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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
But is "understanding" a work of music any assurance of "liking" it?
I've always thought music isn't really supposed to be "understood". If there's music you had "appreciated" but no longer "appreciate" as time goes by, can you say you've lost the ability to "understand" it?
How can you "understand" a work, and not "appreciate" it? Maybe you think you "understand", but in reality there are still some things about the work you don't "understand", so you don't "appreciate" it?
Does the term "understanding" have significant meaning when it comes to music appreciation?
 

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I think it comes down to individual preference; some need/like to study a work to appreciate it, some just like to listen and feel it. I think it's quite possible to understand and not appreciate a work, and to appreciate and understand another at one point, continue to understand, but grow tired of it.
 

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One needs definitions for "appreciation" and for "understanding" in terms that relate to music (or art, in general) that can be agreed upon in order for some sense to be had from any such inquiry as "'Understanding a work' VS. 'Appreciating it'".

I suggest that "appreciation" depends upon some sense of "understanding" the value or worth of a piece (a philosophical concept) as well as the structural elements of its design and creation (objective, mechanical concepts). We talk of "music appreciation" with some sense that what we mean is we recognize a quality in the music, a quality to its worth as art, that makes it valuable for consideration -- further study, continued listening and performance, preservation -- and that we can describe some methodology to its construction or mechanics. I don't see any requirement to like a work of art that one can appreciate.

I appreciate the music of Richard Strauss, but I don't necessarily like it. I appreciate the music of Bach and Beethoven and Brahms and I love it greatly, with exceptions here and there where my interest in particular pieces wanes a bit.

I appreciate the music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Miles Davis and Cole Porter, which suggests that music appreciation is not reserved for "classical music", as is often presumed by the fact that so many courses titled "Music Appreciation" deal with listening to and analyzing and attempting to "understand" (popular) "classical music".

In my way of thinking, "to understand" a piece of music is something rather different than "to appreciate" it, though I would insist that "appreciation" involves "understanding." Again, one needs definitions.

Whether or not defining terms and discussing this matter is worth the time and effort, though, I remain unsure of. I certainly don't want to do so in this post.
 

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How can you "understand" a work, and not "appreciate" it? Maybe you think you "understand", but in reality there are still some things about the work you don't "understand", so you don't "appreciate" it?
Does the term "understanding" have significant meaning when it comes to music appreciation?
Perhaps you'd first tell us what you take the two words to mean in the context of listening to classical music.
 

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I've seen a number of courses titled Music Appreciation and Understanding Music - and they essentially teach the same thing: a survey of music across different periods and genres through informed listening. A text that is often used is Understanding Music by Jeremy Yudkin - which is a music appreciation text.

I think it is a semantical issue, IMO, a distinction without a difference.
 

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I've seen a number of courses titled Music Appreciation and Understanding Music - and they essentially teach the same thing: a survey of music across different periods and genres through informed listening. A text that is often used is Understanding Music by Jeremy Yudkin - which is a music appreciation text.

I think it is a semantical issue, IMO, a distinction without a difference.
Well we can all offer our own understanding and appreciation of what these words mean. We all have access to the same online dictionaries.

But if the OP wants to raise this as an issue, they would be better understood if they made sure we fully understood their position and agreed with their use of the terms.
 

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Well we can all offer our own understanding and appreciation of what these words mean. We all have access to the same online dictionaries.

But if the OP wants to raise this as an issue, they would be better understood if they made sure we fully understood their position and agreed with their use of the terms.
I agree.

But if that means creating a difference between appreciating and understanding based on concepts that "appreciating" is an emotional/subjective response while "understanding" is a cerebral/objective response, then that is a specific (somewhat artificial) discussion on those concepts - which are not necessarily inextricably tied to the terms "appreciate" and "understand."
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Perhaps you'd first tell us what you take the two words to mean in the context of listening to classical music.
The difference is too vague to me, I can't know for sure. Even "being familiar with a work" seems less vague an idea than "understanding a work".
Even if you descriptively understand what each of the gestures in a work would have meant for/by the composer when he was writing them, if they don't genuinely inspire feelings in you or move you (the true purpose of music), how can you say you've understood them? -is sort of like the question I'm asking.
 

