What Makes Music Great?


Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

I had a difficult time coming up with ideas of how to end Music Month. I almost did a list of honorable mentions because there were so many songs that I didn’t get to talk about, or else completely forgot about when working on the lists. But for some reason, it didn’t seem right to end April on that note (no pun intended). Then I considered doing a list of worst songs since there are certainly pieces that don’t work. Again, though, it didn’t feel like the right way to end Music Month. That and I could only think of a handful of songs that made me cringe just thinking about them.

And then it finally hit me—why not dissect music as a general art? After all, whether we study it or not, we still talk about it, and we all have a favorite song or two. Music always affects us in one way or another. But how exactly does it do that? What is it that makes music worth studying? What works as a good song and what doesn’t?

Well, we might as well ask that about books, movies, and paintings too. Good music—like any other form of good art—has a lasting impression on the consumer. Sometimes it can be good background music for getting work done, or having a conversation. When I perform at jazz concerts with my school’s jazz band, we often get comments that our music provides a good study atmosphere. At other times, we dance to it. I’m not a big fan of pop music, but I will admit that they come in handy for school dances. There are even songs that allow us to look back on fond memories when they pop up in our heads. For me, “Down in the River to Pray” is the song that brings back good memories.

Emotional music, as the adjective insinuates, conveys emotions when it’s meant to do so. Songs like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” or Emily Osment’s “Drift” express emotions and summarize some of our thoughts in ways that we can’t. And in cases like Andrew Boysen’s “Song for Lyndsay,” the music doesn’t need any words to capture the emotions just right. Sometimes we also have music that tells stories, like the background music one would find in the soundtrack of movies. Studies are beginning to show that music also has a psychological effect on listeners.

With all of that in mind, it seems like music can do a lot. But what’s the number one action it should perform to be considered good music? In her blog post on good music, Susan Scheid listed four questions that she asks when listening to music:


1) Can I find something in the piece that communicates to me or at least piques my curiosity on a first or second hearing?

2) Does the piece demonstrate both a wealth of musical ideas at work and the ability to take from those ideas to create a satisfying whole?

3) Does the piece communicate something I experience as profound?

4) Does the piece reward many re-hearings, and does it do so over time?


And…yeah, that’s a pretty good way to summarize it. Now, we all have different tastes in music. There’s such a wide variety of music that we can all agree or disagree to like, and that’s true of any art. But Scheid’s questions produce the best foundation to start from when looking for something good to listen to. No matter why we like the song, it needs to create an experience that makes us hungry for more.

Well, that concludes Music Month. If you have songs that differ from my lists that you’d like to talk about, please leave a comment below. And as always, until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

Sources used: http://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/what-makes-music-great/

Photo source: http://musicpsychology.co.uk/music-for-pain-reduction/

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