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Analyzing Music

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Music on one of the most powerful of the arts partly because sounds – more than any other sensory stimulus – create in us involuntary reactions, pleasant or unpleasant. It may be difficult to connect analysis with the experience of listening to music, but everyone's listening, including performer's, benefits through understanding of some of the fundamentals of music.

Music can be experienced in two basic ways: hearing and listening. Hearers do not attempt to perceive accurately either the structure or the details of the music. They hear a familiar melody, which may trigger associations with the composer, time era, or places dedicated to the song. Aside from melody, little else, such as details or chord progression, is heard.

The listeners, however, concentrate their attention upon the many elements of the music. They observe the form, details, and structure of the music, focusing upon the form that created the content. They listen for something – the content. Even the most avid listeners will be hearers under certain circumstances. No one is always up for concentrated attention.

In order to continue, some important terms and concepts must be introduced to arrive to a clear discussion of music. Some of the basic musical terms include tone, consonance, dissonance, rhythm, tempo, melody, counterpoint, harmony, dynamics, and contrast. Each one is essential to the analysis of music. Most music contains at least one, if not all, of these variations within a piece of music. That is primarily what creates a pleasant or unpleasant experience.

If music is like the other arts, it has a content that is achieved by the form's transformation of subject matter. However, some critics have denied that music has a subject matter, while others suggest so many different possibilities can create utter confusion. Two theories that Humanities Through the Arts identifies are "two basic kinds of subject matter: feelings and sound." (Martin)

It is difficult for music to refer to objects or events outside itself. Therefore, it is difficult to think of music as having some kind of subject matter, just as a painting or sculpture might have. Composers have tried to avoid this limitation by a number of means. One is to use sounds that imitate sounds heard outside of music. Another means is a program, usually in the form of a descriptive title, written description, or an accompanying narrative.

Feelings are composed of emotions, sensations, moods, and passions. Any awareness of our sense organs being stimulated is a sensation. Emotions are strong sensations felt a related to a specific stimulus. Passions are emotions elevate to great intensity. Moods, however, are sensations that arise from no specific stimulus. Moods are normally aroused by emotions and passions, mixing in with them so thoroughly that we are unaware of their origin. This is often the result when we listen to music.

Music seems to be able to interpret and clarify our feeling primarily because the structure of music parallel with the structure of feelings. Music can change an individual's state of mind, attitude, and tone just by the beats of a melody. It can sadden or excite its audience and enhance their viewing pleasure. A study conducted by the Institute of Hearth Math investigated the impact of different types of music on tension, mood, and mental clarity. They found that when listening to grunge rock music, significant increases were found in hostility, sadness, tension, and fatigue, and significant reductions were observed in caring, relaxation, mental clarity, and vigor. In contrast, after listening to the designer music, significant increases in caring, relaxation, mental clarity, and vigor and significant decreases were found in hostility, fatigue, sadness, and tension. The results for New Age and classical music were mixed. Feeling shifts among subjects were observed with all types of music. (www.hearthmath.org).

Nevertheless, how can music interpret feelings? First of all, music can possess an exceptional power of sound that evokes those feelings. Second, feeling is heightened when a tendency to respond is in some way stopped or inhibited. Musical stimuli activate tendencies that are frustrated by deviations from the expected, followed by meaningful resolutions. We hear a tone and find it lacking something that resolves it "needfulness."

Thirdly, it may be that musical structures possess more than just one general resemblance to the structures of feelings. "The tonal structure we call ‘music' bear a close logical similarity to the forms of human feelings – forms of growth and attenuation, flowing and stowing, conflict and resolution, speed, arrest, terrific excitement, calm, or subtle activation and dreamy lapses – no joy and sorrow perhaps, but the poignancy of either vitally felt. Such is the pattern,

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