Love The Music You Hate

Have you ever listened to music played by classical musicians and thought, “that’s not music!”? This style of music is often labeled as:

  • Contemporary
  • 20th century music
  • Avant-garde
  • Atonal

You may think that only musicians get really excited about this type of music.  You may think, “how in the world can they like that?” Here’s the reason why some people like, or can appreciate, this style: they are listening to it with the right ears. I want to share with you how to set your ears right so you can enjoy or appreciate this style. Don’t worry, extra work is not necessary to appreciate this music. It’s a matter of thinking of things a little differently. I’m excited to share this with you. It’s like opening up a whole new world- very exciting!

Music We Understand

We understand music on the radio, movies, and even understand the great classical composers like Mozart and Haydn. Why? Because we understand how to listen to their music. Here’s what we listen for: a melodic line. A good example of a melodic line is a melody that you can sing along with. You know, the songs that get stuck in your head and you keep singing them over and over again. Here’s my own interpretation on how we listen to melodic music.

Imagine you’re a small dot on the image below, driving a vehicle on top of the line. Where the curve goes, you go. You’re focused on the exact moment of your driving experience, whether ascending or descending and experience the joy of the moment. You also anticipate the future.  This is similar to music that contains a melody line. When you listen to the music, the composer is taking you for a ride. You go up and down with their melody.


Music We Don’t Understand

To begin, let me provide an example of music that may not be understood. The following piece is called Evocation and Song by Lawrence Moss. Here’s an excerpt of a recording I made of this piece.

I can understand why some people may not enjoy this piece if they are not familiar with the style. But why would they not enjoy it? Because we tend to listen to this style of music with ears that are trained to listen to melodic lines. This won’t be a rewarding experience if we look for a melodic line to hold on to. So, how can we listen and appreciate this style of music?

Stare at the Sun!

Of course I’m not encouraging you to step outside and look directly into the sun. I suggest you watch the following video. As you watch the video, pay attention to how you watch the sun.

Well, what did you think? How did you watch this video? You probably observed how the sun changed and developed. Have you ever heard anyone say, “the sun is lame and extremely boring!” Of course not. Why? Because we understand how to watch and observe the events occurring. Let’s apply this to music.

Observe the Music

Instead of going for a ride, I suggest listening to contemporary music as if you’re watching an object. As you listen, think of a small object. The object begins to grow, change shape, and even change color. We do this easily with visual objects, and now I’m suggesting you imagine the music as an object that is changing and developing. The listening rewards are amazing…or at least you can appreciate what you’re hearing. Let’s hear another example.

New Music

There’s definitely a lack of melody to hold onto in this composition. But, there is a lot of observation! This is an especially exciting recording to hear because you’ve probably never heard anything like this before on saxophone. I hope you enjoy! If your tempted to say, “what in the world is this”? Think about watching the sun.

What did you think? Colin Stetson is creating music that is very unique and original.  I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you now understand a little better what composers and performers are trying to accomplish in musical compositions such as this.

I would love to hear any comments you have, and if you like this post please feel free to share and like it. Until next time, keep up the practicing!

Comments 8

  1. Hi Jeff. Thanks for your post. I listened,… the concept is interesting but I must say it is not yet my cup of tea. But I understand the similarity you suggest with creating an object and watching it change …. I think it is all about imagination and trying out to materialise on the trillion possibilities of creating “notes” and “melodies” that possibly already exist and are still “hidden”.
    Thanks again for caring about and helping the progress of your students. Take care


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      Thanks for taking the time to read and listen. I understand that this style of music is not for everyone but I’m glad you were willing to listen. Check it out every once in a while and it may start to grow on you. Thanks for your response!

  2. Are you crazy? I’m not so sure, because before this post you sounded pretty normal. But this is weeeird!

    I think for music, above all is the question: is it beautiful and rewarding to listen to? With the above samples I think it’s not beautiful. Sounds more like industrial noise. I cannot find any beauty whatsoever in it. So, if you like it, I’m not one to judge you crazy for it. But go away with it, I don’t want to hear it, thank you.

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      Ha! My wife agrees. She thinks I’m crazy when I listen to this style of music and my two daughters ask me to turn it off because it’s “scary”. I can understand your comment about “industrial” too; it does sound industrial. I want you to check something out and let me know what you think. Go to the following link at I’m interested to hear your opinion.

  3. Forgot to say: If you yourself are not sure if you are crazy, you must be just fine. Crazy people have no doubts about their mental state.
    The other thing I want to add is that I didn’t mean to minimize the value of this kind of music by calling it industrial noise. I do recognize and appreciate the technical virtuosity of the performer. However, in my ears, it is like a foreign language that I don’t understand.

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      Understand Rene. By the way, people feel the same way about a long jazz solo. Even though it’s based in tonality, they might not like it because it sounds like the soloist is going on and on, repeating the same things. But when we understand the “language”, we begin to at least appreciate what the artist is attempting to accomplish. I think your comment is perfect when you state that it sounds like a foreign language. I agree, it’s hard to enjoy the music when it does not make sense to our ears. The nice thing is, we can always revisit a few years later. Our tastes tend to evolve over time. That happened for me with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus (happy they did evolve). Thanks again for your comments!

  4. Hi Jeff. Your story is true. I love classic music and you let me know the reasons why some music last so many years. Thank you!

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