Music Notation that Tells You All You Need to Know About Modern Pop


My post yesterday was a bit heavy – and the comments were AWESOME! But what I had scheduled for today was ALSO heavy … so I decided to step back and set that one up for Monday and put something a bit lighter up instead.

Do you have friends who can’t just enjoy something as entertainment? You know what I mean – because of what they study and how they look at things, they immediately dissect things in that area and can’t help saying it out loud, robbing you of your ability to just ‘think it was fun’? Maybe it is movies, or books or architecture or pizza or whatever … chances you know someone like that.

Well, despite a lifetime of trying NOT to be … that is me when it comes to music. I hear music with a dissecting ear – when a new song comes on (say, as we listened to the new Taylor Swift album, for example) I immediately hear the way that the rhythm section was construction, the way the beats and baselines were shaped according to what will sound familiar but not immediately reductive … the way that the harmonic structure borrows enough from existing Top 40 and something from the 80s to tweak that part of your brain that says “I like this, but I don’t know why”.

Through the years it might seem to an observer that I have gotten better about this, that I am not the music snob that I was in high school and college. That would be untrue, but two things HAVE happened:
– I have learned to let those voices have their chats inside my head since almost no one really wants to hear about it.
– Most music is really meant to just be entertainment, and so I have become much better at discussing highlighting little elements of familiarity (something like “hear how that line kinda sounds like that Police song?”), which is a much more fun discussion.

ANYWAY … I found this little comic amusing!

Happy Friday – and thanks again so much for the incredible insights and comments on yesterday’s post!


19 thoughts on “Music Notation that Tells You All You Need to Know About Modern Pop

  1. Oh my gosh I can definitely understand this. I recently (in the past year) started listening to Pandora during my runs. I had the hardest time admitting that I was listening to the hip hop station because it seemed so ridiculous. I honestly did it because I knew none of the songs so it was always new to me. I am a political science major and love politics. But I have a friend who has become politics obsessed and way on the other side of my beliefs (or whatever you might call them). She cannot leave the politics alone. She tweets about them, Facebooks about them, and even in conversation I feel like we struggle to chat about ANYTHING without her trying to throw in some sort of politics. It is just painful! Not exactly what you are talking about but for some reason it rang a big hard bell in my head.

    • Politics is definitely a hard one … and often best avoided πŸ™‚

      I don’t tend to be confrontational about music, more ‘information overload’ … but as my wife will say ‘can’t we just enjoy listening to the song?’ haha

  2. Yeah…I can probably relate to this! It’s funny–when my kids listen to “their” music and I hear the tunes and/or lyrics from older songs in there, I just HAVE to educate them on the origin. Silly, but I feel like they should have an appreciation for the original artist. Talk about sucking the fun out of things! (and maybe that’s my older generation thing showing through, too?)

    • With my kids at this point ( older than yours) it always turns into a discussion – often too detailed. We got into discussing the triplet-over-quarters used for effect in the Yardbird’s ‘Shapes of Things’. Or it will be like you say – talking about how Bruno Mars took so much of the Police styling, or with the song from ‘Dirty Dancing’ and on and on.

      My music collection spans nearly 100 years of recorded music, so they have been subjected to ‘roots and influences’ since they were little. They very much have their own taste – and thankfully got from their mother the ability to just plain enjoy music πŸ™‚

      Of course, with one kid going into film … we have the same discussions about movies and books as well!

  3. This made me laugh because when I admitted a few weeks back about my undying love of T-Swift, as I was writing it, you immediately popped into my mind because I know you are WAY more sophisticated in your music tastes and understandings of composition than I am. I listen to music and like songs purely because of the feeling it gives me, whether its something upbeat and fun that helps me get through a run or makes me laugh or something emotional that makes me feels something else. I was never into music in school, never played an instrument and can’t read music sheets, so I have no real understanding of all the things like construction, but there is nothing wrong with feeling strongly about something you know a lot about and are passionate about…that is how we learn and grow as people, through having these conversations with each other!

    • … and there is nothing wrong about the pure love of music as well πŸ™‚ The way I see it, if you enjoy the music you listen to, it is doing its job – it doesn’t matter if there is auto-tune, beat quantization, non-attributed samples, or whatever. Music should first and foremost be about the uplifting and enlightenment of our spirit.

