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Topic: What is your criteria of a good piece?

  1. #1

    What is your criteria of a good piece?

    Since its storming and I cant go down to our inlet down the street:
    This has run across my mind several times as I have browsed different forums and this one. Though I only have GPO(and proud of that fact) im interested in what others write with the other things available.

    I have run across many arguments regarding what is good and what is not. Some like the movie sound, some like atonal, some like to mix it with popular music, ect.
    Personally, I dont like to judge music by "training" or non "trained". In fact I do not really like to judge at all now. People with musical training backrounds(myself included) tend to over analyze everything. Its like we forgot how to just simply listen and let the sound flow thru you. Im guilty of having done this, but I realised how much music became more like "math" and the listening experience diminished. I realise there is a time for study and "now" I realise there is just a time to "listen" without that analytical aspect of me being released. This has made the listening experience joyous again for me.

    Its funny how this never changes, people throughout the ages have always been critical of others works. Anton Rubenstien always criticised Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovksy in turn had criticised Wagner(atleast until he heard a live rendition). The circle of critisism especially from trained musicians is an ever un-killable beast. Its funny because it essentially boils down to personal opinion. Either you like it or you do not. I tend to find something interesting in everything I hear. But thats me. I always like to compare it with nature because everything is just simply a vibration. Nature is music to my ears

    Whats your opinion(note opinion!) of what is good? Well after my book above lol, mine is anything. There is always something inside of any piece of music that I tend to like. Even rap, the backbone is the beat but if you just sit down and not analyse it, that repititious beat is almost hypnotic. My two cents
    Nicole Davis

  2. #2

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    Hi Nicole,
    That is a very introspective query. It's a hard one to answer. Personally, (and this is just me talking), I feel that "good" music has two basic functions.
    1. It is a way for the composer (or musician interpreting) to communicate the verbally unexpressable. Doing so has certain theraputic value, at least for me, I know I probably save thousands in therapy bills through writing music!!
    And any time you can express what is inside, whether it be emotionally or cereberally, then I think that it is good, no matter if it never gets heard by anyone else. It doesn't matter what "genre" your expression falls under, as long as you have expressed what you feel needed to be expressed.
    2. If what you create can "strike a chord" (pun intended) with your listener, then you have not only blessed yourself for being able to express what is inside, but you have blessed the listener by helping tap into that emotion that you felt when expressing it.
    Most people like music for the way it makes them FEEL, not the way it makes them think. Even cereberally created music (like Twelve-Tone, for example) still can affect the listener emotionally.
    Now, being trained, I too have had to "relearn" how to just listen without analizing. I try to let my emotions take the reins and that makes it much more enjoyable.

    Sorry to make such a long reply, but it is not a question that yeilds a quick and easy answer.

    BTW- thanks for all your wonderful music. I'm a fan!

    Last edited by Jerry W.; 07-05-2004 at 12:18 AM. Reason: spelling

  3. #3

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    What is a "good" piece of music? To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I hear it." While there are those who define "good" music based on mathematical criteria, there are also those who consider architecture as a collection of geometrical shapes and interlocking boxes. Both analyses are valid, but incomplete -- the best music appeals to something internal that can't be analyzed in such finite terms.

    About 25 years or so back I was working for a Public Radio station that hit a financial pothole and cut the staff drastically trying to survive the storm. I was one of the fortunate ones that survived the cut. Suddenly, I was turned from lead Maintenance Engineer to nighttime board operator (button pusher). Our nighttime programming was almost all pre-recorded classical music -- good 'ol 10 1/2" reels of 1/4" tape -- push the button, cue up the next reel, and wait 90 minutes. I've never been one for pretentious, stuffy people with fake english accents, so I burned out on the usual fare. I used to entertain myself in the record library. I loved music, and although my greatest musical love up to that point had been Big Band Jazz, I had a lot of fun wandering through the thousands of recordings in the library. I didn't know much about the theory and mathematics behind the music, I just knew what I liked and what I didn't. When our schedule changed and we needed an extra hour or so of locally-produced music programming, I talked the manager into letting me do a live program instead. He liked it because he didn't have to pay anything extra for it.

