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Do you use imitation?

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Do you imitate?

For the purpose of learning and practice, how useful do you think is imitation? By imitation I refer to the various ways to imitate or mimic some composer's work, and all this is done to understand the composer's style in a selected musical piece.

For example, taking a few measures in a score and after those measures have been played, composing what follows in a similar style; or vice versa, compose a few measures before, and then "entering" the measures you borrowed from the composer.

You can make an analogy to literature. By reading, you analyze the parts, and then the sum of the parts to understand both the parts and the whole. Then, you attempt to write in a style similar to your observations. Analogically it is the same with music.

In fact, isn't performing somebody else's work an act of reconstruction? When one plays a Nocturne from Chopin, for example, you are making sense out of the music by interpreting it. Would you lack the capacity to understand the music at a musical level, composing would be a counter-intuitive process; indeed, this intuitive capacity of ours to understand music suggests that music is universal, and it is bound by certain rules that can make a certain musical genre appear like a language, and a composer's work his particular style of expressing something, namely beauty, through that language.

With this interpretation of music, could you say that genres are languages (Romantic-era music, for example) through which musicians find meaning under the guidance of the rules and the alteration of these same rules?

Either way I think it could be useful to imitate somebody else's work, because as we know, performing and interpreting something is an inherent act of analysis and synthesis. I don't hopelessly practice imitation with the intent of some of the composer's talent rubbing off on me; but rather, I hope to find something in me that is common to the composer's thoughts, to come to know my "inner-musician" better.

What do you think? Do you find it valuable to study somebody else to understand music better, and become a better composer yourself? How do you do go about doing this, if you do find it valuable?

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As an historicist, I do a lot of imitation. Not directly, as in actually lifting snippets of melody (at least I work hard at trying not to do that); but the whole idea of composing contemporary music in a Baroque or Classical style involves incorporating stylistic elements that were characteristic of the period while doing something new and unique to me with them. I've likened it to building something new with old tools.

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As an historicist, I do a lot of imitation. Not directly, as in actually lifting snippets of melody (at least I work hard at trying not to do that); but the whole idea of composing contemporary music in a Baroque or Classical style involves incorporating stylistic elements that were characteristic of the period while doing something new and unique to me with them. I've likened it to building something new with old tools.

This is essentially what I'm getting at - building something new with old tools. Though I think it's interesting to see how other composers used those tools - what figurations, or motifs, or sequences, or melodies, or songs even - what these elements are, and how their affective quality came to be; at least these things can be inferred or pondered from one's interpretation of the music that's already written.

You can't technically ask how some melody was invented, because that's asking where composers procure their own inspiration or methods, and it is different for every one. But by interpreting it, you can get an idea.

And in doing so, in pondering the music, though there isn't anything particularly huge going on when you interpret somebody else's music, by the simple act of performing it you "see" the music in you such that you're able to understand it; and then I would argue that something transcendental is going on, because you somehow understand the composer, however imperfectly.

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Well said. If you listen to or perform enough of any composer or style, eventually some of it is bound to rub off on you. In my case, 18th Century music just made sense to me, and since I was a little kid, most of my musical thought has been in this vein. Inspiration is what makes it unique to me, but otherwise I use what has rubbed off on me through years of absorbing the music of that time to recreate the style as authentically as I can, being a modern person.

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True on all counts.

On the other hand, I find it to be not as gratifying as creating without doing the shedding, as it were. Or if I would use others' works, try to remove their intent as much as possible, which may or may not actually do so

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When I first started writing music twenty years ago, I wrote music that was -needless to say- largely unplayable and probably nothing more than noise. As I got older, I began to listen and analyze the works of the classicists - trying to take in there language. My goal in that was to build a foundation upon which, as a composer, I could grow upon. My musical language today is starkly different from those works. I've shed a LOT of that 'safety' and sought new sonic ground (so to speak). That said, I think imitating a composer for that kind of purpose is fine. Basing your development and so forth an older style is a bit different though. I think when you do it without adding anything unique to your own experience is bad - and, in the end, is just a recapitulation of that composers style.

The question, then, becomes what is exactly meant by 'unique to your own experience'? Just writing in the style of another composer (or time period) isn't necessarily showcasing your own experience. Take Bach, for example, his music can be said to be representative of his time period. He 'experienced' the period - and it shows in his music. If I were to compose music in that style, some 300 years after his passing, would my experiences in life be the same as his? Would it exactly be like Bach? The answer, of course, is no. I can write music inspired by Bach - but to fully imitate him is something that I would be incapable of doing at this stage. So in that aspect, I fully agree with J. Lee's comments about writing something old with new tools. The old would be the style and the new tools would be your experience.

My last comment comes in this:

In fact, isn't performing somebody else's work an act of reconstruction? When one plays a Nocturne from Chopin, for example, you are making sense out of the music by interpreting it. Would you lack the capacity to understand the music at a musical level, composing would be a counter-intuitive process; indeed, this intuitive capacity of ours to understand music suggests that music is universal, and it is bound by certain rules that can make a certain musical genre appear like a language, and a composer's work his particular style of expressing something, namely beauty, through that language.

First, I want to answer the first question. No, performance is not an act of reconstruction. While musicians do, sometimes, take liberties with tempi and minute details in the music - the overall structure or form generally remains the same. I think it's important to stress the differences between reconstruction and artistic interpretation - you seem to be relating them to one another. This relation, I feel, is virtually non-existent. Second, I want to touch on the idea that -as you say- music is universal. I would argue music, while certainly being something that humanity does share, has no universal rules. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to be constructed of similar intervalic relationships; in fact, there are many scales in the world today that present a vast array of different intervallic relationships. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to have 8 notes; in fact, there are many scales that have far less and far more notes. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be transported through a harmonic progression; in fact, there are many good works that maintain 1 tonal region throughout. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be composed of a set number of bars that flows in an arch structure; in fact, there are many different ways to construct a melody. Finally, in this train of thought, there is really nothing that shows or states that music must maintain a sense of beauty. For what one may find beautiful, another may find hideous. While it is possible to utilize music to illicit an emotional response, there are many things that go into conditioning what that response will be - and these things are plausibly different between cultures. This all shows, I feel, that the only thing universal about music is that we humans are able to create sound and organize it. The conception of what is a musical level, therefore, is a vast concept that changes widely from one culture to the next. So much so, in fact, that a listener accustomed to the musical nuances of one culture will feel somewhat alienated by the musical nuances of another. Just a little thing to add, I feel. Take what you will.

