Like most of us, you have certain kinds of music you really prefer over others. It’s a very personal choice. And like most of us, you might have certain kinds of music you’re sure you don’t like, don’t care about or just don’t know much about. You might even find it intimidating. This is your golden opportunity to challenge yourself, and try something new.
On Its Terms Rather Than Yours – This challenge is about the willingness to forgo your pre-existing musical preferences and expectations, and look at this new kind of music without prejudice or preconceived notions. Think of yourself as the intrepid cultural explorer of a landscape strange to you – a horizon-broadening musical adventure.
I personally find this process useful when I’m to perform a work I’m not sure I want to like. More often than not, I end up finding at least one thing to admire about the piece, genre or style, and I learn about the culture behind it. Not only is my mind is opened a little wider, but I’m able to give full and proper commitment to the performance.
Buying In – The first step in this approach is the willingness to overcome our misgivings. We know how we feel, but we still put those feelings aside for the moment, and consider the new territory without pre-existing notions.
Crashing the Barriers of Prejudice – Sometimes it’s not the music itself that presents a barrier to our appreciation, but what it represents, culturally, socially, personally. Some people don’t like Haydn or Mozart because they associate it with elitism and all its disagreeable aspects. Other people don’t care for country music because they have come to associate it with some other set of negative cultural trappings. Or perhaps we associate a certain kind of music with a particularly traumatic or unfortunate aspect of our own life.
Whether or not you feel you can work through such barriers is of course an individual determination. But if you can manage it, you might be surprised in the end to find something intrinsically worthwhile despite your initial ambivalence.
Once you’ve decided to be brave, the next step is to have some fun and explore the music itself.
Listen – Do this repeatedly over a long period (perhaps once or twice a day over two weeks), and preferably with a good pair of full-spectrum speakers or headphones, which will help you to hear all the details of the song or piece. If you have access to the score and are adept at following along in it (but it takes practice), this is an excellent way to learn the true construction of a classical work, for example.
After your listening period, if possible, leave it alone for a month or two, then come back to it. Chances are you’ll hear it with a new appreciation and perspective.
Research – Your appreciation may be enhanced by knowing the backstory of the piece:
- Who is the composer or artist who created it? Learn about their life.
- What was their purpose, if any, in creating the piece?
- What compelling circumstances might have influenced the composer?
- What about the era during which the work came to be?
- What have critics and enthusiasts said about the work?
Evaluate – In your opinion:
- How well does the piece do what it does (even if you don’t necessarily like what it does)?
- How unique and original is it? Is it done in a well-worn style?
- Does it have technical brilliance (i.e., is it showy)? Does this enhance or detract from the effect?
- If it’s a well-known classical work, compare recorded performances. This is an especially popular pastime among opera lovers.
At Least Try It – To go to such an effort doesn’t obligate you to end up liking or embracing this new music. If you find you still can’t relate to it, maybe you’ll be induced to think about why, rather than just relying on your established tastes. And at the very least, you’ll have made the honest effort to explore this new territory, and in the process learn something about how to understand and evaluate music. Join Email List