Why Appreciating Complex Music Is A Skill, And An Intentional Mindset

Some music can have so much going on at one time, that it can be alienating and difficult to listen to (that is, until you get used to it).

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Wouldn't it be easier if you could just appreciate it right away, rather than having those first few "unpleasant" listens (or worse yet, not bothering to appreciate it at all?)

Understanding why the music is initially difficult to listen to, can help you speed up the process, and have you appreciating these incredible tunes the first time around.

Too Much Is Happening

This is what is known as a sensory overload, in simpler terms, too much is happening in the music to comprehend with only one listen.

Your mind simply is not capable of handling that much music, all at once. It's really difficult for the brain, because your brain builds in layers.

Too much.

Most top 40 songs only really have a few unique layers, hence why they are so pleasurable on your first few listens.

But like all bubblegum pop, that gum eventually loses it's taste and becomes very bland to you.

So when you build complex music with an exponential number of layers, it can take a while for your brain to fully take it in (more comparable to a fine wine, that waits until the aftertaste to really settle in).

But! As your brain begins to learn the music, it can start to anticipate what is going to happen next! Even the most complex music can be learned and anticipated.

As you listen more, you can process the initial layer, and then your brain stores that information. You can then move on to the next layer of the music, and so on.

Music that is particularly complex has many many layers. The more layers there are, the longer it is going to take you to appreciate it.

And I don't just mean layers in the sense of "instruments playing", but rather in the sense of different musical lines and rhythms being played at the same time.

On top of that, you also have the added layers of:

  • How the music was mixed.
  • How deep the lyrics are.
  • Any extra sounds or notes that are placed into the music (sound effects).
  • Extra frequencies that you didn't consider. Listening to the music on another sound system will often reveal sounds and frequencies that you didn't originally consider, hence why we have audiophiles who need sound systems with pristine levels of audio quality.

Some Notes You Simply Don't Hear

As mentioned above, a first time listen of a unique or diverse artists can often be overwhelming.

More often than not you will re listen to albums and be amazed at how many things you missed the first time round.

That is why giving new music (at least music that sounds just like "noise" to you) can really help you to open up to new venues.

This can be especially prevalent in progressive music, because if a song does not have an obvious structure it can take a while to recognize each section of the song.

Sorry, I didn't quite hear you; you'll have to speak up.

You don't really anticipate the next part of the music (where music with obvious song progressions are easy for you to anticipate), so once again you gain a bit of sensory overload.

The sensory overload I'm talking about is generally really obvious in genre's like Metal or Hardcore.

Listening to songs in odd meters or time signatures can be confusing to the untrained ear.

This also applies to song structure, Because most music listeners are stuck in the world of straight beats and 4-4 timing, music presented in a slight change can completely throw them off, even enough to discount the song before giving it a proper chance.

You Might Hear Something New Entirely!

Because of that Pop-Rock conditioning you hear on radio and TV, you may not be used to diversity among sounds and noises in music.

Embracing new technology and sounds in music is important because music is ever-changing and evolving and we to must learn grow with it.

You want to evolve along with music, not be left in the past.

The dangers of not evolving with current music is that you will be unable to build upon the successes of other creative geniuses.

Something entirely new (My new favorite book). Read it like...now...

Imagine if you had never heard any music in the 1900's. All you knew was really old classical music, before the electric guitar was invented.

And then you decided that it would be a really cool idea to put electricity and pickups in your acoustic guitar. Wow! What a cool invention!

Except for the fact that they already invented that 60 years ago...so no one is really excited by your idea.

Now had you been "with the times", you wouldn't have wasted your time and energy inventing something that had already been invented.

By not keeping current, you really are robbing yourself of the benefits of others' success.

It's also important to know older music as well, so you can learn from that (the past is a vital key to the future), but what's happening right now is also of the utmost importance

Every generation is just taking what the people before them did, and doing it in a different way.

No one really comes up with any "new" ideas, they just take things that have been done before, and use them in a different way.

It's like mixing colors together to get new colors. Everything originated with a only a handful of ideas (colors), but through mixtures and the evolution of ideas, more ideas can be derived from the originals.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.