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Hard to address this issue without a clarification of what each term means, but here's my attempt. I'd say there are many elements which one can understand about any piece of music: its historical context (how it fits in or differs from the music of its time and before it), its historical significance (how it influenced contemporary and future music), its harmonic content, structure, and other technical elements, etc. Appreciation, however, ultimately comes down to how much we value these elements. At most, understanding might lead to an appreciation of how others (audiences and composers) felt about it, but it won't necessarily lead to us appreciating it ourselves because we either don't value those elements, or simply because it doesn't move us. It's possible to semantically separate "appreciation" from "enjoyment," but I think the notion of appreciating music we don't like is mostly just an acknowledgment of others' tastes, feelings, and opinions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
its historical context (how it fits in or differs from the music of its time and before it), its historical significance (how it influenced contemporary and future music), ..........ultimately comes down to how much we value these elements.
Yeah, historical significance is probably the most vague concept (largely dependent on how you interpret) of them all. Who gives a damn about Aumann's influence on Bruckner, or Reichardt's influence on Schubert, or Adlgasser's influence on Mozart these days? (lol)
Lots of composers had IMPACT throughout history, but whether or not the IMPACT was objectively positive/valuable is a different matter entirely. For instance, the Rise of Romanticism opened doors to a whole new world of musical possibilities, but it was also a Pandora's box that eventually led to modernism, which many people (even on this forum) constantly express disapproval for.
 

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According to most classical music theorists, music is made to evoke emotional and spiritual responses, studying music to enhance personal graces and virtues. For example in Castiglione`s courtisan`s book:"..that the movement of the celestial spheres creates natural harmonic tones, that the formation of our souls follows the same reasoning, thence music awakens and, as it were, revives their virtues."(Book I, ch.XLVII)

Martin Luther`s view is more emotional, stating that "We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is mistress and governess of those human emotions….which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them….For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate….what more effective means than music could you find?"

It would be very enlightening not only to consider music as the agent of emotional arousal but also a master over emotion as well, like what Plato considered music not just to be the medium of inspiration to be a better man but also a metaphysical means for free imagination or almost everything:

"music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything".


One of the most outstanding exhibitions of this spirit will be by John Dryden`s poem for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687:
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
There are also lores of Arion taming a dolphine and Orpheus the beasts with music, the latter even convinced Hades to release his wife on condition. Hades as a god, he should be a reasonable deity, as a paragon of reason, he was like the beast of irrationaliy overcomed. But no much explanations from classical times about how music affect people had been given other than metaphysical allegories about the power of music. All the rest are about the basic musical theories of music making. Music itself is almost purely metaphysical, from classical evaluations, not just passion, also reason can be overcomed in their best. It is quite amazing to notice that music can serve as a space encompassing human passion and reason, making both of them mutually convertable and communicative between themselves: beasts and men can be moved to reason from passion, and gods from reason to passion.

Human understanding in classical terms also has various schools: intuitive, analytical, objectivist, subjectivist. When looking onto the classical evaluations of music as a means of such power and worth, our modes of understanding would sound a bit off-climactic, however, not unethical. But it surely will be very off-topic to go for all the understanding modes before one can actually enjoy music in the way that is self-sufficient. My answer would be, music is music, it is self-sufficient as an art form and a way of enlightenment, the delights and enlightenment it brings are also self-sufficient therefore requires no mandates of understanding whatever the modes can be. In short, if you do not enjoy music, why bother? just go do some math and eat; if enjoy, then how to understand it, is totally up to personal ways/modes, everything else would be as practical as anything, as free as one should be free, but the enjoyment is always the thing that matters. To try to codify any musical understanding is only for the short term, music will always go with the most foundamental ways possible of human life: always enjoy it first.
 

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Yeah, historical significance is probably the most vague concept (largely dependent on how you interpret) of them all. Who gives a damn about Aumann's influence on Bruckner, or Reichardt's influence on Schubert, or Adlgasser's influence on Mozart these days? (lol)
I'm sure some people care about such things. I've always been fascinated by the evolution of the arts, how the greats take influences from the past and transform them into something new and great; and this is especially true when they do this of much lesser works and artists. I always think of the Handel quote who when asked why he took some melody from some unknown (today) composer said: "it was much too good for him, he didn't know what to do with it."
 

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How can you "understand" a work, and not "appreciate" it? Maybe you think you "understand", but in reality there are still some things about the work you don't "understand", so you don't "appreciate" it?
Does the term "understanding" have significant meaning when it comes to music appreciation?
How about "enjoying" it? I often wondered why classical music and fine art must always work around the concept of joy. Courses in classical music are called "Music Appreciation". When I was in Spain visited the cathedral at Toledo, the tour guide kept saying that we will now go to admire El Greco's masterpeice. I enjoy listening to hours of classical music and visiting art museums.While I a certain level of understanding the craftsmanship of music or art can lead to a level of admiration or appreciation, it is the joy that makes it worth the effort.

The real question for me is the paradox of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich or Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs; how such sad, brooding, soulful, music can be bring to my ears feelings of sadness and joy at the same time. Can someone explain that?
 

