I was browsing the web in my usual fashion, whatever that is, and came across these lecture videos from Yale.  The course is about “listening to music,” though I really have to listen to the course to figure out what exactly the professor means by that.  Here are some of my reactions to some of the things this professor says.

Does knowing musical theory improve listening?

First the professor recalls asking his son to listen to something and then asked him “Well, what’s the mode of the piece?  What’s the meter of the piece?  What’s the bass line doing?  Can you identify any chords?”  And of the son had no response.

Woah!  Woah!  What the heck?

Do you really have to be conscious of all that?  Or, I guess the real question is: what’s the point of being conscious of all that?  Does being conscious of all that make you enjoy the music more?  If so, would you argue that not being conscious of that makes other people enjoy the music less?  That seems like an incredibly condescending argument.

Now, if you want to analyze music for your own interest (say, perhaps, you’re a composer), then of course it can be a great mental exercise to be conscious of that stuff.

But you certainly don’t need to if you just want enjoy the music.  Which is really what the entire point of music is.

And no matter how much you analyze that stuff, it’s not like you’re going to figure out how the human perception of music works.  At least not just with analysis alone.

So the professors “experiment” with his son here seems incredibly pointless.

Why would we want to listen to classical music?

So the professor asks.

What?  Really?  You don’t know?  Why does anybody want to listen to any music?

Does he mean “why would we want to listen to classical music instead of pop music?”

You’re not implying that some type of music is objectively better than other music, would you now?

He says that the Nation Public Radio asked this question, and one of the big responses was: for relaxation.  Not a whole lot of relaxing rock n’ roll or pop music out there, huh?  (Maybe someone out there can start a new genre… lullaby pop, or something.)

Some of the other responses: it helps people concentrate, and it provides a vision of a better world.1

I want to change your personality…

Says the professor.

That seems pretty snobby to me.  “I’m going to make you better!”  How arrogant of you to assume you have that ability.  Actually, this seems a pretty important point for all teachers, and all people in general:


That’s condescension.  It’s an insult to others, and an overestimation of yourself.

I hope to instill you with a love of classical music…

After hearing that, I would’ve dropped this course right away.2 Why would he hope to do that? If he was a classical music artist selling an album, or a record store owner, I might understand. Instead, it seems like “I like classical music, so everyone else should too.” Now there’s nothing wrong with desiring other people to agree with your opinions (I love when people agree with my opinions, who doesn’t?), but to think it’s worth actively pursuing seems, again, quite condescending. That would be like if I said “I like Danny Elfman, and if you don’t, allow me to enlighten you on the brilliance of the Alice’s Theme track…” No! That’s a terrible way to think and act, as if you have to actively pursue “converting” people to your subjective opinions. It’s not like people have different musical opinions because some people are just dumber and need to be instilled with some knowledge that will change their opinions to the “right” ones.

If I were a professor teaching such a class, I would definitely want to inspire others to listen to more of the same kind of music I loved; who doesn’t like sharing the things they enjoy?  But I wouldn’t have my mind set on changing people’s personalities and lives to be more like mine, as if there was an objective right and wrong about music preferences…

The end

That was only the first 7 minutes of the course, and I already disagree with this professor’s teaching philosophy.  Ha.  Though maybe I’m just misconstruing everything he’s saying.  It looks like a pretty educational course, though, once you get deeper into it, and actually get to the meat.  The first 7 minutes, though… yikes.

Anyway, I gotta go to bed now… I get to go to work all weekend!


1 I wonder if this has more to do with the fact that most non-classical music includes lyrics. There aren’t very many purely instrumental pop or rock artists out there.

2 But maybe not, if it was going to provide an easy A. I’m not the one that made grades matter.


LanthonyS · March 20, 2010 at 11:20 AM

100%. He made some stupid points, you responded excellently.

[ But I still don’t like Alice’s Theme. 😉 ]

S P Hannifin · March 21, 2010 at 3:32 AM

Thanks 🙂

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