What to Listen for in Music – a review

What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copland. Aaron Copland was one of the first, and still one of the greatest, American composers of what we usually call classical music. For us bluegrass, old-time and folk musicians, it’s worth noting that what we call classical music actually refers to a certain period of music from about the mid 1700s to early 1800s. Generally speaking, we refer to all of this musical genre as classic music instead of classical music. So this book, which is the only book on music appreciation written by a great composer, is geared towards listening to classic music. As stated in the preface, listening to music is a skill that is acquired through experience and learning; that applies to whatever your musical niche might be.

Copland wrote the first edition of this book in 1939 and revised it in 1957 to include some of the significant changes that had appeared in classic music to that date. What to Listen for in Music exposes the various elements that go into making great music from the perspective of a significant composer and conductor. His explanations of musical metrics, terms and notions, often accompanied by examples and snippets, really make you want to go right out and buy a few CDs. In going over the chapters on such topics as rhythm, tone and harmony, I found it helpful to already know a fair bit of musical terminology and theory, as he does go at a fast pace; there is only so much space in a small book, so some topics must be condensed a bit. It would be best to read this book at least twice to get the most from it, especially if you are new to musical concepts and jargon.

I especially like the chapters on the Four Elements of Music (Rhythm, Melody, Harmony and Tone Color) and the two on Musical Texture and Musical Structure. These set the foundation for much of what we need to learn in most any musical endeavor, although, as mentioned above, it does go by rather quickly. I’ve learned a good bit of information that I’m not usually exposed to in Bluegrass, Folk and the like.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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