Musical literacy?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by quasinormal, Oct 18, 2011.

  1. quasinormal macrumors 6502a

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    #1
    I possibly wouldn't be here if it wasn't for music. I can't remember who said "there has never been a better time to listen to music", but I definitely have to agree with him. I still yearn for my 70's vinyl days, but the sheer variety of music available today outweighs all that. I don't download, but buy CDs judiciously price wise, and rip them to lossless.

    What I am really curious about is what it is like to be musically literate. Describe what it felt like when you finally grasped an understanding when learning music. How would you objectify it? For example, a photographer might say that light and space constitute the main elements of his understanding, but his real understanding is intuitive when judging how those elements come into play.

    Why isn't music taught to all children like basic maths and language skills? What would be a good learning resource on music basics?
     
  2. alust2013, Oct 18, 2011
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2011

    alust2013 macrumors 601

    alust2013

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    #2
    it takes a while to get it for most people, others just have talent.

    I would say if you want to start learning, find a basic book with nothing but rhythms in it first, if you can. I'm not sure what instrument you're looking at, but learning rhythms (even if you're just clapping it out) will vastly improve your musical skills when it comes down to actually making music. After that, just look up the scales and learn them (all 12 major and minor) to get the hang of what all the keys are. After that, you basically just combine them and you get music. I've been playing music for something like 11 years now (drums, keyboards and all sorts of other percussion), and I have found that to be the most effective way of learning. Master the fundamentals first, then piece the elements together.

    I don't think there was really a moment when I just "got it". It took a lot of work over a number of years, and I would still consider myself average (although I don't get to practice much anymore). Looking back, specifically at high school band where I did most of my musical performance, I was in a very good program. We were always one of the best in the state, and the two years we did indoor/winter drumline, we were 8th and 7th in the world. Watching those shows now, it amazes me that a group of 200 high school, or 40 in the case of indoor drumline, students could do something like that. The very first show I was in, I had a very small part, but six years later, I can still remember the whole nine minutes. Gives me goosebumps every time.
     
  3. quasinormal thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    I don't want to learn an instrument or write music, but just to gain an understanding of how music has the effect it has. The danger i suppose is that by understanding the mechanics, the magic may be lost, but then again music is what it is because it is far greater than the sum of its parts.

    I've been looking around a bit and found this in Wikipedia. Consonance and Dissonance. This is interesting.
     
  4. GoKyu macrumors 65816

    GoKyu

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    #4
    I, too, am very musically-aware. I have to listen to music *sometime* during the day or else it feels like part of the day has been wasted.

    I'm lucky enough to be able to play some piano, guitar and bass (strictly average...self-taught on guitar and bass and I only play at home for my own enjoyment), but you don't need to be able to play in order to feel the music.

    I tend to have a high emotional response to certain types of music, and that's purely subjective - different types of music are going to affect everyone in different ways, so I can't really give examples that might affect you, but I can speak in generalities.

    Since I'm more of a rhythm player (I don't really solo on guitar - mainly play riffs), I really listen for that. How the bassline carries and moves the song forward from beginning to end. How the guitars and bass sync with each other. For piano pieces, I love the syncopated notes and how they combine together. Also listen for dynamics - how loud and soft the sound is, and WHY it needs to be louder or softer at different times.

    You learn these terms when you learn how to play an instrument, but you can just as easily google for musical terminology to learn more about it, and find out what to listen for.

    Learning an instrument was very helpful as I was growing up and my piano teacher would have me listen to the way he would play certain pieces and that would help me not only be sure that I was playing it correctly, but also just the musical understanding.

    Finally, I took a music appreciation class in college (it was an elective..easy A, I thought) - well, it wasn't an easy anything, but it put me into contact with a lot of music I wouldn't have normally listened to, and I think that's why I can appreciate so much more than just a few types of music these days.

    It all comes together when you've been listening to music for a long time (I've been listening to music since the late 70's...probably REALLY listening since the late 80's.)

    Good luck :)
     
  5. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #5
    Honestly, I'm not sure that makes any sense. I suppose there are probably people who've developed a deep level of understanding of music without any ability to produce it, but I think the way to go is definitely education in playing or singing if not composing -- it definitely works, why isn't it an option?

    FWIW, there is at least some basic education that's integrated at the primary school level in much of the USA -- I started violin in 4th grade, but before that I had music education classes as part of general education.

    I played violin through high school, and then later I learned some basic clarinet, piano, and singing, and I'm currently taking guitar lessons. Going back and getting formal education in playing (and singing), with music theory as a component of that education, has continued to expand my appreciation of music even as an adult....
     
