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How do non-musicians listen to music?

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Maybe this is not the right place to ask this, because everyone here is a musician, but how do non-musicians listen to music? Do they really hear the accompaniment or do they only listen to the melody, what do they notice and what not, etc. The only things I have read before were the articles about song writing (how to make your song popular).

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Huh -- really interesting question...

I wasn't a musician except for only 2 years ago, so the question makes perfect sense to me. I don't speak for everyone, of course, but when I didn't actually care about how the musician made the music, the only thing I heard was the melody. Everything else only seemed like background noise that I couldn't distinguish from the rest of the music, and only served to support the melody. I mean, I heard that it all fit and sounded good and all, but I had no idea how it all came together. I didn't even hear harmony very well.

The only way I was able to break through this mentality was by listening to counter-point material, where there is not just homo-phonic melody (as is the popular music here in the USA).

I wonder what others will have to say on the subject.

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This really interesting, indeed!

I think people without musical knowledge listen to music more passive. I think these people don't pay attention to the music, untill something 'hits' them. It probebly far more based purely on what the music does to their emotions. If the harmony appeals to them the don't know it's the harmony. They just know something in the music appeals to them. If the like the drums, they like the music and not the drums. They judge the music by the sum of their parts and not by the individuel parts.

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how do they listen? I think they just... listen. My grandparents (on my mother's side) just listen to it all, think about what they hear. Unlike musicians, they don't go "OH there's the Alto flute 6 bar solo. Listen to the 7th chords. I think one was diminished!" They just think nice or not! Wish sometimes I could do that haha

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Hahaha, this is simply answered by all three replies so far. Quite simply put (sadly) they just listen. I haven't been a musician ALL my life, and only a composer in the last little while however I always tried to appreciate harmonies in conjuction with melodies and etc. (though my greatest difficulty remains to be putting them together correctly myself hahaha). However, as I look at my friends, many of whom are pianists, but unappreciative ones at that, music is simply a noise, either satisfying or irritating. It is simply played in the background of whatever they are doing to amplify emotion (basically only concentrating on the melody). This is sad though, because they don't appreciate the journey, the variation, and development...etc. Interesting question though.

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Well, as a person who's a working musician in pop-rock genre, I can say that about 90% of people are only concerned with the vocals, the text, and the occasional solo. The rest of the music can be totally crap, if the singer does his part well, the crowd really doesn't care.

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To get a good idea of how non-musicians hear music, listen to some Hans Zimmer. :D

*runs for cover*

Seriously though...

:D

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... Quite simply put (sadly) they just listen. ...It is simply played in the background of whatever they are doing to amplify emotion (basically only concentrating on the melody). This is sad though, because they don't appreciate the journey, the variation, and development...etc. Interesting question though.

I don't think there's anything sad about being able to "simply" listen ... I doubt that an un-educated listener (for lack of a better term) isn't appreciating the "journey, the variation, and development". Just because they don't know what it is, doesn't mean they aren't aware it's happening, even if only on a subconscious level.... :whistling:

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Well, despite all the training in the world, the difference between how an untrained musician and trained musician listen is not hugely different. The difference is in awareness. And even musicians vary in their ability to hear all the details in music. In fact there is some music which many musicians would have trouble figuring out - something such as Moses and Aaron, some of the spectralist school music, and even Reich's chamber pieces. Why? Two reasons:

1) We hear with our brain, the ears are a mechanism to transmit the vibrations to our brain.

2) Our awareness of the components of a type of music is improved with repeated hearing. So, It is easier to train ourselves to recognize components of Euro-based common practice music because of its prevalence. Yet ask a violinist to determine the registration changes of a chorale on the organ or the variegated degrees of distortion and bends on an electric guitar and the violinist will struggle like a non-trained musician.

And regarding 1), remarkably, researchers have found with brain imaging and music listening experiments, the brain recognizes far more details of music than we realize - this goes for musicians and non-musicians. The difference is music study raises our awareness of what we take for granted (to the point, for non-trained musicians, we are unaware of them).

