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Is classical music really all that much more sophisticated than rock music


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I realise I'm dealing in sweeping generalisations here and that I might also be in danger of making Apples/Oranges comparisons, but if there is such a thing as a typical rock song or a typical piece of classical music, is there really that much more going on in terms of melody/chords/other musical stuff in the classical piece to justify it's alleged superiority?

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If you're willing to make sweeping generalizations, I'd say yes. If you look at a piece by Bach, say a fugue, it may modulate through several keys as well as relatively complex progressions within each key (maybe using chords from a related key rather than the current key). In addition, a fugue has several voices repeating the same theme, but with very specific variations that still work with all the other voices - maybe the theme is played backwards, inverted, slowed down or sped up in time, raised or lowered a given interval, etc. All these features and a lot more are not exclusive to Bach, but common in any fugue (which is just one example, there are many other forms which are similarly complex). There are, of course, exceptions where the overall form and harmonic structure are very simple, with no surprises -- maybe Pachelbel's Canon would be a decent example of this, or Ravel's Bolero. I would say that, overall, the complex is more common than the simple.

 

Looking at rock, things are almost the opposite. While there are complex examples (maybe some Phish, Rush, or King Crimson here?), they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Rock sticks to the classic I-IV-V or I-vi-IV-V, etc. progressions much more than classical music. Even more telling is that rock seems to stick with these simple progressions over time where classical music became even more varied and "out there" as time went on (see Impressionism, Aleatoric, Serialism, etc.) sometimes even venturing out of the traditional scales into tone rows, 12 tone compositions, microtones, etc. However, that was over hundreds of years, so perhaps similar changes will occur in rock. To some extent, acts such as I mentioned (Rush and others) are signs of that progression in style, but I still think they are more the exception than the rule.

 

EDIT: As for classical being considered superior, that all depends on what you're looking for in music. Some modern academic compositions can be downright boring to listen to unless you're intimately familiar with the system used to compose the piece and even then it's a much more analytical process. Some would consider that to be superior, but many just want to listen to music that entertains them, makes them feel something, reminds them of someone or sometime. Maybe that's superior. Maybe it just depends on my mood at the time.

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Well, I would say that classical music these days is beyond just classical music. To say minimalism and microtonal and atonal music are the same as Franz Schuebert is just wrong. There is as much variation in genre in classical music as there is in rock music. Think about all the genre listing soundclick gives you to choose from, and those are just ones they felt like including. So my problem with comparing classical and rock music is there's simple and complex, weird and predictable, cool and lame, and every type of music you can think of for both genres. I would say that the only reason people think classical music is more complex is because in retrospect classical musicians and musicians in general have pinned rules on classical music that make it seem very structured and academic. You have to keep in mind that when Bach was writing fugues the fugue was a popular style of music, not an academic exercise like how we view it today.

 

I suppose in 100 years people will look back on rock music and come up with some generalized rules and analyze it and say "wow, that music was so complicated compared to what we do today" or "wow, that music was so boring compared to what we do today". I don't think either of those will be true statements. I don't think they're true about classical music now. I just think the ways music is complex has changed a lot. As primarily a classical musician (yah I know, what a geek!) I've found that rock and classical music are both incredibly varied and ultimately the same thing at the same time. Am I weird or what? :D

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This old, recovering punk rocker sees seven symphonic concerts a year... and I agree with all of the above to varying degrees.

 

Complexity doesn't necessarily equate to superiority -- or even good music. There is INCREDIBLY complex music that is boring or even just unlistenable -- and some of it is in rock/pop, too.

 

But, yeah, a lot of orchestral music IS a lot more complex that most pop (I'm using "pop" at its broadest here, everything from Rush to Negativland to the mathrockers) but it doesn't have to be... there are some very lovely pieces that don't engage in much apparent sophistication yet are really involving, really moving.

 

And, of course, there is some pop music that is aggresively complex (or sometimes just complicated ;) ).

 

I think those who go out of their way to make complex (or just plain complicated) music often miss the boat... Complexity, it seems to me, should be dictated by where the music wants to go -- not where you want to push it.

 

I'm very much like the stone sculptor who said something like: The sculpture is already in the stone when I start. It's my job to find it.

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I realise I'm dealing in sweeping generalisations here and that I might also be in danger of making Apples/Oranges comparisons, but if there is such a thing as a typical rock song or a typical piece of classical music, is there really that much more going on in terms of melody/chords/other musical stuff in the classical piece to justify it's alleged superiority?

