What is Music?

By Eric Kauschen

Music is a living, breathing entity. The listener of any given piece of music experiences in that brief time the birth, life and death of a being. A good piece of music should tell a story or take you on a journey. It doesn't matter if the music in question is a symphony, pop tune or a piece of experimental music. If a piece starts and ends in the same way without changing in between it is difficult to classify it as music.

Music is much more than just the organization of tones made by "musical instruments" into an aesthetically pleasing order. Music can be found in everyday life (music concrete). When creating a piece that is geared towards taking the listener on a journey you can incorporate samples of things such as the sounds of a busy city street on a rainy day or the sounds of heavy machinery to set the mood for what it to come. The true craftspeople of this trade are the soundtrack composers and those who do "foley work" in the television and movie industry. Foley artists are the sound effects wizards who blend together sounds from life with music to create artificial realities for us to partake in. If you don't believe how powerful this can be watch a thriller or action movie with the sound turned down and see how long it can keep your attention.

Each person will invariably have their own definitions of what "they" believe music to be, usually based around their personal tastes. I personally have trouble listening to a lot of "modern jazz," but by forcing myself to try and understand its mechanics I have been able to develop an understanding of its complexities and the artistry inherent in the form. Whether I "like" it or not becomes irrelevant. The ability to recognize it as music and appreciate what has gone into its creation is my main interest. With a greater understanding of the techniques and subtleties of different types of music you broaden your pool of experience that gives you more to draw upon. To be a well rounded musician or listener you should endeavor to experience as many different types of music as possible.

The following are some techniques you can try on your own to expand your musical horizons.

  1. Pick several pieces of music that cover a broad range of the music spectrum. If your collection is limited and you have a decent speaker system on your computer you can find a wide variety of free music available online at places like pandora.com or last.fm.
  2. Situate yourself in a darkened room and close your eyes as you listen to the music. Does it transport you to a different place? Does the music conjure up images in your head? What are you feeling while you listen to the music? Are you perceiving things in the music that you might not of noticed before?
  3. Repeat step two, but this time use headphones and see if your perception of the music changes at all.You don't have to be a musician in the traditional sense to be able to create very moving pieces. Take a cue from our friends the foley artists and imagine a scene or feeling you would like to convey to the listener. What sounds would you use to convey this imagery? You can record sounds from nature simply on a digital recorder and splice them together roughly by feeding the sounds into your computer and seamlessly layer and interweave them using any number of the free audio programs that are available. When your product is finished have your friends listen to the piece and see if they feel what you feel. While they may not share the same excitement you do, they should at least experience a taste of what you were trying to capture.
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