To Study or to Enjoy

SckizoBoy

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Jan 6, 2011
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With all the music threads going around, I'm probably going to ask the dumbest question of the day: should the idea of studying (in an analytical and/or theoretical manner, that is) music disappear altogether?

There is no question that music written, irrespective of era, was/is primarily for the purpose of personal enjoyment (most often for the audience than the performer, but occasionally more for the performer) and rarely meant solely for study, practical or theoretical. That said, at various points, musical theorists have been known as much for their analyses of contemporary (to them) music as their own composition output, both for the purposes of theory and enjoyment. (Hell, I challenge any layman to enjoy Musical Offering's Ricercar for 6. It's a theoretical work of genius, but it's far too complicated for its own good to be 'enjoyed', despite its historical significance.)

I find that in modern times, musical theorists simply analyse, they do not compose for general publication (plus, there's the perception of elitism associated with it a lot of the time, which accounts for and is a consequence of the somewhat lack of general popularity of postminimalist music), while music writers don't theorise, and in both cases, the skew is quite severe to the extent that theoretical study now is still primarily focussed on classical (or, perjoratively, traditional methods of writing) music as a whole, irrespective of when it was written. A small case being that the proportion of popular music writers that don't write in 4/4 time for the most part is shockingly small (capability is another matter, but quite why they don't is either an unsubtle reproach on their view of musicians' skill or tacit admission that things are headed back to theoretical homogeneity). Further, music written for study is just not produced now, which isn't so surprising, obviously, and even if it is, it isn't well disseminated or used. The standards of composers and musicians dead and gone by however many hundreds of years are clung to by one part of the music world (for good or ill), leaving the other part with little to get on by other than their intuition (again, for good or ill).
 
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Terminal Blue

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I've met a few people who studied music, and I think (like any subject) there are good and bad examples.

My biggest issue with studying music theory is that I'm not sure it's actually an area of study so much as it is the education of a sensibility, a highly elitist sensibility that treats early modern classical music (itself written for elite audiences with an elitist sensibility) as the pinnacle of musical accomplishment and the key to understanding all music everywhere.

On the other hand, as with any area of study, there are going to be people who want to push the discipline forward and apply it in more interesting and relevant ways. For example, I met a music theory graduate who was writing a PhD thesis on drone metal, which included both musical analysis, sociocultural analysis and philosophy, and although I never read their work they were incredibly interesting and fun to talk to. I think an open minded, well rounded person could do wonderful things with music theory, but I think doing so means stepping outside of the prescribed curriculum.

I mean, the same could be said of anything. But I think while a lot of academic disciplines are stuck in the past, it would be short sighted to renounce that knowledge rather than building on it and trying to make it more complete.
 
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