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  • "No ear for music". What does this mean?

    (spinoff of the "reading music" thread)

    When I was growing up, my Dad would often say, "Son, I don't know what to tell you; I have no ear for music at all."

    And I thought: "How can any person (who's not deaf) have 'no ear for music'?"

    Safe to say all of us here have "an ear for music".

    But those people who claim NOT to have one, just what IS it they're not hearing, not "getting"?

    After all, music is not black magic.... (is it?) it has rules and standards that, with just a modicum of training, virtually anyone can understand, right?

    Your thoughts, observations?
    Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud


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  • #2
    Some people are actually annoyed by music and fret the thought of having to listen to it at all. I've always thought such people must have hearing deficiencies that do not allow them to fully appreciate the music that they are hearing... either that or they started out listening to Rap and it turned them sour all together.

    Others have no concept of what sounds good together when playing or trying to sing. Some cannot sing a sour note... let alone sing a whole song while staying on pitch and in time. Same goes for instruments... those are the people that I would say have not got an ear for music. For some, music comes naturally. Others may be able to LEARN how to play by discipline and structured notation; but they will never be able to elaborate beyond what they read on paper because they can't hear anything above what they have been "trained" to do.
    MusicBizBuzz

    Experience is the best teacher, even if it's a bad one!!! Ani 2009

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    • #3
      Most importantly, not having an aptitude for music, and lacking the desire to try.

      That said, I truly believe that if people are brought up in an environment in which the music is part of every day life (think Indonesia, for example, where after a hard day of work, people gather in a central location and play gamelan, a beautiful and rhythmically complex form of music).

      But in a lot of Western countries, music is thought of as something different, something that's a "gift", and something that you frequently pay to go see rather than something you participate in on a daily basis. There's therefore a very different sense of music from other cultures.
      Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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      • #4
        Some people are actually annoyed by music and fret the thought of having to listen to it at all.



        The great author John Updike once said, "I've never really taken to music; it's always searching-searching-searching for something it never quite finds.... then ends, not having found it."

        Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud


        Friend me on FACEBOOK!

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        • #5


          But in a lot of Western countries, music is thought of as something different, something that's a "gift", and something that you frequently pay to go see rather than something you participate in on a daily basis. There's therefore a very different sense of music from other cultures.


          Linda Ronstadt has said that, growing up, her family followed the Mexican tradition.... around the house the whole family would just sing as they were doing chores, cooking, eating, etc. When she finally released her anthology of Mexican songs, CANCIONES DE MI PADRE, she said the choice of tunes was just a no-brainer to her, 'cause those were the songs her whole family casually sang about the house.

          All these things said, I will admit that I've been VERY late to understanding some auditory principles. For example, I was 35 before I FINALLY figured out that every pitch has a corresponding Hertz number. Sound is just waves-waves-waves! When I finally got a parametric EQ, I was dazzled at the power I wielded, being able to tweak pitches and overtones using numbers (Hertz).

          Much of the material you guys discuss here on SSS has been "news to me". How wrong I was, as a performer, to exempt myself for so long from the study of Production/Engineering/Mixing/Mastering/Acoustics, etc. Martin Scorsese's longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, pointed out that, at the end of the day, it's the editor who is essentially making the film; the final Edit IS the film!! Something comparable could be said about Music Production & Engineering: the production of the record IS the record!
          Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud


          Friend me on FACEBOOK!

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          • #6
            As always, I'm sure it's a mixture of nature and nurture. On the nature side, there are people who are more right or left brained, and I'm sure that has something to do with a facility for music. I'm definitely a technical person. I really love music and I very much am into the emotional impact of it, but I still approach it relatively technically when I'm creating it. For some folks, it just doesn't click. The famous physicist Richard Feynman was well known for finding music very distasteful, though he found rhythm by itself very interesting, so he liked very drum/percussion oriented stuff. I was always obessively rhythmic when I was young (though this didn't for some reason win me a Nobel prize in physics.) Some people it moves tremendously, and there has to be some amount of nature involved, because in many cases they are people born into completely non-musical families. There were no musicians in my family at all that I know of, but I definitely got bitten by it early on.
            Dean Roddey
            Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems, LTD

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            • #7
              To me it seems to have a lot to do with growing up and what you expose yourself to. All the people I know with a good sense of pitch were around well tuned instruments that were in frequent use while growing up, and often had a musician in the immediately family.