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First, I want to answer the first question. No, performance is not an act of reconstruction. While musicians do, sometimes, take liberties with tempi and minute details in the music - the overall structure or form generally remains the same. I think it's important to stress the differences between reconstruction and artistic interpretation - you seem to be relating them to one another. This relation, I feel, is virtually non-existent. Second, I want to touch on the idea that -as you say- music is universal. I would argue music, while certainly being something that humanity does share, has no universal rules. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to be constructed of similar intervalic relationships; in fact, there are many scales in the world today that present a vast array of different intervallic relationships. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to have 8 notes; in fact, there are many scales that have far less and far more notes. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be transported through a harmonic progression; in fact, there are many good works that maintain 1 tonal region throughout. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be composed of a set number of bars that flows in an arch structure; in fact, there are many different ways to construct a melody. Finally, in this train of thought, there is really nothing that shows or states that music must maintain a sense of beauty. For what one may find beautiful, another may find hideous. While it is possible to utilize music to illicit an emotional response, there are many things that go into conditioning what that response will be - and these things are plausibly different between cultures. This all shows, I feel, that the only thing universal about music is that we humans are able to create sound and organize it. The conception of what is a musical level, therefore, is a vast concept that changes widely from one culture to the next. So much so, in fact, that a listener accustomed to the musical nuances of one culture will feel somewhat alienated by the musical nuances of another. Just a little thing to add, I feel. Take what you will.

So, so summarize, we can do whatever the #*$& we want and it will still be considered "good" music because you can't judge what's good and what's bad about it because you can't know my feelings that I'm experiencing while writing/listening to the music. Well if that's the case why don't we just shut down the site now? No one can make a legitimate judgement against any music if we follow the criteria you lay out above. And yet, you make judgments on music all the time. So where's the disconnect here?

I have real problems with this post-modernist idea of "its good only according to me" simply because not everything is subjective. The reason we have identified masterworks and master composers is because we can *objectively* say that they are better music than others. Whether you like their music personally, you cannot deny that composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, or Bartok had very finely-crafted music. People make judgments that their music is better than others based on the objective analysis of their music.

Do we really want to put Rebecca Black and Radiohead at the same level?

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So, so summarize, we can do whatever the #*{:content:}amp; we want and it will still be considered "good" music because you can't judge what's good and what's bad about it because you can't know my feelings that I'm experiencing while writing/listening to the music. Well if that's the case why don't we just shut down the site now? No one can make a legitimate judgement against any music if we follow the criteria you lay out above. And yet, you make judgments on music all the time. So where's the disconnect here?

I have real problems with this post-modernist idea of "its good only according to me" simply because not everything is subjective. The reason we have identified masterworks and master composers is because we can *objectively* say that they are better music than others. Whether you like their music personally, you cannot deny that composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, or Bartok had very finely-crafted music. People make judgments that their music is better than others based on the objective analysis of their music.

Do we really want to put Rebecca Black and Radiohead at the same level?

I think you really missed my point here. My point is that you are incapable of imitating a composer fully. Your music, due to your own personal experience, will never equal the music of the composer you are trying to imitate. How does one judge music? Perhaps, we can look at judging music like this:

You listen to a piece. Gather an impression of the music that you associate with various things in your mind. The piece evokes in you the same responses as it evokes in others. Then you say the piece is good.

You listen to another piece. Gather an impression of the music that you associate with various things in your mind. The piece does not evoke in you the same responses as it evokes in others. Then you say the piece is good but others don't get it.

You listen to one last piece of music. Gather an impression of the music that you aren't able to associate with various things in your mind. The piece does not evoke in you the same responses as it evokes in others. Then you say the piece is bad BUT others don't get it.

As can be seen from these three examples, what is at play is the associations your brain makes with the musical stimuli. If a piece is able to evoke enough of a response from you that you perceive to be positive, then you will state the piece is good. If a piece is unable to evoke enough of a response from you that you perceive to be positive, then you will the state the piece is not good. This is NOT linear from one individual to another. Sure, there are things such as delay and release that can cross from one individual to another. Point to take here is though that if there WERE a single definition of what would be better types of music than others then there would NOT be so many different types of music.

And Justin, let's use something more realistic as an example:

Mahler's music.

Personally, I can't stand his music. I get no real responses that I consider positive from it. There are maybe a small handful of things the man wrote that I consider to be even remotely enjoyable. To me, I don't feel he is that great a composer.

You, as is publicly known, revere his works. You consider him to be one of the greatest composers ever. There are maybe a small of works the man wrote that you consider to be even remotely unenjoyable. To you, You feel he is a great composer.

Do you see the differences here? If there were a uniform identifier of greatness in music, then wouldn't it be present to everybody who listens to the work?

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When I first started writing music twenty years ago, I wrote music that was -needless to say- largely unplayable and probably nothing more than noise. As I got older, I began to listen and analyze the works of the classicists - trying to take in there language. My goal in that was to build a foundation upon which, as a composer, I could grow upon. My musical language today is starkly different from those works. I've shed a LOT of that 'safety' and sought new sonic ground (so to speak). That said, I think imitating a composer for that kind of purpose is fine. Basing your development and so forth an older style is a bit different though. I think when you do it without adding anything unique to your own experience is bad - and, in the end, is just a recapitulation of that composers style.

