I recently read an interesting book called “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer. In a nutshell, it broke down the human decision-making process into decisions made with our rational brain versus decisions made with our emotional brain. The book was very interesting reading, going through various situations (from selecting strawberry jam to attempting to crash-land a plane) and talked about how decisions were made in those situations.
While reading, I began to think about how we listen to music and what parts of the brain we use while listening. What strikes me most is how much that differs from person to person…
In one category you have non-musicians. Essentially by definition, they listen to music primarily with their emotional brains. This is simply because they haven’t been trained to analyze music rationally. When I play a piece of music for a non-musician, I hear comments like “I liked it because it made me sad” or “I liked it because it reminded me of something in my life”. These are fundamentally emotional responses to the music.
In the other category you have trained musicians. While we listen to music emotionally on some level, we also listen to it very rationally. When I play a piece of music for a trained musician, I hear comments about structure and form. “I really like the way it changed meter here” or “I like the way that the theme came back with different instrumentation” or “I like the way it delayed the resolution to tonic” and so on.
Among musicians, you then have many sub-categories of people based on different rational preferences. In essence, we all analyze the music rationally, but we disagree about what rational structures are inherently **good**.
I recently played a piece of music for two musicians. The first musician said… “I really like that it’s tonal.” The second musician said… “Well, it’s just too tonal for my tastes.” Both musicians listened with their rational brain, analyzed the music’s harmonic structure and deemed it to use tonal harmony. The first musician concluded that the tonal structure was a good thing. The second musician concluded that the tonal structure was a bad thing.
I thought in this blog that I’d tell the above little story and then pose two questions…
As trained musicians, our “rational brains” are extremely active when we listen. We listen to music and break it down into structures and theory. This raises the question…
What structures should be deemed inherently “good”?
Given that musicians listen to music “rationally” and non-musicians listen to music “emotionally”, how does that affect us as creators of music? Should it affect what we write? Should it affect how we present our music to others?
I don’t believe that there are definitively right or wrong answers to these questions, but I thought they were worth posing. Feel free to answer them to yourself or state your opinion as a comment on this blog. After I’ve given you all a little time to respond, I’ll add my own two cents.
Welcome to 2012 everyone!