First off, anyone who claims that one style of music is "superior" to another needs to have their head examined.

 

As far as complexity... try learning some classical pieces and then tell us whether or not it's more complex. Or just pull up some videos of classical guitarists on youtube. Compared to us rockers, that {censored} is pretty out there.

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Two different animals... a lot of classical music is multiple moving lines, creating passing, changing harmonies. That could be deeper than chords with one moving melody line over it. But then popular music has lyric content.

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Thanks for the well thought out responses, everyone.

 

 

Two different animals... a lot of classical music is multiple moving lines, creating passing, changing harmonies. That could be deeper than chords with one moving melody line over it. But then popular music has lyric content.

 

 

Good point about the moving lines etc, though I have heard some rock music that sort of sounds like it's doing something like that, rock (or pop) music also has the lyrical dimension to it, the lyrics have to fit with and complement the music and the melody, which is very hard to do well (IMO) Another element that noone has mentioned is rhythm, I have played in bands with a few classically trained players and they do sometimes seem to have trouble getting into the groove of the music, though I guess that's more to do with the playing of the music than the composition. I think the phrasing (certainly with guitar-based music) is often more subtle in Rock music too.

 

 

As far as complexity... try learning some classical pieces and then tell us whether or not it's more complex. Or just pull up some videos of classical guitarists on youtube. Compared to us rockers, that {censored} is pretty out there.

 

 

Well I can play about 2/3rds of John Williams arrangement of 'Cavatina' (the theme from Deer hunter) and I must admit it is quite a hard piece to play, possibly because, unlike a lot of rock music you're not repeating particular phrases multiple times - it's constantly changing, but then I can't read music well enough to be able to play it from the music so I have to commit the whole thing to memory, which is something that classical players don't usually need to do. I have seen a few of the classical guitarist's vid's on Youtube and while the pieces themselves do seem mindbogglingly long, if you were to break them down into shorter passages, most of it doesn't look technically too hard, again they're not usually dealing with the syncopated rhythms you get in a lot of rock music.

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I hardly feel qualified to comment on classical music, so with my foot firmly placed in mouth...

 

 

I have seen a few of the classical guitarist's vid's on Youtube and while the pieces themselves do seem mindbogglingly long, if you were to break them down into shorter passages, most of it doesn't look technically too hard, again they're not usually dealing with the syncopated rhythms you get in a lot of rock music.

 

 

The thing to remember is that the guitar is the runty ugly duckling in the world of classical music. The classical repertoire for guitar is limited with no notable pieces by 'name' composers like Beethoven, Mozart etc. I'm not knocking your efforts but if you want to really find meaty classical guitar pieces, you'll have to go a lot farther than youtube...and even then, they probably won't compare to the technical difficulties presented to violinists and pianists in their repertoire.

 

Each camp has its limitations and flaws as well as strengths and profundity. One is no better than the other, just different. And I always consider it good practice to keep an open mind and listen as many different kinds of music as you can.

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Thanks for the well thought out responses, everyone.




Good point about the moving lines etc, though I have heard some rock music that sort of sounds like it's doing something like that, rock (or pop) music also has the lyrical dimension to it, the lyrics have to fit with and complement the music and the melody, which is very hard to do well (IMO) Another element that noone has mentioned is rhythm, I have played in bands with a few classically trained players and they do sometimes seem to have trouble getting into the groove of the music, though I guess that's more to do with the playing of the music than the composition. I think the phrasing (certainly with guitar-based music) is often more subtle in Rock music too.




Well I can play about 2/3rds of John Williams arrangement of 'Cavatina' (the theme from Deer hunter) and I must admit it is quite a hard piece to play, possibly because, unlike a lot of rock music you're not repeating particular phrases multiple times - it's constantly changing, but then I can't read music well enough to be able to play it from the music so I have to commit the whole thing to memory, which is something that classical players don't usually need to do. I have seen a few of the classical guitarist's vid's on Youtube and while the pieces themselves do seem mindbogglingly long, if you were to break them down into shorter passages, most of it doesn't look technically too hard, again they're not usually dealing with the syncopated rhythms you get in a lot of rock music.

 

 

It seems you're a bit as someone peering at a thing (classical music) through a keyhole that you are kneeling 2 feet away from. What you are seeing... would not be the whole picture. :D

 

As far as the printed music goes, there are usually MANY descriptive terms and symbols on the page to indicate the composers intent. In the case of someone like Gustav Mahler, it can be a challenge to field them all.