      And yeah, I thought of you as I noted Taylor Swift (sadly, no one in our house likes more than one or two songs from the album).

    • Dubstep is just another side-branch on the electronic music genre family tree, and is really more pop-oriented than most of electronica. It is very dance centric, but also uses non-harmonic noise as a key element. Most of the more recent stuff is pretty heavily formulaic, just like most other very popular music. My son was into it for a while (we saw Skrillix in Syracuse), but has drifted away from it recently – but will always be a fan of electronic music.

      Which, of course, is also my fault, being a fan of Kraftwerk in the pop realm and stuff like Eberhart Schoener (electronica meets gregorian chants) from the 70s … πŸ˜‰

      • Oh, I know what dubstep is. I was making fun of it as a music genre that still has a following. Although you did do a great job of explaining the theory/construction. πŸ™‚

        I like electronic too, but more Erasure, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys. I’ve not heard of Eberhart Schoener but I’ll check it out. I like Enigma so maybe they’re similar?

      • Enigma is more pop centric, but they are loads of fun to listen to! … I came to electronic music in the late 70s when it was largely experimental, through other stuff like the French musique concrete movement from the 60s.

        Totally with you on the love of stuff like Erasure and Depeche Mode (my younger son got totally into them … and it is amazing how much good stuff is going on in their early works).

        Ah … I love music πŸ™‚

  4. Funny, I am always noticing pieces from songs that sound like other songs and then they wind up mixed up in my head. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a music “snob” but my dad certainly is and I agree people don’t take to it well πŸ™‚ He is also that way with movies, or rather “films.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I hate watching movies now. I am probably that way with food actually πŸ™‚

    • I think largely it is how you handle things … if someone wants to talk to you and you get more involved than they care to and you back off (like I always seem to do when people ask me ‘how does X work’ questions πŸ™‚ ) .. no biggie. But if someone is playing Katy Perry in their own room and you take it on yourself to go and verbally abuse them and their choice of listening … well, then you’re an a$$hole πŸ˜‰ haha I don’t tend to be confrontational, but I am opinionated and always up for a healthy debate if someone is willing πŸ™‚

  5. “Do you have friends who can’t just enjoy something as entertainment? You know what I mean – because of what they study and how they look at things, they immediately dissect things in that area and can’t help saying it out loud, robbing you of your ability to just β€˜think it was fun’? Maybe it is movies, or books or architecture or pizza or whatever … chances you know someone like that.”

    guilty! I basically do cultural studies, so, that’s my bread and butter. I try to keep quiet and/or relatable unless I’m around friends who I happen to know appreciate that sort of analysis, but I’m not always successful. I’ve realized that it sneaks into my blog posts sometimes too. Things to work on…

    • haha – I think it is likely we ALL have things to work on, from this sort of thing to gossip or whatever. None of us is perfect, but by knowing we do it, I think self-awareness is very important!

  6. It’s interesting you bring this up, because my BiL is like this, but has no musical background, and preaches to me what good and bad music is. And I wonder if he’s doing the same thing – dissecting it. We, all like different things! I think it would be fun to discuss what you are hearing in the song, and why it makes you like it or not. Just as long as you don’t get upset when someone else likes it (ha ha, like people I know, do).

    I have (correction, HAD) a friend who really is rude to me about how much I like movies. It hurt my feelings that she was so judgmental about me liking movies, then it made me nuts when she’d write posts on Facebook about watching them, herself. Sigh. Sorry, off topic! πŸ™‚

    • I like to think that I dissect to say what I like or don’t, or where I hear the song’s place in history or where it drew influences … rather than ‘good or bad’. πŸ™‚ And my position has always been simply ‘all music is better than no music’ – so if someone likes music … yay!

      This morning my boys and I were discussing the use of triplets over quarter notes by the Yardbirds to suggest rhythmic shifts – it is a great technique and we were getting very geeky about it πŸ™‚ Last week it was an NWA song and we were talking about how it used the same basic song structure of 50s pop songs it rails against … and so on.

      Life is too short to get upset about what other people like. I am not a fan of the Transformers movies, I took my kids to see the first one when we were back in Massachusetts, but haven’t seen any since and have no desire … but I know people who do, and that is there choice. I liked loads of ‘bad’ movies so why stress about it, right?

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