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The real question for me is the paradox of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich or Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs; how such sad, brooding, soulful, music can be bring to my ears feelings of sadness and joy at the same time. Can someone explain that?
It's a rather different question.
But it's similar also for horror movies etc. Basically for a lot of art, above all literature, drama, movie. You will probably find some recent neurobabble how this "really" works in da brain (mirror neurons or whatever). The more traditional attempts are along the lines that we vicariously experience some of the sadness, conflict, tragedy expressed in the tragedy or movie or music but as we are in fact "safe" as we are not really in the conflict or tragic situation (and we of course know that we are sitting in the theatre not actually being chased by monsters or trying to woo an unattainable chick like Gwyneth Paltrow) this transforms the negative/tense emotions into positive ones. Roughly a slightly weaker and more general version of identifying with The Amazing Spiderman and being a hero instead of a pimply couch potato.
 

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I've seen a number of courses titled Music Appreciation and Understanding Music - and they essentially teach the same thing: a survey of music across different periods and genres through informed listening.
As a sometimes instructor of Music Appreciation, I always mention on the first day that I hate the title of the course, for there is nothing in my power, or the textbook's, to make a student enjoy all music (there is a text called The Enjoyment of Music).

What I can offer them are tools on how to develop a historical, cultural, and musical framework around what they hear, all in order to make a quantitative statement regarding music and sound. I think the hope is, that in understanding how music works, what to listen for, all within a context, that students will have the tools to approach, listen to, and how to recognize the significance in aspects of music they may not initially understand upon hearing.

From the post quoted, I would much prefer the title Understanding Music.
 

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The difference between "understanding" and "enjoying" becomes obvious when one considers a simple piece, for example a small and repetitive pop song (I'm not saying that all pop songs are small and repetitive). It's totally possible to "assimilate" (or "understand") it with a few listens, but there's no guarantee that it will make one like it. But if the piece in question is technically or/and expressively complex, then "assimilating" it is necessary to like it, otherwise one may become lost in the process of hearing.

One has to understand something in order to decide if he enjoys it or not.
 

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Understanding and learning toward a transcendental happiness.

PLATO AND ARISTOTLE ON THE ENDS OF MUSIC

Aristotle, then, assigns four ends to music: giving pleasure. disposing toward
virtue, imitating emotion, and giving intellectual enjoyment. The order that he sees
between these ends can be inferred from what he says about the principles of
education in general and the place of music in education in particular.
Giving intellectual enjoyment will be the highest end and the la st to be
achieved
. Aristotle insists that the perfection of the higher faculties is achieved
after that of the lower ones. and that men can perform lower funetions well before
they can perform higher ones. As understanding and intellectual development will
come after the training of the appetite, also the end of music related to the
intellect will be the highest and at the same time the last attained.
Understanding music contributes to higher form of enjoyment, here termed as intellectual pleasure, the last to be achieved, after attaining the basic ways of enjoyment. The keyword is still enjoyment, further controversy would be about the validity and the content of this classical idea of "intellectual pleasure". One needs to confirm to classical philosophy in order to pursue this discussion. The cold-mind of rationality has degrees, even Sherlock Holmes enjoys a violin concert as he claims to be out of love affairs for his entire life. You must accept this term to make sense of this classical music theory. So what is this 'intellectual pleasure" is up to discussion now. Disillusioned performers of Gustav Leonhardt`s ideal being totally impartial is probably just a perceived idealism on the part of audience. But a state of absolute calm of mind can be attained through learning and ethical practices as well, it is the matter when intellectual and ethical practices surpass the boundary of musical realm into a pure state of self-awareness, like Buddhahood. This could be a state of disillusionment and self-composure, achievable through music to go beyond music. There is indeed a kind of enlightened happiness of all learned people that focus on the point of disillusionment or an ideal state of calmness of mind.

Stoic calm indifference towards external events is one of the major teaching themes, as it upholds the similar idea about happiness in connection with a good and virtuous character.

Buddhism pursues "upekkha"/equanimity of mind by using knowledge and practice. A mental state of detachment from all the passions, needs, cravings, greeds. This is an buddhist ideal state of happiness.

So pleasure can be divided into two levels: passionate pleasure as the basical level; disillusioned pleasure as the higher(through learning). How much Aristotle`s intellectual pleasure can agree with the idealistic disillusioned pleasure is not clear, not to be discussed here, gotta be long. But it is sure whatever the degree of their complacency, there is a common note of happiness shared from the most basic level to the highest idealistic level, even given this happiness might transcend all artistic forms. It might be feasible to illustrate professionalism as the transcendental mind that dedicates itself to the conveyance of certain results to the public, via the specific means of his/her profession. So the reception of this professional conveyance should be getting interested, and entertained, and motivated toward our own ways of transcendency. Getting passionate should be innocent, do not blame or shame yourself for that, we do not need to pursue the transcendency from the very beginning, but through steady and gradual learning and growth of the mental state, we can grow into such a state of living with music. (So reason and passion can be either raised or overcome by music, but not transcendental happiness.)

The whole process is clear: Getting enthusiastic--learning--understanding--calm of mind--perseverance--maturity--transcendency. A long process, I would be satisfied to attain transcendency just a few moment before my death. A whole life of professionalism in everything, not for me, boring.
 
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