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Derjayger

"Split personality" in music

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Hey,

short version: I don't know what to do while composing because I like very different kinds of music ways to listen to music.

long version: 

When I was young, I've listened to pop on the radio. I still love that. Then I became a metalhead who composed and performend some songs. I still love that. Then, out of curiosity, I've studied modern and classical composition and music theory in a German conservatory. I had to learn to listen to classical music from scratch, because it's so different and complex compared to what I was used to. Over the years, I've written modern pieces as well as pieces in the style of Josquin, Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Schönberg, and so on. I've graduated recently and had a real kickstart as a lecturer on German conservatories, which is a really nice job. So that's a big part of my musical world as well, and I love that.

So I've disgested popular and classical music and I can't say that I like one more than the other (or that one is better than the other!). That's my biggest problem, because I can't say things like "composing with a rich harmonic language leads to better music than composing with a simple one" or "composing music that's so powerful it hits you in the face is the best thing you can do". That's a big problem, because it robs you of direction when composing. You just don't know what's best, so you don't know what to do when composing. It freaks me out. While studying classical composition, you had a clear goal: stylistic similarity to a classical composer (with all the implications like how complex the music should be and how your classical audience would listen to it). It would get you good grades and lots of appreciation from your fellow musicians. But as I've graduated, the musical life in the conservatory became a bubble, an ivory tower in which most musicians honestly think that they are dealing with the best music possible (classical music). I'm happy that there are people who keep classical music alive with passion! But I also think that they are naive, because they call themself professionals while they lack the ability to appreciate different kinds of music (like the rich world of popular music).

To me, classical and popular music are so vastly different! So what's the problem, why can't I mix these styles to create something new? Because some main differences between classical and popular music aren't so much in the music (which you could manipulate as a composer), but in the way you listen to the music (sociological things):

a) When listening to classical music, you can focus on it without getting bored, because it is so complex. You don't want a drum beat, because it would simplify the meter too much and because it reminds you of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16QxP1lrx_U. When you perform it in classical music concert, everything's fine. But in a popular music concert, the audience typically gets irritated and bored. "It's too much doodling and not powerful enough. Where are the drums? Where's the chorus?"

b) When listening to popular music, you don't have a problem with too little material if you are able to "fill the gaps" with daydreaming along the lyrics for example (which is a beautiful thing!). You don't have a problem with durm beats, because you are used to that and because it creates a powerful sound. When you perform it in a popular music concert, everything's fine. But it in classical music concert, the audience typically gets irritated and bored. "That music's so simple! Is the composer so bad he can't create something better?"

So whenever I hear something that some people would title as "bad music", I see the problem not in the music but in my ability to appreciate it. How can you take decisions while composing with that mindset?

(The problem is clear, but not limited to classical vs. popular music, it's there when you listen to classical music only. "Don't like repetitions too much? That's your problem, 'cause you can't enjoy this one:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM4gNMXESVk )

Any hints would be very appreciated!

 

Edited by Derjayger

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So, let me unpack this cuz that's a pretty long novel you wrote there.

 

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So I've disgested popular and classical music and I can't say that I like one more than the other (or that one is better than the other!). That's my biggest problem, because I can't say things like "composing with a rich harmonic language leads to better music than composing with a simple one" or "composing music that's so powerful it hits you in the face is the best thing you can do".

Why would you want to say either of those things? Is something or someone pressuring you to do so? It's OK to not define everything perfectly, specially since many things can't be defined. Maybe you have moments where one is true, and moments where the other is true instead. There is no way to think of a right perspective that works 100% of the time here because you can change as well and they change with you.

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While studying classical composition, you had a clear goal: stylistic similarity to a classical composer (with all the implications like how complex the music should be and how your classical audience would listen to it). It would get you good grades and lots of appreciation from your fellow musicians.

I graduated from a conservatory in Germany but my teacher's approach to composition classes was, in a nutshell, "Are you being as effective as possible in writing what you think is best?" (trick question, only I could answer this and it's a tough question to answer!) This is agnostic to the type of music as sometimes I would show up with techno tracks I Was writing for a game project, or some music-concrete thing, or what have you. The first thing I learned was that "language is irrelevant," in the context of our lessons. Otherwise, this is like saying only the good painters use the color red, so everyone who wants to be good should paint stuff in red. I'm sorry that you had such a bad and distorted view of composition during your studies and I know you're not the only one, it's just that you can't "teach" composition and many teachers don't realize this. You can teach work ethics, you can teach patience, you can teach musicology and all that other stuff, but at the end of the day you are the boss of what you write and nobody can take that away from you. They can and will judge you, but that's part of being a musician so let's not be surprised nor hindered by this.

 

My teacher, if anything, encouraged me to bring EVERYTHING I wrote to him, because it was all composition and it was all work. I never had to write anything in secret or feel I was being looked down upon if what I wrote was in a style or language he didn't like. His job wasn't to tell me what to write, it was to make sure I was conscious of what I was writing and to basically be someone I could talk to about stuff related to the process. This proved invaluable to me.

 

Quote

To me, classical and popular music are so vastly different! So what's the problem, why can't I mix these styles to create something new? Because some main differences between classical and popular music aren't so much in the music (which you could manipulate as a composer), but in the way you listen to the music (sociological things):  

and

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So whenever I hear something that some people would title as "bad music", I see the problem not in the music but in my ability to appreciate it. How can you take decisions while composing with that mindset?

So, I'll tell you a little story from this very forum almost a decade ago. I ran a contest for who could write the worst possible composition. Literally, that was the thread. To participate, you just had to write something you hated, you thought was terrible and horrible and send it my way. You know what happened?

That's the thread. It turns out, that it's very hard to write something you "hate" and keep hating it after you wrote it. It's weird right? It's as if, once you go through the trouble of putting it into paper and so on, composing it, you kind of start to see it in a different light. Stuff you hated, well, may not be that bad after all, maybe? I mean it IS your baby, terribly deformed and evil as it may be, it still is your baby.

 

What you describe is really what happens. People's perspectives change, as you say, the way they listen to things is different and it depends greatly on many things that have nothing to do with the music. Sometimes people go to concerts expecting to hate something, and it colors their view of it. Sometimes they are surprised, but in the end all this affects what music does to you in quite a substantial way.

 

I'm afraid in these matters there are no "answers," but rather you slowly grow to understand people (psycho-acoustics, cognitive science, psychology,) and can come up with a better understanding of how things work. It doesn't actually change anything, but it did help me come up with fun exercises that really did change people's minds on things they never thought they would. All they had to do was, you know, give it a shot.

 

But I guess nobody teaches that, huh?

 

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