The question, then, becomes what is exactly meant by 'unique to your own experience'? Just writing in the style of another composer (or time period) isn't necessarily showcasing your own experience. Take Bach, for example, his music can be said to be representative of his time period. He 'experienced' the period - and it shows in his music. If I were to compose music in that style, some 300 years after his passing, would my experiences in life be the same as his? Would it exactly be like Bach? The answer, of course, is no. I can write music inspired by Bach - but to fully imitate him is something that I would be incapable of doing at this stage. So in that aspect, I fully agree with J. Lee's comments about writing something old with new tools. The old would be the style and the new tools would be your experience.

My last comment comes in this:

First, I want to answer the first question. No, performance is not an act of reconstruction. While musicians do, sometimes, take liberties with tempi and minute details in the music - the overall structure or form generally remains the same. I think it's important to stress the differences between reconstruction and artistic interpretation - you seem to be relating them to one another. This relation, I feel, is virtually non-existent. Second, I want to touch on the idea that -as you say- music is universal. I would argue music, while certainly being something that humanity does share, has no universal rules. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to be constructed of similar intervalic relationships; in fact, there are many scales in the world today that present a vast array of different intervallic relationships. There is nothing to show that, say, a scale has to have 8 notes; in fact, there are many scales that have far less and far more notes. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be transported through a harmonic progression; in fact, there are many good works that maintain 1 tonal region throughout. There is nothing to show that, say, a melody has to be composed of a set number of bars that flows in an arch structure; in fact, there are many different ways to construct a melody. Finally, in this train of thought, there is really nothing that shows or states that music must maintain a sense of beauty. For what one may find beautiful, another may find hideous. While it is possible to utilize music to illicit an emotional response, there are many things that go into conditioning what that response will be - and these things are plausibly different between cultures. This all shows, I feel, that the only thing universal about music is that we humans are able to create sound and organize it. The conception of what is a musical level, therefore, is a vast concept that changes widely from one culture to the next. So much so, in fact, that a listener accustomed to the musical nuances of one culture will feel somewhat alienated by the musical nuances of another. Just a little thing to add, I feel. Take what you will.

Thus I think it's necessary to rethink what reconstruction and artistic interpretation are, since the idea has been challenged; artistic interpretation is, to put it roughly, someone's way of performing a succession of melody, harmony, and rhythm, an act done by adding to this succession details such as variations in tempo and dynamics that make sense to the performer. Reconstruction is something else - initially I defined it as making sense, or understanding music, by absorbing it yourself.

However, since reconstruction is nearly analogous in definition to that of artistic interpretation, the definition of reconstruction becomes redundant - so reconstruction must be defined such that it contains a different notion, a different one to that of artistic interpretation. For the purpose of this topic, it could be a compositional set of limits derived from a piece by another composer - the key, the accompaniment form, etc. But in truth I've become confused with this, and at any rate, I think it is what matters the least right now.

What matters is that, whatever practice one wishes to embark upon in order to become a better composer, whatever it might be - yields the best results, namely putting you on a path in which you discover something new, that you develop what to you means music.

You mentioned that initially you chose to build a foundation by studying the classicists. How did this turn out? I coincide with your view that ultimately, it will be you who will naturally evolve your own musical language, through whichever set of limitations you might choose to use. For this, it is essential to create something new, even if you are somehow imitating other composers. What was it that helped you develop your own musical language, if not studying others' works?

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I have real problems with this post-modernist idea of "its good only according to me" simply because not everything is subjective. The reason we have identified masterworks and master composers is because we can *objectively* say that they are better music than others. Whether you like their music personally, you cannot deny that composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, or Bartok had very finely-crafted music. People make judgments that their music is better than others based on the objective analysis of their music.

Do we really want to put Rebecca Black and Radiohead at the same level?

Do you really believe this? You actually think there is such a thing as objectively "good" music??

Finely-carfted is great and all, but if I don't like it...it's not good.

Just like a movie, a book or a bottle of wine...

...

"...[bach, Beethoven, Brahms or Bartok's] music is better than others based on the objective analysis of their music."

Please Tokke, if you would: show me the criteria for "good music" we all apparently use for objective analysis of music!! I'd be great for my career....

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Thus I think it's necessary to rethink what reconstruction and artistic interpretation are, since the idea has been challenged; artistic interpretation is, to put it roughly, someone's way of performing a succession of melody, harmony, and rhythm, an act done by adding to this succession details such as variations in tempo and dynamics that make sense to the performer. Reconstruction is something else - initially I defined it as making sense, or understanding music, by absorbing it yourself.

However, since reconstruction is nearly analogous in definition to that of artistic interpretation, the definition of reconstruction becomes redundant - so reconstruction must be defined such that it contains a different notion, a different one to that of artistic interpretation. For the purpose of this topic, it could be a compositional set of limits derived from a piece by another composer - the key, the accompaniment form, etc. But in truth I've become confused with this, and at any rate, I think it is what matters the least right now.

We could probably touch upon reconstruction with an analogy. Let's look at the Great Pyramid for this. We can reconstruct the basic design of the pyramid -using modern tools of course- but we will never know exactly how it was built nor why it was built. There is a large granite box inside that we assume once held (or was meant to hold) a sarcophagus. The dimensions we can match with our modern tools. In reconstructing the Great Pyramid, however, we are unable to deduce the following: why that design was chosen, why the different materials used to build it were used, how the entire structure was built, and why it was built to such a size as it was. Let's transfer the analogy to, say, Beethoven's Fifth: we don't know why Beethoven chose the design of the work, we don't know why he used the material he used to write it, we don't know how he wrote it, and we don't know why he wrote it to that particular length. Do you see my point here? While we can attempt to reconstruct Beethoven's Fifth... it will not match the original.

