their material (like Swift), and there are artists who write almost none of their material like Ariana Grande, and there are artists who are 50/50 like Kelly Clarkson. Also, this separation of singer/songwriter was how things were done until artists like Dylan and The Beatles came along and popularized the notion of the singer/artist-songwriter, so there's nothing new or scandalous about this.

    As for the rest, lip-syncing is easy to spot for those who know what the studio versions sound like, and know what variations to listen for in live performances. Auto-tune isn't magic. It sounds like crap and is easily heard when heavily applied. Most of the competent pop singers apply it lightly both in the studio and live; the former allows for expediency in recording (which is expensive!) and the latter allows them to perform without worrying as much about their vocals. There are vids floating around of most pop artists singing without the aid of either in, eg, personal gatherings, where a mic and electronics aren't even involved. Most of the big names are perfectly capable singers for what they sing. The exceptions tend to be rappers more than pop artists, as the former tend to only "sing" for brief sections of their music to add some melodic parts as contrast to the rhythm.

    Finally, the notion that modern pop of the kind Martin (or Swift) creates isn't difficult to replicate is just plain stupid. That you can replicate some superficial aspects (which is all those videos are talking about) isn't the point (you can replicate superficial aspects of any music); go try to write something that millions of people want to listen to and are willing to purchase, and then you can talk about how easy it is. If it was easy, there would be millions of wannabe songwriters as successful as Martin, and there demonstrably is not. You've posted those videos before and I've debunked them before. Apparently, your memory is rather short.

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