  6. iPaddy macrumors 6502

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    #6
    Disagree.
    Like the posters above, I need to listen to music daily and have a range of music taste from across the spectrum, classical, rap, gospel, country, pop, indie, rock...everything, literally.
    I use music as a form of escape, and took that to the next level by learning the piano. Knowing the 'mechanics' adds to the awesomeness of music and being able to create it is mind blowing.
     
  7. Macman45 macrumors demi-god

    Macman45

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    #7
    Well For What It's Worth

    I started off learning to sing with a very strict choral regime when I was 8. Was made Head Chorister at the Cathedral of St. John The Devine NYC at around the time my voice broke. (Alto after that)

    If you mean being objective in the sense that you need formal education to play guitar, Bass, Keyboards...You don't. I do value being able to "Read the Dot's" as they say, but whatever you want to play, and whatever your interest get yourself a cheep guitar, not too cheap....PM me if you want more info. Talent is there. It's not a matter of reading music etc.
     
  8. LizKat macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #8
    If you prowl around books on the subject, you'll quickly enough run into the battlegrounds of professional rants and raves over this or that "fundamental" tome on harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, etc. Some of them are pretty stultifying, even if you do want some formalization of your grounding in music. I survived Allen Forte and Walter Piston... and plenty worse as well.

    Maybe take a look at Ron Gorow's book sometime. "Hearing and Writing Music: Professional Training for Today's Musician"

    http://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Writing-Music-Professional-Training/dp/0962949671

    Just let it point you in some direction you find interesting and want to explore further.

    If we think about music casually, we probably don't consider all of its dimensions. Certainly it's time, "the fourth dimension", that drives the bus. So if you're in the percussion section of a symphony orchestra, you probably have nightmares about coming in with that crash of cymbals half a beat early or late. On the other hand, if you're a blues singer, you naturally feel that tiny gap between the beat and where you must peg into the line.

    So starting with rhythms, as others have suggested, is important. Hearing them. Creating them. I used to drive my roommates nuts drumming on the countertop with a pair of chopsticks or just my hands, while waiting for the tea water to boil...

    Over time you learn to hear and visualize the spatial relationships in music, the architecture of a composition. The melody. The harmonies. The modulations to expected or unexpected keys. The reinforcements in the bass and the ornaments in the higher parts. Canonical entrances of parts in a fugue: your brain goes hey i just heard that already and now there it is again, wtf? cool! Right there something happens in the maths section of your brain. You don't have to care what it is but it's good for you!

    Eventually you may experience at least some music the way you might experience being in a cathedral: standing on rock, under a soaring ceiling, surrounded by light as ephemeral as the flicker of votive candles or as breathtaking as the sudden opening of the main doors on a sunny day, and sounds as fierce as a storm or as quiet as the breath of someone sleeping next to you. The silences (the "rests") are crucial elements of the construction too; they are like the setting of a jewel in a ring or crown. It's all in there but you have to listen for it. Close your eyes!
     
  9. Daffodil macrumors 6502

    Daffodil

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    #9
    While I can see not wanting to write music, I don't think it makes sense not to attempt to learn an instrument if you truly are passionate about music. No one's saying you have to become a great performer, but I think you gain a completely different understanding by having real insight into at least one instrument. You also learn a ton when you start learning your second instrument - provided it's somewhat different than the first - because you see the differences in addition to the similarities to give a more holistic picture.

    But then again I started learning an instrument when I was five, so I'm probably biased... :p
     
  10. Liquorpuki macrumors 68020

    Liquorpuki

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    #10
    Personally I think learning the mechanics helps you better understand the magic behind the music. The magic isn't lost when you have a technical understanding - it's enhanced. It's because music, like every other art, is very participatory.

    For example, look at turntable scratching. For anyone who doesn't understand the mechanics, it sounds like noise. But once you learn there are different types of scratches, each with a level of technical aptitude needed to perform, you realize it's a form of percussion and your ear learns to distinguish a crab scratch from a flare from an uzi. Then you appreciate it and enjoy it.

    I've been playing the piano since 7, drums since junior high, did the whole high school band/drumline/jazz/orchestra thing, own all the stuff in my sig which includes DJ equipment and recording gear, and I just picked up an Akai EWI because I wanted to learn a wind instrument. I can listen to a song and pick out specific instruments and link them to emotions. I can tell you specifically what I like about a song and what I hate and how I would've made it better if I produced it. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I hadn't tried to learn how to play.

    Music is participatory and if you wanna gain a sense of literacy, you need to immerse yourself in it and not just passively.
     
  11. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #11
    A difficult task for me, I'm afraid. :(

    I can appreciate it as a percussion device, but as I come from the age of 78's, all scratching sounds like damage to me.