Let's touch upon artistic interpretation to see the difference with analogy. The Louvre Museum in Paris is a good point on this. The designers of the Louvre looked at the Pyramids in Egypt and decided to base their structure upon it. We can see the clear connection in shape and design to the pyramids in egypt but there is something different. Instead of using stone, the museum uses glass and metal. Instead of towering to a particular height, the structure towers only 70 ft. So while the Louvre Pyramid remains to be inspired by the Pyramids in Egypt, it is clear that the architect took great artistic interpretation in applying that design to the structure but with some minute differences. Unlike the reconstruction, as seen above where we are trying to create an exact replica, artistic interpretation takes that structure and changes things aesthetically for individual reasons.

So we see, there is little analogous between artistic interpretation and reconstruction. An artist doesn't seek to 'reconstruct' the work at all, he seeks to 'interpret' the work.

You mentioned that initially you chose to build a foundation by studying the classicists. How did this turn out? I coincide with your view that ultimately, it will be you who will naturally evolve your own musical language, through whichever set of limitations you might choose to use. For this, it is essential to create something new, even if you are somehow imitating other composers. What was it that helped you develop your own musical language, if not studying others' works?

I thought it fulfilled the function it did above. It gave me insight in understanding how those composers, whom I greatly admire, composed. I was able to see, through study of their work and application of things I found in my music, how to do things and how to overcome some obstacles. As I started to use this forum, though, I was constantly asked to try new things and to experiment more. I then took members up on that and slowly (over the course of a few years) started to move towards new ground. Occasionally, I still like to write in that older style - much to my amusement, of course. In looking back on that change though, I realized that I had already started moving in that direction and those who were pushing me to go all the way probably noticed that fact. Again though, as I said earlier, whether you chose to write in a particular aesthetic or not is your choice. Certainly, a composer who write under the influence of Bach can produce music that is unique to his/her own experience JUST AS a person who writes in his/her own style. What matters, after all, is that we continue to write.

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I like Jason's interpretation on Reconstruction vs. Artistic Interpretation. While he does nitpick a bit much on the definition (after all, who's to say that Reconstruction cannot mean the same thing?), it also portrays quite accurately the challenges of a musician. Everyone wants to portray a piece in a way that pays tribute to the composer, yet, has enough of their own touch, to make it unique. Otherwise, you might as well be a machine.

I also wanted to comment on Tokkemon's statement that good music is "universal." I like to look at it from the perspective of... what makes music, "bad?"

Now definitions as to what kind of music is "bad" will vary from culture to culture, but I believe "bad" is more of a "check-off" list. Meaning, does your music fulfill one of these purposes?

1. Gives audience enjoyment/what they want to hear/doesn't bore them (commercial music)

2. Sets the mood for something else (i.e. film/tv music) (ambience music)

3. Heightens/stretches the study of music in some meaningful way (artistic music)

4. Conveys meaning of some kind that people can understand. (cultural/story music)

There might be more 'purposes' that music seeks to fulfill, and I don't want to pigeonhole myself by saying that the above 4 are the ONLY purposes for music. But if a piece of music does not fulfill a single objective, then I can "objectively" say, that it is bad. For example, hitting random keys on the piano consists of "bad" music, just as drawing a couple of random shapes on a piece of paper is considered "bad" art.

I quite agree with Tokkemon when he says, if there are no rules for good or bad, then what are we doing here on this site? While the criteria for "good" is far too wide to pigeonhole into a few sentences, I also believe that, as composers, our goal is certainly not to create "bad" music. Therefore, this site is a platform for us to share ideas in the pursuit of creating "good" music, and if the only definition that I can safely attribute to "good" music is that it is not "bad" music, then that is still, a universal definition.

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....I believe "bad" is more of a "check-off" list. Meaning, does your music fulfill one of these purposes?

1. Gives audience enjoyment/what they want to hear/doesn't bore them (commercial music)

2. Sets the mood for something else (i.e. film/tv music) (ambience music)

3. Heightens/stretches the study of music in some meaningful way (artistic music)

4. Conveys meaning of some kind that people can understand. (cultural/story music)

There might be more 'purposes' that music seeks to fulfill, and I don't want to pigeonhole myself by saying that the above 4 are the ONLY purposes for music. But if a piece of music does not fulfill a single objective, then I can "objectively" say, that it is bad.

...no, you can subjectively say that it is bad.

Why do people insist on claiming "universals" and "objectivity" in music (or any art for that matter) ?!?!

Someone else WILL hate something you LOVE. Someone WILL feel a different mood than you. Someone WILL feel the study of music is lessened. Someone WILL interpret a piece differently.

Objectivity. I.e. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased. Hardly something that can be claimed when discussing Music.

For example, hitting random keys on the piano consists of "bad" music, just as drawing a couple of random shapes on a piece of paper is considered "bad" art.

:blink:

Cecil Taylor. Jackson Pollock. How do you explain them? ...or any of the of incredibly successful and creative pianists or painters out there?

I quite agree with Tokkemon when he says, if there are no rules for good or bad, then what are we doing here on this site?

This isn't to say there are no rules.... but YOUR rules are not MY rules.

Dig?

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...no, you can subjectively say that it is bad.

Why do people insist on claiming "universals" and "objectivity" in music (or any art for that matter) ?!?!

Someone else WILL hate something you LOVE. Someone WILL feel a different mood than you. Someone WILL feel the study of music is lessened. Someone WILL interpret a piece differently.

I mean, naming specific things might not have been the best way, but I think that's what is being pointed at here -- everyone's approaching making and listening to music in different ways. Is jazz pop or art or Warhol? 5 different people will have 5 different answers, all from different points of view -- but it's something, and it's doing something that we can value it on, depending on how we're looking at it.

Objectivity. I.e. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased. Hardly something that can be claimed when discussing Music.

True, but even the most objective things are affected by personal feelings. The very way that you approach anything, even being objective, is subjective. So bending that word to mean "justified" might be better?

Cecil Taylor. Jackson Pollock. How do you explain them? ...or any of the of incredibly successful and creative pianists or painters out there?

But there's a difference, if only in presentation. Me handing in a blank page of sheet music and the blank staff paper on my floor aren't necessarily the same thing, despite the same content.