Recall, Copland's introduction to music and composition for non-musicians was titled "What To Listen For In Music" , not "Progressive Sight-Singing, Aural Dictation and Schenckerian Analysis for All"

I will be honest, as I have not had very long-term extensive training with aural dictation, if you sound melodies and chords and I am given just a pencil and paper that will take me longer to do than if I work it out at the piano. Why? Well, I took piano at a very young age and therefore one could say my hands are more aware of all the info my brain is picking up versus my voice and ears.

Finally, there are many who like music but are not interested in securing music training. I am all for learning an instrument or to sing in a choir, but for many people it isn't that interesting. I mean I have friends rave about the game of baseball and how much strategy there is ... but it doesn't interest me that much and so I am "baseball illiterate".

PS. Generally, the one thing most people will hear best is that which stands out acoustically - therefore as the soprano line usually holds the line of most interest and is sung or played louder than the lower voices and much music today, the top line acoustically will be strongest and therefore what we hear most clearly.

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To get a good idea of how non-musicians hear music, listen to some Hans Zimmer. :D

*runs for cover*

Seriously though...

:D

I don't think that really works. He didn't have an official training, but he is a musician despite the fact that he's no papers. When you want to listen to the different voices, you will hear it. Maybe you do it after you listened some hundred times, but you'll hear it.

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I don't think that really works. He didn't have an official training, but he is a musician despite the fact that he's no papers. When you want to listen to the different voices, you will hear it. Maybe you do it after you listened some hundred times, but you'll hear it.

I don't mean Zimmer isn't a musician. I mean that his music is tailored actually very well to what non-musicians pick up on most immediately. I.e., one big melody (repeated), lots of percussion and rhythmic energy (usually an ostinato), and then the bass line and general texture. This is what his music pretty much comprises. Whether or not he does it for a particular reason, or just because that's how he writes....who knows. ;)

Fate? lol... I doubt it ;)

also: Daniel it's okay Zimmer isn't great... *runs too* :D

:D

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I don't mean Zimmer isn't a musician. I mean that his music is tailored actually very well to what non-musicians pick up on most immediately. I.e., one big melody (repeated), lots of percussion and rhythmic energy (usually an ostinato), and then the bass line and general texture. This is what his music pretty much comprises. Whether or not he does it for a particular reason, or just because that's how he writes....who knows. ;)

Now you say it... I never thought of his music that way. *turns on Pirates of the Caribbean music :smithy: *

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For me when I first heard music, the element I cared about most is the melody. If the melody is..erm.."boring", or if there's absolutely NO obvious melody, then I would just switch my ears off immediately. But as I slowly step into the musical world I began to take note of more details, like "wow how do they piece these together" etc. To really appeal to non-musicians, I think there must be something that is catchy in the piece.

Well things are different for musicians now. :)

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that's sort of like saying how does a non-chef eat food? They can taste the same thing as chefs do, chefs just know what's in it that makes it special.

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I believe the non musicians listen with less use of brains, like the musicians do. I always analyse the harmony, instrumentation, choral sound, the quality of single lines. I just can't relax to the point to listen to just music and nothing else.

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I believe the non musicians listen with less use of brains, like the musicians do. I always analyse the harmony, instrumentation, choral sound, the quality of single lines. I just can't relax to the point to listen to just music and nothing else.

I think so too. But do you try to do so (ie. less brainy) nonetheless? Sometimes I which I could.

When I let my wife listen to music it is always interesting what she picks up. That for me is a sample of what non-musicians hear and opens my eyes for other criteria.

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"To get a good idea of how non-musicians hear music, listen to some Hans Zimmer."

wehhehe absolutely true :D

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I remember pondering this with some friends several years ago. We concluded that generally people will either focus on the melodic line or the part that they themselves can do to some extent. So, since many or most people can't play an instrument but can sing along with music, they pay more attention to the singer. People that dance, or shall we say are more rhythmically-inclined, will focus on the beat. People that can play an instrument often try to listen for that instrument in a group. Composers, well...try to listen for everything, quite naturally.

I think this also explains the relative unpopularity of instrumental-only music. This holds true even within classical music.

Then there are personality factors involved where I think people will be attracted to music which is somehow in-line with their personalities (e.g., really excitable, energetic, outgoing people are likely to be bored by slow, quiet, introspective music).

I'm always amused (and even slightly irritated) when people tell me they like to listen to classical music to relax. I mean, sure, it works its way toward a resolution, but talk about missing the entire point along the way.

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