              Though I've found that just because one may not start out their musical career with a great ear, doesn't mean they can't develop one. When I started playing drums I could barely tell a bass drum from a snare, let alone analyse anything melodic. After developing an ear for drums I went for years being tonally stupid. Sure I could hear a chord progression but not understand it very accurately.

              Then I spent some time around a really nice grand piano, I noticed my sense of pitch improving greatly, and learning to identify different chords by ear. I've been teaching myself to hear pitch more accurately, trying to memorise the pitch of different notes on the piano. It's certainly helped, as has all the analysis of music I've done with sound engineer's ears.

              So I really don't believe in all this having it or not having it crap.
              wHeeee!

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              • #8
                Probably like having "no eye for art." You might see a painting on the canvas, but you don't get what it's about, makes you feel or care about what kind of techniques were used.
                Elson TrinidadSinger, Songwriter, Keyboardist, BassistElson and the Soul BarkadaWeb: www.elsongs.comMySpace: www.myspace.com/elsongsFacebook: Facebook PageTwitter: twitter.com/elsongs

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                • #9


                  So I really don't believe in all this having it or not having it crap.


                  Yup. That's why I pointed out the difference in "musical ability" that people have in other cultures when this sort of thing is naturally ingrained in everyday life. While obviously some people have a "genetic head start" and may have more musical aptitude, a lot of musical ability can still be learned regardless.
                  Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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                  • #10
                    I was told repeatedly as a child by music educators that I had no "musical talent whatsoever."


                    It was kind of a drag because I really wanted to make music.

                    My dad tried to help but, a product of formal instruction, he had a lot of trouble getting on my wavelength as well.

                    For me, a complication was that, unlike others, the more I practiced something in a given session -- the worse I got. (I've since developed different expectations and strategies.)

                    This was obviously highly frustrating to music pedagogues and my memory of these folks is that they were usually fidgety, frustrated and often visibly angry.

                    On one level I can understand it -- but it was in no way a nurturing or helpful environment for learning.

                    Still, childhood music education is often, no doubt, a triage situation. You have a roomful of kids of varying levels of extant abilities and increasingly limited resources (things were obviously a lot better in the old days when music instruction was considered a part of a well rounded education).

                    And even in private instruction, the educator has to try to show some results to the parents doling out for lessons.

                    So, I'm not entirely unsympathetic.


                    Even when, swept up in the folk revival of the early sixties, I saved up (my dad kicked in a 1/3 when he saw what my money was going to buy) and bought myself a (very funky) guitar, I found myself frustrated.

                    I kept trying out various instructional books and even a record or two. The common insistence on learning melodies first I found enormously unhelpful.

                    It was only when I cut away from all pedagogical methods entirely and really began teaching myself that I started making any progress at all.


                    A friend of mine (a white, middle aged CPA who, with her husband, goes to a lot of free daytime concerts) says that, from her observation, all kids "know" how to dance when they're little. But as they grow up, the white kids learn not to dance... (At an afternoon, family-oriented reggae concert we were all at she pointed out the big gaggle of kids dancing... under 7, it was really mixed, ethnically. Between 7 and 12 or 13, the white kids thinned out, and the only young teens dancing were black or latino. It's stuck in my mind to this day -- and I've never seen any evidence that she wasn't dead on right.)

                    I'm not sure exactly how that fits in -- but It seems to fit, somehow, with my own disenchantment with traditional musical pedagogy.


                    _______________

                    PS... I initially assumed this thread was about people who don't like listening to music -- but, while I've met a few (a very few) individuals who will admit they either don't enjoy music and maybe one or two who plain don't like it -- that, happily, was not my problem. I loved music.

                    It just took me a long time to figure out how to make it.
                    .

                    music and social links | recent listening

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                    • #11
                      There's a theory that we all have perfect pitch when we're born too, but bad circumstances mess it up. No idea if that's true or not. I certainly know there isn't a physical difference between most of us without perfect pitch and those who have it.
                      wHeeee!