 

Though orchestras and other ensembles typically perform with the music, memorization is an important part of the discipline, as most classical musicians study the solo repertoire, as a means of improving at least, and it's frowned on to perform solo works with the music. The memorization of something like Bach's, "Chaconne" from the D minor Partita, is a task! Lot's of forks in the road. Same for the fugues.

 

True enough that classical musicians aren't known for getting their groove on. Just not a common requirement for them. Some can really let their hair down though. ;)

 

"Classical music" covers the music of several centuries, many composers and different styles.

 

Check out the Brahm's Symphonies. Syncopations, hemiola, abound. Phrasing to die for.

 

I mean no offense, but please do take the time to delve into it a bit more deeply before pitting one music against the other, or making general statements. :):wave: .

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Being a classically-trained singer of far more skill than I have at either guitar or bass, let me put in a word.

 

Many people look at music theory, whether from a rock guitarists' or a classical artist's viewpoint, and see it as static. This is a major chord, this is a minor chord, this is the circle of fifths, this is the natural progression of chords through major/minor scale tones, etc. That however is not true. The definition of a major chord is quite safe from interpretation, but what I'm talking more about is the gradual acceptance of new ideas in music.

 

For instance, way back in Renaissance times when what is now known as the Western system of music was being refined and systems for writing music were developed, many songs were one voice (Gregorian chant, solo instrument with percussion backing). Polyphony, which evolved from plain chant as multiple individual lines woven together, was considered too distracting, and at one time even a major triad was considered too dissonant to use.

 

Fast-forward a couple hundred years and now you're in Bach's time. Polyphony, in the form of the fugue, is king. However, sus2, 6th, and 7th chords were now considered too dissonant and distracting. Fast-forward another couple hundred years and now you're in relatively modern times. Jazz is starting to broaden ideas of how chords can be constructed and how they progress. Symphony composers are starting to use some of those same chords as substitutions in the progressions of their works. But cluster chords (sus4 add2, min add2,3) were just sonic mud or straight dissonance; there's no way those could be used.

 

Enter contemporary composers like Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, et alii. Whitacre in particular has used cluster chords to great effect. There is a line in a choral piece called Water Night that builds from a very simple start; the men start at one note and gradually move up through the minor scale, leaving people behind on every note they pass, while the women start high and descend doing the same thing. You end up with a "chord" that spens every note in the minor scale through an octave and a half. Sonic mud? A wall of unpleasantness? Hardly; the chord shimmers.

 

Over time, good musicians have learned to follow the rules. Great musicians have learned how and when to break them.

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Thank you liko....I was losing faith.

 

The trem "classical music" as used here is WAY too broad to make use of. There are all kinds of classical music from many different eras of time, all trying to achieve different things with their music. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern. Within each of those are subsets of form and style: opera, aria, fugue, sonata, etc etc etc. In the history of music, genres like rock and jazz are just blips on the radar. Not completely unimportant...but blips nonetheless.

 

So to say that the original question is making some "sweeping generalizations" is accurate. There is no such thing as a "typical piece of classical music". Having said all that:

 

For the sake of the thread though, let's ask this question: which do you think is more complex... a fifteen minute piece of Classical (referring to the era) music with individual parts for an orchestra of 50 players, that modulates and changes feel several times, and may even have several movements and themes that are restated, or a three minute IV-V-I song for four instruments, like Louie Louie?

 

Or...which do you think is more complex: a thirteen minute Iron Maiden song that changes feel several times, has key changes and several movements and themes, or a Schubert story song that is three minutes long and arranged for just piano and one voice?

 

By the way....I just can't resist saying that if you want to hear a three minute Franz Schubert story song that is every bit as intense and dark as any heavy metal song, listen to Der Erlk

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Perhaps the criteria for sophistication are mutable. For me, it says a lot that Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler so maxed out the possibilities of traditional, western harmony that those that immediately followed them, Schoenberg/Webern, were at a veritable loss as to how to proceed and bring anything new to the table. Enter the tone row. Serial music. The only sorry rock left unturned.

 

I have heard nothing, EVER, from "popular music" that approaches the magnitude/scope of Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" or Mahler's 5th Symphony. Sophisticated indeed and in as much as they file loosely under "Classical Music" they win the sophisticated title, for me, hands down. I struggle to think of a single popular album/cd/song that isn't cartoonish/featherweight in comparison.

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