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I like Jason's interpretation on Reconstruction vs. Artistic Interpretation. While he does nitpick a bit much on the definition (after all, who's to say that Reconstruction cannot mean the same thing?), it also portrays quite accurately the challenges of a musician. Everyone wants to portray a piece in a way that pays tribute to the composer, yet, has enough of their own touch, to make it unique. Otherwise, you might as well be a machine.

I wouldn't say that reconstruction can mean the same as artistic interpretation - certainly one can reconstruct a work and infuse a little bit of their own artistic interpretation into various facets of the piece WITHOUT changing the overall concept that was reconstructed. For instance, we don't do trills the exact same today as they were done in the Baroque period - nor do we add the same kinds of ornamentation on repeated sections of Baroque works (which was the norm back then.) You also have the artistic interpretation of conductors who alter various details in a piece to their own artistic interpretation. These everyday examples, I feel, represent even more that the two are separate BUT certainly can and do function simultaneously.

Now definitions as to what kind of music is "bad" will vary from culture to culture, but I believe "bad" is more of a "check-off" list. Meaning, does your music fulfill one of these purposes?

1. Gives audience enjoyment/what they want to hear/doesn't bore them (commercial music)

2. Sets the mood for something else (i.e. film/tv music) (ambience music)

3. Heightens/stretches the study of music in some meaningful way (artistic music)

4. Conveys meaning of some kind that people can understand. (cultural/story music)

Let's look at these point by point:

1. How does one determine what gives an audience enjoyment? One person may find enjoyment in Webern's take on Serialism, another may find Webern's take to be totally un-enjoyable and comparable to nails being scratched on a chalkboard, yet another may find his take to be somewhat enjoyable BUT yet at times boring, and still another may not get any sense of enjoyment good or bad. Thus, it can be safe to say that this point already fails to provide a definition of what is good or bad music.

2. Psychology tells us that moods are conditioned and learned in an individual. We can listen to a particular type of music during a particular emotional event and that music will attach itself to that emotion - manifesting itself as recurring memories everytime that emotion is encountered in the future. With that in mind, let's assume a person was abused while listening to Beethoven's 6th Symphony repeatedly as a child. One day they are listening to their local radio station's broadcast of the Berlin Phil performing Beethoven's 6th. As the work progresses, their mind brings to the fore front the memories of being abused - the person starts to cry. They turn off the work and refuse to listen to it ever again. They declare the work to be bad - due to this. Thus, just because something sets the mood... doesn't necessarily make it good or bad. It's all in the 'mind' of the listener.

3. I found this one to be slightly biased, largely because you automatically remove a vast amount of music (pop, rock, r&b, hip-hop, country, world). All these genres that you remove, by the way, happen to be among the most popular styles of music FAR surpassing art music. Those who listen and consume these genres proudly state that these genres are GOOD music. So, something here must be awash.

4. I think this one would fall under the rules of culture, to be honest. For example, imagine the reactions of a predominantly classical listener tuning in for the first time to the sound of Native American music. Imagine the reactions of a predominantly native american listener tuning in for the first time to the sound of Indian Ragas. Neither the classical listener or the native american listener would really find anything that they would be able to understand. The meanings that they get from the music, indeed, would most likely be far removed from that intended - and this is something that has been documented repeatedly anthropologically. Just because they are listening to music, does not mean they are understanding of the cultural influences present in the music. Thus, this 'definition of good music' also falls short of actually defining what is good or bad music.

So, as I have shown above, all four of these 'points' are flawed. Neither really demonstrates that a work is definitively good or bad. 1,2, and 4 easily fall within psychological and cultural reasonings and 3 just outright ignores 99% of the genres of music.

I quite agree with Tokkemon when he says, if there are no rules for good or bad, then what are we doing here on this site? While the criteria for "good" is far too wide to pigeonhole into a few sentences, I also believe that, as composers, our goal is certainly not to create "bad" music. Therefore, this site is a platform for us to share ideas in the pursuit of creating "good" music, and if the only definition that I can safely attribute to "good" music is that it is not "bad" music, then that is still, a universal definition.

I, for one, am not here to create 'good' or 'bad' music. I am here to create art. I can't create art that fits the taste of everyone who will listen to it - nor could any other composer before me. I can only create music that I feel represents my ideas, my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, and my experiences. I can only hope that people find my music 'enjoyable' - if not, well, that's understandable AND their choice.

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I think there's a terrible (but slight) semantic problem we're facing here.

When I say that X Music is "Good", that does not mean I like it or dislike it. It simply means it is well-constructed, the better music when compared to other music similar to it. So, while I may dislike a lot of Schoenberg's or Varese's music, you better gosh-darn-it believe that they wrote *good* music. It is well crafted, it gets their point across, it is "art" in every sense of the word. Do I have to like it? No. That's subject to my own opinion. But removing that opinion from the equation, one can very easily objectively say that one piece is better than another piece. That is exactly what we do on this site every day. Aside from "well, this wasn't to my taste", the good reviewers continue with this: "but I like your counterpoint and/or interplay of motives here and/or development of material." Those have nothing to do with opinion; they are black-and-white on the page, without denial. And if one compares works of the masters, (as have been determined by history through objective analysis, mind you,) to works of the young composers here, you will get works that are inferior. It's that simple. Kids can't write as well as Beethoven, Brahms, or Stravinsky. At least, not yet. We don't determine this from "oh, I like Beethoven better, so this young composer's music that sounds like Beethoven is crappy music." Perhaps I should rephrase, SOME people do that. That isn't very useful to anyone though... The point is, objective analysis is the only way to really improve on music without the critic forcing his own opinion on the composer. Not to say the latter isn't useful sometimes, but it shouldn't be the primary method of comparison.

Thus, "good music" does not equal "I like this music." They are two different things.

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I think there's a terrible (but slight) semantic problem we're facing here.