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                      • #12
                        I have a 5.348 second threshold when I can dance. It's that 5.348 seconds between when I get drunk enough to do it and when I pass out. I'm sure it's because I'm one of those Norwegian Bachelor Farmer types. Like Garrison Keiler says, they all look at their feet when talking to you. If one is really, really outgoing, he looks at your feet.
                        Dean Roddey
                        Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems, LTD

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                        • #13
                          There's a theory that we all have perfect pitch when we're born too, but bad circumstances mess it up. No idea if that's true or not. I certainly know there isn't a physical difference between most of us without perfect pitch and those who have it.

                          On the "perfect pitch" at birth thing... I'm pretty sure I don't have that interesting ability -- but what has driven me nuts -- at least until I finally started doing my own research -- were the "discrepancies" between true, Pythagorean harmony and the compromises imposed by the equal temperament system that makes modern music and modulation possible.

                          When I was a kid noodling on the family's electronic organ, I used to go up and down looking for the right note -- and sometimes walked away all but convinced that it simply wasn't on the keyboard.

                          At the time, of course, I believed what folks said: that's all there are, God only gave us 12 notes and they're all ordained in heaven. (OK, that's what I heard people saying, anyhow. )

                          When I finally saw that, no, the notes on a keyboard are compromises that produce inaccurate, disharmonic chords even when the keyboard is in "perfect" (equal temperament) tuning, that was a huge satori for me and I stopped thinking it was me that was nuts.

                          But, once again, it was the abject ignorance and sometimes bewilderingly self-imposed misunderstanding held by many (but certainly not all) formally trained musicians that had corrupted my understanding until then.
                          .

                          music and social links | recent listening

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                          • #14
                            OTOH, people have pointed out how fundamentally appealing the 12 note system is, even to cultures that didn't traditionally use it. The western musical traditions have permeated other cultures and I don't think it's just due to cultural hegemony or anything like that. There's something about that 12 note system that makes western classical music, blues, jazz, rock (which is mostly just fast and loud blues), etc... very appearling, even to asian cultures where 12 tone systems aren't native.
                            Dean Roddey
                            Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems, LTD

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                            • #15
                              Excellent topic.
                              When I was young we had no musical instruments around in my early years. I remember in third grade my class was given a musical "aptitude" test. A record was played with two pitches and we were asked to identify the two notes as written in standard musical notation in a multiple choice test. I had no concept of higher or lower pitches and had essentially never seen musical notation before. I was never given the results but I was sure that I did poorly. As a result I did not dare to join the choir or play an instrument and no one encouraged me to do so, even though I loved music. In retrospect I am angry about this. It was not an aptitude test, it was a knowledge and aptitude test. Our prior experience, or lack of experience, was not taken into consideration.

                              I also remember that in grade school when we sang in class I didn't want to sing in falsetto. I wanted to sing like the Beatles, not like a girl or a child. I was given a few remedial music sessions until I relented and sang falsetto. Another discouraging musical experience thanks to the school system.

                              Despite the discouragement, by the time I hit age 13 I took up the guitar anyways. By then I was convinced I had no innate musical talent and I was definitely not a "natural." I did enjoy writing songs and kept at it anyways, but I didn't think I was good enough to be in a band, since being in a band required learning cover tunes. It took the punk/new wave movement to inspire me to put myself out there publicly and start a band and perform. The punk/new wav movement was really a folk music movement because I know many people, like me, felt they had permisssion to make music for the first time. For the first time in my life (I was too young for the early 60s folk movement), it was OK for people to make music even if they didn't have extensive experience or extraordinary natural abilities.

                              As Ustad pointed out, our culture as a whole does not encourage music making by everyone. As a result most of us (present comany excepted) think that we are unqualifed to make music. I think its a damn shame. I envy the joy seen by every member of the rural African villages as they make music to accompany the events in their lives.
                              "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."- George Orwell

                              My music: http://www.oranjproductions.com

                              The first website dedicated to the the baritone guitar: http://www.thebaritoneguitar.com

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