    I did an hour of classical music every weeknight. A dear friend of mine who hosted some of the station's other classical music programs gave me some counsel, and gave me the benefit of her knowledge and experience -- but the music was all chosen by me, based on what I liked in the library. It was a very honest program -- I was very transparent about my lack of knowledge of classical music, and equally transparent about why I liked -- or didn't like -- a particular piece of music. The response to this late-night hour that was intended to be cheap filler material was amazing. I received letters from a veritable "who's who" of classical music in that market, and most of them had the same theme -- thanking me for being real, and for sharing my journey so openly with my listeners. Many said that listening to my simple, uncomplicated passion for the music that they loved so much revived their passion for it as well, reminding them why they got into music in the first place. One letter from a prominent listener, addressed to the station's management, said "Yes, Mr. Case doesn't know a great deal about some aspects of the music, he reads a lot of liner notes, and occasionally butchers the pronunciation of a title or composer. The difference is that, unlike most classical program hosts, Mr. Case is honest about it. His passion for the music is the same stuff that drove many of the great composers to greatness. "

    So, what makes a piece of music "good"? Do you like it? If you do, then it's good!

    "He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds"
    --Psalm 147:3

  4. #4

    Arrow Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    There are two judgements I make: 1) is the piece a full expression of the form, and 2) does it represent the full intent of the author?

    In rock and roll, it's easy to tell if someone is "phoning it in", as the energy (or lack thereof) it immediately translated and abundantly clear. It's also to "get" that from some film score music. It truly is a sliding scale - where chopsticks from an 8-year-old at the piano is more impressive than a full orchestration at the hands of a "professional" in this forum.

    I like your comments on peer criticism. Anyone interested in the subject should read "The Lexicon of Musical Invective" by Nicolas Slonimsky.
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  5. #5

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    I like thematic movie scores (well, usually movies). To hear a theme played consistently throughout a score...and then when it disappears, you think, Eh, where'd it go? This is getting tense... Then the theme reappears in full glory, and you think, Ahhhhh, it's back!

    (I had the Fellowship Theme from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in mind when typing that.)

  6. #6
    Senior Member CString's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicole

    Its funny because it essentially boils down to personal opinion. Either you like it or you do not.

    I both agree and disagree on some of your points. As far as creative content goes, you are right, it is ultimately subjective. What some people find moving others find totally boring. That is a good thing! The world would be a very boring place otherwise.

    However, and maybe this is because I'm one of those "trained" types , I do believe very firmly that a work can indeed be judged on some points. I can still listen to something just for it's beauty without analysis intruding in on it. Though, I certainly agree that some people cannot. "Does it make sense?" is usually what I'm asking myself. Is it producing a thought that is cohesive? Things like harmony, voicing, pacing, rhythm, and any number of other elements that make up a work can generally be pinned down in some manner concerning the quality and sense of use. Without a doubt there are often many workable approaches to those elements. And, it is at that point that things become subjective again.

    For instance, you could write the greatest melody ever and if you accompany it with bad voicings or bad voice leading - well, let's face it, it's just bad. I think the best analogy is prose. If an author writes with bad technique it's usually pretty obvious. The creative elements could be outstanding, but if the work is put together without thought it will never come across. The author's technique is incapable of communicating the idea. This is very clearly not good.

    Then there are those works that fall into what I call the "I meant to do that" catagory. By that, I mean works that do something we generally consider a "bad move," but that bad move is there to make a point or be exploited in some way. The question of cohesion still works, though.

    I don't mean to say that criticism exists simply for somebody to sort works into piles of good and bad. Anyone who does that is missing the point of criticism. Only to say that the process of criticism, to have some criteria for determining quality (even if many things are subjective) is necessary to drive us forward.

    There is good "art music" and bad. Good Rap and bad. Good (insert style here) and bad. There is no getting around it. I think that in this day and age we are so bloody afraid of offending somebody that we try not to be critical. The problem is even the contructive sort often gets held back for fear of offence. That weakens our art form!

    I thank the good Lord above every day that I had comp teachers that were not afraid to say to me or the other students, "Why did you do that? It makes no sense whatsoever! Here, look..." And you know, 90% of the time they were right and I'm better for it. Now, my ego doesn't get in the way and I'm able to examine my work in the light of my own brutal self-honesty, and take the criticism of others without flinching. The result is that my work will continue to improve until the day they nail my coffin shut.