When I say that X Music is "Good", that does not mean I like it or dislike it. It simply means it is well-constructed, the better music when compared to other music similar to it. So, while I may dislike a lot of Schoenberg's or Varese's music, you better gosh-darn-it believe that they wrote *good* music. It is well crafted, it gets their point across, it is "art" in every sense of the word. Do I have to like it? No. That's subject to my own opinion. But removing that opinion from the equation, one can very easily objectively say that one piece is better than another piece. That is exactly what we do on this site every day. Aside from "well, this wasn't to my taste", the good reviewers continue with this: "but I like your counterpoint and/or interplay of motives here and/or development of material." Those have nothing to do with opinion; they are black-and-white on the page, without denial. And if one compares works of the masters, (as have been determined by history through objective analysis, mind you,) to works of the young composers here, you will get works that are inferior. It's that simple. Kids can't write as well as Beethoven, Brahms, or Stravinsky. At least, not yet. We don't determine this from "oh, I like Beethoven better, so this young composer's music that sounds like Beethoven is crappy music." Perhaps I should rephrase, SOME people do that. That isn't very useful to anyone though... The point is, objective analysis is the only way to really improve on music without the critic forcing his own opinion on the composer. Not to say the latter isn't useful sometimes, but it shouldn't be the primary method of comparison.

Thus, "good music" does not equal "I like this music." They are two different things.

f. of immaterial things. Of actions: Rightly or skilfully performed. good opera, good radio, good television, good theatre : said of an entertainment that is effective, or well suited to a specified medium.

That's from the Oxford English dictionary. Good, as an adjective pertaining to artistic forms and media. So, when I say a work is good to me - I mean that it's impact on me is effective. We can use an example of this: Mahler's work.

Mahler is one of those composers whom I think is WAY overrated. His work is boring, long, fails to impact me in any meaningful (or unmeaningful) wall, and over all I feel he is way to verbose. Thus, I don't consider Mahler to be a good composer at all - let alone even up there among the greats. I would rank Mahler as one of the worst composers of all time - if not the worst. I see little to no value in most of the works he has composed. However, I realize that other people on this forum revere Mahler (for whatever reason, I have no idea!) To be respectful to their opinions, I state kind things such as: he uses melody interestingly, he really expanded the formal structures of the symphony, etc. This doesn't mean I think he is a good composer - that's just me not stepping on peoples toes. So, I can't *objectively* state that Mahler wrote good music.

What is 'well-crafted'? Certainly, I can pull up any work by the masters that is in one genre and witness countless thousands (perhaps millions) different ways to 'craft' a work. Take sonata-allegro form as an example: while the overall sections remains EACH composer tinkered with it to fit there own personal taste at that moment in time. Thus, you can see, that what Beethoven would think is 'good craft' may not be what Schubert thinks is 'good craft' AND may also not be what Shostakovitch thought was 'good craft'. Even among each of their works, there are different levels of complexity in the structures they used to craft their music - some successful and others unsuccessful. But, I guess that's a different story.

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Mahler is one of those composers whom I think is WAY overrated. His work is boring, long, fails to impact me in any meaningful (or unmeaningful) wall, and over all I feel he is way to verbose. Thus, I don't consider Mahler to be a good composer at all - let alone even up there among the greats. I would rank Mahler as one of the worst composers of all time - if not the worst. I see little to no value in most of the works he has composed. However, I realize that other people on this forum revere Mahler (for whatever reason, I have no idea!) To be respectful to their opinions, I state kind things such as: he uses melody interestingly, he really expanded the formal structures of the symphony, etc. This doesn't mean I think he is a good composer - that's just me not stepping on peoples toes. So, I can't *objectively* state that Mahler wrote good music.

See, but you're not thinking objectively about it. You're only thinking of how his music affects you personally, not the music itself. You're injecting your opinion into the analysis and it ceases to become objective. If you use that method, then of course, you can't say that Mahler wrote good music, because your opinion states as such.

The difference between you and me is that while I may not like a certain composer, I do not discredit them calling them "the worst composer ever" because their music doesn't "speak to me" or affect me as it does to others. Xenakis or even Babbit are great examples. Personally, I think a lot of their music sounds like noise. But I know that everything you hear was intended by them, written down and planned in advance. They have *intention* behind their music and this makes them a good composer. I know that I could never have the patience to make all the decisions that Xenakis does in his incredibly advanced music. He should be put up on a pedestal for that alone as one of the greater composers. It has nothing to do with "I like him" or "his music affects me", it has to do with he writes music that you nor I could. He writes music that is not commonplace and could only be written by a master, in every sense of the word. You have to look at it from a composition perspective, not from a listener's perspective. Because if you use the latter, you will inevitably be guided by your own opinions and tastes, which are not universal.

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See, but you're not thinking objectively about it. You're only thinking of how his music affects you personally, not the music itself. You're injecting your opinion into the analysis and it ceases to become objective. If you use that method, then of course, you can't say that Mahler wrote good music, because your opinion states as such.

Yes, but you also need to add in my entire point in my previous post: you can not say something is good objectively unless there is something by which you can measure it. Sure a piece may utilize theoretical systems flawlessly, but that doesn't exactly lead to the piece being good or bad (and there are a LOT of examples that support that.) Theory placed aside and we are left with nothing physical by which we can measure whether a composition on paper is good/bad. Sure, we can listen to a piece and like it - but until all of humanity is able to objectively examine, without any variance, anything that is heard and be impacted in the same manner as each other, then we can not state that music is good/bad.

The difference between you and me is that while I may not like a certain composer, I do not discredit them calling them "the worst composer ever" because their music doesn't "speak to me" or affect me as it does to others. Xenakis or even Babbit are great examples. Personally, I think a lot of their music sounds like noise. But I know that everything you hear was intended by them, written down and planned in advance. They have *intention* behind their music and this makes them a good composer. I know that I could never have the patience to make all the decisions that Xenakis does in his incredibly advanced music. He should be put up on a pedestal for that alone as one of the greater composers. It has nothing to do with "I like him" or "his music affects me", it has to do with he writes music that you nor I could. He writes music that is not commonplace and could only be written by a master, in every sense of the word. You have to look at it from a composition perspective, not from a listener's perspective. Because if you use the latter, you will inevitably be guided by your own opinions and tastes, which are not universal.

