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Is some music better than other music?, A vexed question.
post Mar 29 2012, 23:32
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The question is exactly as posed in the thread title. Is some music better than other music?

For myself, I have long been convinced that some music is indeed better than other music. That all music can be ranked on a scale of 'goodness', given that no piece is necessarily of consistent quality from end-to-end.

For example, I might sing a song. I might sing it slightly out of tune in a particular passage. I might sing it again, without singing out of tune.

All other things being equal, I would rate the second rendition better than the first.

I think this applies across the board, that there is an intrinsic quality in music (or: are qualities) which make(s) it possible to say that one piece is better than another.

I know that not everybody agrees with this, some holding that there is no intrinsic quality in either piece, and that the differences are all to do with my perceptions, but I don't feel that this is adequate to explain the cultivation of musical expression and appreciation. I only got the perceptions by comparing good with worse.

Once, in the course of trying to teach a particularly obtuse guitar student, I was confronted with a somewhat existential position. 'You make a sound, I make a sound', I paraphrase his contribution, 'They're both sounds, there's nothing to make the sound you make any more valid than the sound I make.' He never did turn out much of a guitarist, but then maybe if I had been a better teacher I would have had a better answer than to burn him with a cigarette.

Despite that, I understand how some might find it offensive to be told that the music they like is intrinsically inferior to some other music. It could be seen as preferable to put it all down to personal preferences rather than risk confrontation.

I don't see anybody here backing away from a confrontation though. So, is some music better than other music?

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post Apr 13 2012, 13:29
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There are two levels of answer, I think. One is purely objective: is there a universal standard of what good music is? The answer is no, and therefore you cannot make an unequivocal and correct statement about the quality of any music. It's all about values, and subjective values at that. Different cultures value different kinds of sounds generally, different people within the culture have variations in preference, life experiences and other internal things can all influence musical taste. Anything that sounds like a logical and objective measure, like the equal-tempered scale allowing unlimited key changes, is really about your values. In Indian raga music, for example, they don't really value chord changes, let alone key changes. Some cultures like clean consonant harmony, some value the beating sound of two notes at close intervals. It's all socialization; if you were socialized in their culture, you'd probably like it too. Besides, the very fact that there are things with both that one can do but not the other means that neither is suited to all scenarios and so is not always better or the unchallenged best. I think it may have been on this forum I read a story about an African tribesman who was taken to see an orchestra and he was asked which part he liked best and replied, "the beginning." When told what the first piece played was he said, "No, the very beginning," meaning the orchestra tuning up!

Second then is that I think you can judge music as being better or worse within your musical culture. Not that I mean to say there are defined rules and that a composition that doesn't do such and such is bad, but I think there is some level of competency of composition within the forms that we have. To take a Roger Ebert quote about movies to express how I've felt about music and any other art for awhile, "It's not what it's about, but how it's about it." Complex is not better than simple and simple is not better than complex. I've heard what sounded to me like disastrous examples of both because of a failure to meet some needs that have been generally accepted as good. But I also think once that level of competence is reached, it's all subjective. What is the best Beatles song? I doubt there would be general consensus here or really anywhere else with a majority favoring a particular song. They pretty much all reach that level of competence and then it's just personal preference what you judge is best. Are The Beatles better than Ke$ha? I think on that we could get a majority, most likely even a quorum, and I'd say there's a reason for that.

Or at least that's how I see it until my horizons are broadened more yet and my thoughts change, as they have done many times before. I will say though that, as a musician, I experienced firsthand at about age 16 after hanging out in a music store all the time that it doesn't really even matter what you think is good. As cliché as it sounds, it's just loving music that counts, and I got along very well in discussions about music with people whose tastes had very little in common with mine, and enjoyed playing with several too. I find it interesting reading the perspective that many of you people here who are more science-minded than the average person have in approaching the question. These are not all the types of answers you'd hear talking to just anyone about the subject, that's for sure, so I think this is one of the better places for the discussion to take place.

QUOTE (dhromed)
I disagree. I think most of Bob Dylan's work is junk and I really like Perfect Day.

Boo! tongue.gif Bob is great, and I haven't heard much of Lou Reed, but I have heard a few songs I would definitely judge as really good though, "Perfect Day" being one. I listened to about half of Lulu though...