    Me fail English? That's unpossible.

  7. #7

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    After reading these insightful threads I'd like to share an article I wrote for iClassics a while back, as this subject is near and dear to my heart. Having always been around music, but never having been classically trained, I nevertheless find myself making music for a living and really enjoy the process. I trust my ears and my heart, and I am as blissfully unaware as possible of the way it's "supposed" to be done.
    Hope you enjoy.

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    UK- teeming with life....

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?


    It really depends what you want. We all know which are the most popular pieces of film and classical music...... just purchase the 'best of' albums. If you want to compose music which appeals to the masses (that includes me as I pride myself in my common or popular taste) then compose in the style of music which is known to be palatable to the majority.
    If you want to appeal to then minority then compose in a style which appeals to minorities....discord, randomness, improvisation, experimentation.

    What will always sell and appeal is beauty in any form. In music that means melody, harmony, sounds, rythym, sweetness but with enough sourness to give it a bite, a little bit of the unexpected but with form and structure to satisfy the mathematical side of the mind.

    Others may just want to impress the musical establishment and not care less about the business side. I'll never forget, when I used to go to electronic music shows, that the demonstrators were so bored with 'normal' music and chordings that everything had 9ths and 13ths in it.....they seemed to be quite incapable of playing with anything like what I would call popular voicings.

    It's like any endeavour....if you want to make money....then do popular.
    If you want to impress the establishment do the musical equivalent of an unmade bed or half a cow in preservative.....

    If you want to be remembered for a few decades then either will work but you have to produce either stunning beauty or a stunning shock.

    I think you've already done the first.


  9. #9

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    Hi Nicole,

    There are so many factors that make up what each of us thinks is good music. When I was your daughterÕs age, I used to think my mother singing, ÒGo Tell Aunt Brody the Old Gray Goose is DeadÓ was the coolest thing. It was my number one tune on her hit parade of childrenÕs favorites. ÒHit parade,Ó where did I come up with that one? IÕm really showing my age. But it wasnÕt long that I realized my mom, who is almost ninety now, really couldnÕt sing on pitch if there was a gun aimed at her temple.

    Sometimes our taste is in part formed by what people we respect listen to. When I was in high school I took a course in woodshop. The teacher could do such marvelous things with a board. It was just amazing. To me at that time he was a genius. We used very little power equipment for that course, and he played classical music in the background every week. From 1 to 4:30 every Friday afternoon for a whole year we listened to so much beautiful music. The desk that I made and still use was created with the spirit of Brahms watching over me. Brahms remains one of my favorite composers.

    What seizes our heart at a particular moment often relates to events in our lives. I have never given country music much praise until after our little schnauzer died several years ago. I was not sleeping well one night and was roaming around on the am dial of my bedside radio. I came upon a station in Wheeling West Virginia. One singer, one guitar, playing and singing the simplest song about his friend that he had to put down. ÒOld ShepÓ (donÕt know how to spell it) was his dogÕs name. This was one of the most poignant pieces of music IÕve ever heard.

    Why are these paragraphs only about me? Because each one of us being the complex creature that we are, we can only truly know our own experience with this marvelous art form. As has been said so many times, that is what makes the human creature and music so personal and so extraordinary.

    I often think of music as kind of like architecture. One moment we can be stirred by a majestic cathedral in Europe and the next our heart may be warmed by a cozy cabin nestled in the woods. Who knows why? Only our soul, and itÕs not telling.


  10. #10

    Re: What is your criteria of a good piece?

    Quote Originally Posted by Karl Garrett
    Hi Nicole,

    Why are these paragraphs only about me? Because each one of us being the complex creature that we are, we can only truly know our own experience with this marvelous art form. As has been said so many times, that is what makes the human creature and music so personal and so extraordinary.

    I think you hit a very true button there =) Everyone of us is different and complex in our own ways as you said, thus "trained" or not we think differently on what is good or bad. Some like the desert best, some like the ocean best, and some like the mountains best. Whats enjoyable to one may not be to another. I think ill just erase my original post lol You said it much better.
    Nicole Davis

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