Even looking at it from a composers standpoint, Justin. As I state above, there is nothing -outside theory- which is capable of measuring whether a composition is good or bad. Even when I look at Mahler from a composer, and I swear we've had this discussion before, I don't see anything of worth in his scores. Sure, I could break apart his motivic usage and perhaps find something worthy BUT I can do that with other composers whom I appreciate even more. This is one reason why I don't believe in using the monikers good or bad - or better or worse. That said, all in all, one thing you are saying above is that it is a composers INDIVIDUAL language that makes him/her great as opposed to any sort of real tool for measurement.

It has nothing to do with "I like him" or "his music affects me", it has to do with he writes music that you nor I could. He writes music that is not commonplace and could only be written by a master, in every sense of the word.

And it is this, that I can agree on somewhat - though just because a person has a unique, individual voice does not make him/her good or great.

I think it's kind of comical really, you start by stating there are definitive means by which you can measure whether a composition is good/bad YET... here you say that something that is not measurable is the sole means by which you can call a person a good composer. Do you see the humor in that?

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Yes, but you also need to add in my entire point in my previous post: you can not say something is good objectively unless there is something by which you can measure it. Sure a piece may utilize theoretical systems flawlessly, but that doesn't exactly lead to the piece being good or bad (and there are a LOT of examples that support that.) Theory placed aside and we are left with nothing physical by which we can measure whether a composition on paper is good/bad. Sure, we can listen to a piece and like it - but until all of humanity is able to objectively examine, without any variance, anything that is heard and be impacted in the same manner as each other, then we can not state that music is good/bad.

The measurement is other pieces. An example: take all of Baroque music. Bach's is generally considered the pinacle, the best of it all, because he took the Baroque beyond the other pieces in the genre. This was established for many theoretical, compositional, and msuicality-bearing reasons. I shan't go into them now because I'll assume you're intellegent enough to know what they are. Regardless of whether you like Bach or not, he IS the pinacle of the Baroque, the *best* music that period has to offer.

Remember that theory developed *out* of the already existing compositions, not the other way around. So if something breaks some theoretical rule, that's not a nick against it. Indeed, pieces that pushed the rules are often the most innovative and interesting simply because they deviated from what came before. This is why Beethoven's "Eroica" is unique, or Wagner's "Tristan" (arguably), or Stravinsky's "Rite". They're great pieces not only because of the music itself, but the context in which the music was written. So using music theory alone is folly in trying to analyse a piece's "greatness" when considering larger-scale comparisons. Now, if we were comparing, say, an early Beethoven Sonata to a late-period Beethoven Sonata, the late ones would win out, of course. But why? Is it theory alone? Even in that comparison the theory was evolving and by the end of Beethoven's life, much of the "rules" of the Classical period were broken. Even there, music theory must take a background role. It is which the context of the composition sits in history that it finds its place in the records of the "master composers."

Even looking at it from a composers standpoint, Justin. As I state above, there is nothing -outside theory- which is capable of measuring whether a composition is good or bad. Even when I look at Mahler from a composer, and I swear we've had this discussion before, I don't see anything of worth in his scores. Sure, I could break apart his motivic usage and perhaps find something worthy BUT I can do that with other composers whom I appreciate even more. This is one reason why I don't believe in using the monikers good or bad - or better or worse. That said, all in all, one thing you are saying above is that it is a composers INDIVIDUAL language that makes him/her great as opposed to any sort of real tool for measurement.

I said nothing on individual language, only that a master composer's music is unique to the plethora of other musics around him. Unique as in far more efficiant in craft, development, musicality etc., so much so that it is able to stand apart from its comparisons.

And it is this, that I can agree on somewhat - though just because a person has a unique, individual voice does not make him/her good or great.

Again, I said nothing on individual voice. I was reffering to a master composing doing something that the average listener could not: write the (good) music that the listener is hearing.

I think it's kind of comical really, you start by stating there are definitive means by which you can measure whether a composition is good/bad YET... here you say that something that is not measurable is the sole means by which you can call a person a good composer. Do you see the humor in that?

Its not humorous, you're just reading into things that aren't there. Just because I didn't bother to write a five-page essay on how music can be measured against other music doesn't mean there aren't ways. Just look at how you compare your own works to other composers on YC. How does a composition professor judge music by a composition student and critique it so the student can improve? Putting aside his personal musical tastes, how does he comment? Through objective analysis. We, as composers, do it every day. We have to make decisions on which notes to use, which dynamics, which orchestration, which devices to use. Those decisions all have to be *judged* against other options and one must be picked. When we don't have personal tastes to fall back on, what do we do then? Because I'm sure that no composer on the planet has "personal tastes" that are developed enough to completely write a composition based solely on that alone.

What I *do* find slightly tickling, however, is the fact that you say you don't believe in "good" or "bad" music, "better", "worse", whatever, and yet you use those *continuously* in your musical critique. How is Mahler worse than others? You *compared* it to other music through objective analysis. "He's too longwinded" you say. Well, that's not part of his tastes per se, that's his decision to develop the music in a longer fasion that your tastes would allow. So be it. But you had to look at it outside of your tastes before you could come to a conclusion on the matter, by, say, comparing his development to a very brief development in a Mozart symphony. How did you pick one? You just simply "felt" better on the one? That may be, but to know *why* is where the objectivity comes in.

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Will someone PLEASE link me a list of the objective criteria for evaluating "good" music! PDF preferred!!

I want to make my music good-er, and this elusive document would make my career much easier (and more lucrative)!!!

I would even buy it, if it is in a book or something.

Even if anyone could tell me what specifically it IS about Beethoven's melodies that make them more good than Steve Hobson's, that would be a place for me to start.

...ANYONE!!?? Please help me!!