    Marimbas I understand, as with other instruments of this type.

    But only if I know that's how the sound is being made.

    Sorry, but that's just me.
     
  12. alust2013 macrumors 601

    alust2013

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    #12
    Ah, I misunderstood. I do think though, like mkrishnan said, it makes a lot more sense if you know how to somehow make music. I'm sure there more scientific ways of understanding it, but you would have to ask someone who knows a lot more about psychology that I do for that.
     
  13. Liquorpuki macrumors 68020

    Liquorpuki

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    #13
    If you appreciated it as percussion, it wouldn't sound like damage.

    Sounds like a personal problem. And you're missing out
    Q-Bert scratching without a fader
    DJ Big Band in concert
     
  14. MacintoshMaster macrumors 6502

    MacintoshMaster

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    #14


    You would find quartal harmony interesting and some non-diatonic harmony (e.g the bvi chord in a major key) or modal is cool (Dorian = ii mixolydian = V etc...) Chord extensions such as 7, 9, 11, 13 or altered harmony and altered extensions such as b7,b9,b11,b13 etc or #13 etc... Cadences such as V - I and turn arounds etc.. form e.g. AABA etc... Texture - Polyphony, homophony etc...
    There is loads that you could do.

    ----------



    If you want to UNDERSTAND music I wouldn't recommend just singing, as singers are not musicians and don't know very much! Learning piano is your best bet - but not classical. Classical is just like you being a computer - you just play EXACTLY what is in front of you without understanding it - learn jazz instead (Much better)
     
  15. firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #15
    A few years back a fantastic 4 part TV program was transmitted in the UK. Called 'How Music Works', Dr. Howard Goodall explains music theory from the most basic concepts. Luckily it's all on YouTube - I recommend you watch it!

     
  16. nicksmolenski macrumors regular

    nicksmolenski

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    #16
    I have to completely disagree with you. Reading music doesn't make you sound like a computer - that's what a MIDI file is for. Do you think that composers like Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, or Schoenberg wrote music to make it sound stagnant and robotic? Yes you play written parts in an orchestra, but there is so much interpretation and emotion that can be created from shaping melodic lines and playing in the style of that composer's time period.

    For you to say that musicians who play classical music don't understand what they're playing is insulting. Speak with a professional musician after one of his or her concerts and see how much they know about the piece and the composer. Besides, a good number of jazz charts are also written out (excluding the improv and solo sections of course), so do you play those written parts like a computer too?

    Basically, there is so much musicality that a musician can add to any classical piece. I am studying music performance now, and I have learned about music from contrasting time periods, and how to play each of those stylistically. For you to say that there's no expression or understanding of classical music is both insulting and disrespectful.
     
  17. MacintoshMaster macrumors 6502

    MacintoshMaster

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    #17

    The classical snobs are back again!:D
     
  18. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #18
    Don't ever waste your time listening to Brahms.

    You'll never get-it in a million years.
     
  19. nicksmolenski macrumors regular

    nicksmolenski

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    #19
    Did I ever comment on how jazz is for the mindless guitar players who are stuck in their simple progressions? No. I appreciate all kinds of music, and will stick up for almost any of it.

    If being a snob means understanding and taking an interest in classical music, then I would rather be a snob than a simple minded, ignorant child who refuses to grow and mature as a listener and/or musician.
     
  20. kolax macrumors G3

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    #20
    I began learning the trumpet at the age of 7, and so was able to grasp the concept at a young age. I can't really describe what it is like to not have musical literacy because for as long as I can remember, I always have been. I now play guitar, drums and piano.

    If you can hum a tune correctly, or tap a beat consistently, then you are already musically literate - all you have to do is learn the theory (scales, chords etc.). There is people who can't keep a beat to save themselves, they just have no feel for timing. And there is people who can't hum a tune they've heard.

    Good way to see how musically literate you are is to think of your favourite song in your head, and see if you can hum each part of the song, such as the main riff, the vocal tune, and even what the drum beat is like. I had a friend who found it impossible to hum the Big Brother theme tune.

    If you want to learn how to play music, or grasp an understanding of it, piano is the best way to go. Once you can see that a piano is basically 7 notes repeated (ignoring the flats/sharps.. black keys) and getting higher as you move upwards, things start to make more sense.
     
  21. MacintoshMaster macrumors 6502

    MacintoshMaster

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    #21
    You don't have a clue
     
  22. MacintoshMaster macrumors 6502

    MacintoshMaster

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    #22

    No, you didn't, because jazz has the most "COMPLICATED" chord progressions.
     
  23. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #23
    You want complicated, I'll give it to you. And notice, she uses no sheet music.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q_zSvns0QY
     

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