Man, does that song ever suck!

Originally posted  January 11, 2011

I love all styles of music – well not all to be honest, but most. There are certainly some genres, composers, and bands I’m not a big fan of. But that doesn’t mean I can’t always appreciate the music that I may not choose to listen to.

People enjoy varying genres, performers, or bands for different reasons. Too often, however, some people get the terms “good” or “bad” confused with “like” or “dislike.”

There are types of music that I fully acknowledge as “good” musically speaking, but that I don’t necessarily “like.” I need to be careful not to say something is of poor quality simply because I don’t enjoy it. And the terms “good” and “bad” are mild compared to some of the adjectives people toss about so vehemently regarding a particular song, singer, or band. I’ve heard (or perhaps been a part of) some pretty intense “discussions” in the past that seemed almost as divisional as politics in the U.S. these days.

So what determines what we like and don’t like musically? I’m certainly not a psychologist, but I’ll take a stab at it simply based upon personal experiences and observations.

I would argue that the vast majority of our personal tastes are formed when we are quite young. Many of my personal musical likes and dislikes are rooted in my early childhood. I grew up hearing a lot of classical music being played in the house – on the piano by my father and on his stereo. I started to play the piano at a fairly young age, but it was never forced upon me. My Dad as well as my older brothers had several Beatles albums kicking around which I’m sure I wore out on my cheap little turntable (and being in the mid-70s this was when the Beatles were “old” people’s music according to many of my friends – but I persisted in listening). So my early musical experiences were associated with positive times. Of course there are exceptions to the experience having to be positive. Beethoven was often awakened in the middle of the night by his drunken father and forced to practice until the sun came up. I’m very grateful this didn’t deter him from a life dedicated to composing!

Another phase of life when music is very influential is teenage-hood. Most adults these days will tend to favour the music that was part of their culture when they were teenagers or young adults. It’s at this phase that strong emotional bonds are made between peers, and young generations are trying to find an identity. Music has always been a very powerful means of uniting people and providing cultural role models. Most of us can imagine someone we know saying something along the lines of “Music these days just isn’t the same as it used to be when I was your age.” The funny thing about this is that every generation as they become parents experiences the same thing!

Another important element in enjoying a certain style of music is the ability to understand it. Some music simply isn’t all that easy to listen to, and takes focus and concentration. A great number of Bach fugues are tough to follow unless you understand some of the intricacies of counterpoint. But when you work at it long enough and begin to understand it, there comes an “Aha!” moment when you “get it.” A lot of progressive jazz and rock is very similar. Most of these styles of music tend to be more appreciated by musicians, who would be more likely to understand more of the detail involved. But of course I am generalizing here, as I’m sure there are many exceptions.

And of course, tastes can change over the years and new tastes be acquired. If this weren’t so, I’m sure no one would be a coffee drinker. But for some reason (probably wanting to fit in), most of us persist and eventually come to like it (or addicted to it). It’s the same for music. The more you hear and become familiar with a style of music you may not have previously liked, the more it may grow on you. That’s what happened to me as a teenager, as many of my friends were into heavy metal. As a result, some thought I was a bit odd as I would finish listening to an album of Chopin Etudes, and then put on Sad Wings of Destiny by Judas Priest (which I still love by the way – you know, they just don’t make music like they used to!).

On the flip-side, there is plenty of music I don’t “like.” It’s not a matter of not appreciating it, but for unknown reasons I simply don’t enjoy listening to it. The Eagles are an example of this – amazing song writing – musically and lyrically, amazing playing, and amazing production. They have all of the elements of a great band and have stood the test of time. But I just don’t like them. Why? I have no idea. Maybe my older brother was beating on me when the music was playing in the background sometime in my early childhood, and listening to them now makes me feel like I have bruised arms. Well, I’m being silly here, but you get my point. The same for U2. I just don’t actually like most of their stuff, but you would never hear me criticize them. I’ve even given screamo a fair shake (that is if you call allowing my daughter to have it on once in a while a fair shake), but I just can’t do it. Perhaps it’s nothing more than an age and noise tolerance thing. Maybe if I locked myself in a room and played Eagles, U2, and screamo albums all day I may come to enjoy them more (or go crazy). Who knows? But I can’t be bothered, as I have no shortage of music to listen to that I do like – old and new.

Having said that, I do think it’s important to give all styles of music a good try, especially newer stuff or styles you haven’t necessarily previously enjoyed, as we don’t want to fall into the “Music just isn’t the same these days” trap. And there certainly is authentically “bad” music out there, but I don’t worry about it too much, as it never usually sticks around for long. And of course, it’s also important to remember not to criticize someone because of their musical tastes, no matter how much you may dislike it.

Anyhow, off to play some Ludwig on the piano and then listen to some old Priest. Ah, the good old days!

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