This post has been edited by _if: Apr 13 2012, 13:33
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Posts in this topic
- wakibaki   Is some music better than other music?   Mar 29 2012, 23:32
- - fuflo   well, i think to answer this question we would nee...   Mar 29 2012, 23:57
- - Canar   Is some music better than other music? The answer ...   Mar 30 2012, 00:37
|- - Nessuno   QUOTE (Canar @ Mar 30 2012, 01:37) Is som...   Mar 30 2012, 07:46
|- - dhromed   QUOTE (Canar @ Mar 30 2012, 00:37) Is som...   Mar 30 2012, 08:56
|- - wakibaki   QUOTE (Canar @ Mar 30 2012, 00:37) Is som...   Mar 30 2012, 23:21
|- - dhromed   QUOTE (wakibaki @ Mar 30 2012, 23:21) OK,...   Apr 13 2012, 10:14
- - kornchild2002   Is this asking about the actual quality of the rep...   Mar 30 2012, 01:21
- - Ron Jones   QUOTE (wakibaki @ Mar 29 2012, 15:32) For...   Mar 30 2012, 01:30
|- - Ethan Winer   QUOTE (Ron Jones @ Mar 29 2012, 20:30) Th...   Apr 4 2013, 18:53
- - RobWansbeck   Better for what? You could argue that the best mu...   Mar 30 2012, 01:42
- - andrew_berge   I'm just pretty much thinking out loud in this...   Mar 30 2012, 02:17
- - smok3   QUOTE alternative is to claim that the general pub...   Mar 30 2012, 09:02
- - knutinh   Although I have my own preferences, I dont think t...   Mar 30 2012, 10:54
- - Porcus   Suppose for the sake of the argument that there is...   Mar 30 2012, 11:09
|- - dhromed   QUOTE (Porcus @ Mar 30 2012, 11:09) what ...   Mar 30 2012, 13:24
- - simonh   It's an interesting question. One approach cou...   Mar 30 2012, 13:15
|- - dhromed   QUOTE (simonh @ Mar 30 2012, 13:15) Have ...   Mar 30 2012, 13:34
|- - mudlord   QUOTE (dhromed @ Mar 30 2012, 06:34) I ha...   Oct 8 2012, 09:57
|- - Kohlrabi   QUOTE (mudlord @ Oct 8 2012, 10:57) QUOTE...   Oct 8 2012, 22:26
- - nu774   QUOTE (wakibaki @ Mar 30 2012, 07:32) For...   Mar 30 2012, 13:24
- - RobWansbeck   The equal-tempered scale didn't replace the na...   Mar 31 2012, 02:41
|- - wakibaki   QUOTE (RobWansbeck @ Mar 31 2012, 02:41) ...   Apr 1 2012, 00:00
- - hellokeith   Waki, The answer is decidedly yes. Have you ever...   Apr 1 2012, 01:13
|- - bug80   QUOTE (hellokeith @ Apr 1 2012, 01:13) Wa...   Apr 13 2012, 13:02
|- - dhromed   QUOTE (bug80 @ Apr 13 2012, 13:02) Which ...   Apr 13 2012, 13:28
- - _if   There are two levels of answer, I think. One is pu...   Apr 13 2012, 13:29
- - DigitalDictator   You can certainly say there are better or worse mu...   Apr 13 2012, 14:53
- - googlebot   I challenge that intrinsic qualities exist at all ...   Apr 13 2012, 17:15
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (googlebot @ Apr 13 2012, 12:15) I ...   Oct 9 2012, 14:57
- - JJZolx   QUOTE (wakibaki @ Mar 29 2012, 16:32) For...   Apr 13 2012, 20:00
- - stephan_g   Here's something to watch that might provide a...   Apr 13 2012, 20:30
- - item   As has been hinted at, the problem is defining ...   Oct 8 2012, 20:04
- - Wyld Stallyn   It can be asked whether some is objectively techni...   Apr 4 2013, 17:04
- - ktf   QUOTE (wakibaki @ Mar 30 2012, 00:32) For...   Apr 4 2013, 19:09
- - adamdea   Has this forum gone mad? What on earth is this (in...   Apr 10 2013, 14:23
- - pdq   QUOTE (adamdea @ Apr 10 2013, 09:23) Has ...   Apr 10 2013, 14:36
- - adamdea   QUOTE (pdq @ Apr 10 2013, 14:36) QUOTE (a...   Apr 10 2013, 16:03

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