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Haven't you ever taken a college level theory course Robin?

Dunno if they have that for Jazz. But its been around for 100 years, so I'd think there is one.

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The measurement is other pieces. An example: take all of Baroque music. Bach's is generally considered the pinacle, the best of it all, because he took the Baroque beyond the other pieces in the genre. This was established for many theoretical, compositional, and msuicality-bearing reasons. I shan't go into them now because I'll assume you're intellegent enough to know what they are. Regardless of whether you like Bach or not, he IS the pinacle of the Baroque, the *best* music that period has to offer.

Lolwut!? So, I'm supposed to take a work by Stockhausen and compare it against Bach to discern whether or not it is good? Well, just... wow. No comment.

Remember that theory developed *out* of the already existing compositions, not the other way around. So if something breaks some theoretical rule, that's not a nick against it. Indeed, pieces that pushed the rules are often the most innovative and interesting simply because they deviated from what came before. This is why Beethoven's "Eroica" is unique, or Wagner's "Tristan" (arguably), or Stravinsky's "Rite". They're great pieces not only because of the music itself, but the context in which the music was written. So using music theory alone is folly in trying to analyse a piece's "greatness" when considering larger-scale comparisons. Now, if we were comparing, say, an early Beethoven Sonata to a late-period Beethoven Sonata, the late ones would win out, of course. But why? Is it theory alone? Even in that comparison the theory was evolving and by the end of Beethoven's life, much of the "rules" of the Classical period were broken. Even there, music theory must take a background role. It is which the context of the composition sits in history that it finds its place in the records of the "master composers."

But, there are those that would argue that the piano works of Beethoven's middle period are greater than the piano works of his later period. So then, again, that entire argument you spent a paragraph writing here just collapses in on itself.

Mind you, even talking about various pieces prior to what I bolded isn't really relevant. Not everyone thinks those three works are equally great to each other - which, thus begs the question this entire argument is based on: how does one determine greatness?

I said nothing on individual language, only that a master composer's music is unique to the plethora of other musics around him. Unique as in far more efficiant in craft, development, musicality etc., so much so that it is able to stand apart from its comparisons.

Again, I said nothing on individual voice. I was reffering to a master composing doing something that the average listener could not: write the (good) music that the listener is hearing.

That's not what you said at all... nor are we talking about listeners 'writing' anything - we're talking about what makes a piece by Beethoven good and a piece by Mahler not good. And where did I get the inference that you stated individual voice? I'll show you.

It has nothing to do with "I like him" or "his music affects me", it has to do with he writes music that you nor I could. He writes music that is not commonplace and could only be written by a master, in every sense of the word.

To use 'writes music that you nor I could, implies that he writes music unique to his own individual voice - which no one is capable of imitating. To state 'writes music that is not commonplace' also implies the same. If you want me to gain a particular idea from your sentences, then you should word them to exactly how you wish them to come off. Otherwise... STFU.

Its not humorous, you're just reading into things that aren't there. Just because I didn't bother to write a five-page essay on how music can be measured against other music doesn't mean there aren't ways. Just look at how you compare your own works to other composers on YC. How does a composition professor judge music by a composition student and critique it so the student can improve? Putting aside his personal musical tastes, how does he comment? Through objective analysis. We, as composers, do it every day. We have to make decisions on which notes to use, which dynamics, which orchestration, which devices to use. Those decisions all have to be *judged* against other options and one must be picked. When we don't have personal tastes to fall back on, what do we do then? Because I'm sure that no composer on the planet has "personal tastes" that are developed enough to completely write a composition based solely on that alone.

Well, then, Justin... as I and others here have asked: What are the criteria by which a piece can be judged as good or bad?

So far, you've offered 2 things:

1. The work must be written in an individual voice unique to that composer.

2. The work must be held to the scrutiny of what came before. (i.e. comparing work x to work a).

Let's add more to this list then.

What I *do* find slightly tickling, however, is the fact that you say you don't believe in "good" or "bad" music, "better", "worse", whatever, and yet you use those *continuously* in your musical critique. How is Mahler worse than others? You *compared* it to other music through objective analysis. "He's too longwinded" you say. Well, that's not part of his tastes per se, that's his decision to develop the music in a longer fasion that your tastes would allow. So be it. But you had to look at it outside of your tastes before you could come to a conclusion on the matter, by, say, comparing his development to a very brief development in a Mozart symphony. How did you pick one? You just simply "felt" better on the one? That may be, but to know *why* is where the objectivity comes in.

Why do I feel Mahler to be inferior as a composer? Subjectively, I just don't like his language and his verbose nature. Objectively, there is nothing I can find in Mahler that I can't find in other composers scores. Subjectively, I get virtually no impact from listening to his music. Objectively, I feel he adds more motivic material than a piece requires. While my subjective statements are based on my own personal views and feelings, my objective statements are based on study and observation of his scores/recordings. I can objectively say that I see nothing unique in motivic development in his works - especially when compared to the work of other composers from the same time period and later. I can also say that I can't really see anything unique in his scores that doesn't exist in other works from other composers. Would I compare Mahler to Bach? No, not at all. Would I compare him to Mozart? Objectively, no. Subjectively, yes - since I respond better to Mozart's works than I do Mahlers. Would I compare him to any composer objectively? Absolutely not. I may joke and do it - but I think your intelligent enough to see the difference.

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Haven't you ever taken a college level theory course Robin?

Dunno if they have that for Jazz. But its been around for 100 years, so I'd think there is one.

Explain, please.

How does knowing theory help me successfully evaluate the goodness of a piece of music?

I WANT EXAMPLES!!!! Show me a GOOD piece of music. Please circle all instances of "good". I will grade you to see if you find them all!!

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Explain, please.

How does knowing theory help me successfully evaluate the goodness of a piece of music?

I WANT EXAMPLES!!!! Show me a GOOD piece of music. Please circle all instances of "good". I will grade you to see if you find them all!!

2 days later and no response :P

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