venerdì 16 novembre 2018

Teach yourself how to listen to jazz and classical music in just one day!


Just spend some hours (or days) listening to mixed music by these four rock artists and automatically you will learn how to listen to classical, jazz and contemporary, without doing it

Frank Zappa


King Crimson

Robert Wyatt/Soft machine/Matching Mole

If you have a google music account you can shuffle this playlist:

After some hours try some Mozart or Miles Davis or Ligeti  (let's start from easy) and discover the new perspective...

Why don't you try for example this to test your improvement?

It is not complexity the variable that makes music compatible with jazz and classical, but the role of repetition in the texture of the musical piece. As a paradox listening to some bubblegum pop is useful in the process of learning, some sophisticated guitar heroes with blues  or metal mindset are not.

There are three kinds of listening strategies and the first music you are exposed  in the morning can boost your listening skills in a direction for the rest of the day.

Radiohead --> Western
Beatles      -->  Folk
Velvet Underground --> Minimalist

Western is what you need for classical music.

Western listeners don't care about repetition.
Folk listeners need repetition to be hooked.
Minimalist listeners focus on repetition only.

In ethnomusicology there is a complete corrispondence with European (Western), African, Indian (Folk), Javanese/Balinese (Minimalism).

Western has linear time development, Folk circular, Minimalism cyclic.

The origin of this speculation is the empirical evidence that Musica Ricercata 1 and 2 by Ligeti are perfectly compatible with the tradition.

Frank Zappa"I like Queen. I like Gentle Giant.
Actually I get more surprises listening to a 'Queen' 
album than I get out of Jimi Hendrix's albums."

Hans Keller"The Pink Floyd. 
The first is that what you heard at the beginning, 
that short bit, those few seconds,
 are really all I can hear in them,
 which is to say to my mind,
 there is continuous repetition
 and proportionally they are a bit boring."

Lou Reed"One chord is fine. 
Two chords is pushing it. 
Three chords and you're into jazz."

Good evening,

after years (about SIXTEEN) of trial and error, I finally found a routine to train my brain to be emotionally involved by the most interesting and complex classical, contemporary and jazz music, WITHOUT ANY EXPOSURE TO IT and WITHOUT ANY FATIGUE!

Because I am going to take you exactly there: in the INTERSECTIONS: the three colored spots you see in the picture below.
This time we are not moving, we are JUMPING. A quantum leap exactly toward THE RESULT.

And you have to do nothing at all, just recognize that you are already THERE. This is a natural sensual awakening process: you need not to read or study anything. Just listen to music you already like!

You are not believing me, I know, but in my definition the  pop/rock artists listed here from Frank Zappa to Alicia Keys are classical music or as I prefer to call it Western. When you become a pure Western listener you cannot avoid recognizing value or pleasure in each one of these. And when this happens you already have the skill to listen to classical, jazz and contemporary music without any effort and you are able to decode it at first listening.

If you don't know where to start, try some David Bowie. He a sort of a swiss knife.

In my model there are three kind of listener, Western, Folk and Minimalist.

The Western ear is what you need for classical music and jazz.
The Folk ear is what you need for blues, classical indian, world music and most rock bands/guitar heroes.
The Minimalist ear is what you need for ... er ... um ... well guess what? Minimalism :) and also techno, djent, hip hop, hardcore punk...

If you have the folk ear it is easier to start from Zappa and Prince, if you have the minimalist ear it is easier to start from Wyatt and King Crimson. In fact the first 4 artists are a self-contained and well tested routine that works very well.

The idea of the method is drawing a boundary and not let you scatter too far from the Western diagram. Every listener in the course of his or her life in fact moves freely in this space. If you want to obtain a designed goal, it is better to isolate.

The only variable that distinguish the three kind of genres/listeners is repetition.

A western listener doesn't need repetition to frame the content. He tends to ignore repetition.
A folk listener looks for a dialogue between repetition and content. He needs both repetition and content alternating.
A minimalist listener enjoys repetion as an independent object. He tends to ignore the content.

A western listener never stops paying attention to the direction of time and puts its own energy to it.
A folk listener charges during repetition and uses this energy to continue for a while.
A minimalist listener is open to  continuous flow of energy.

Picture that as arrows and loops. A pure western listener just cares about the arrow moving forward in time. A pure minimalist listener just cares about loops closing back into themselves.
In folk music there are answers and responses, in minimalism only answers, in western music an entire conversation.

In some papers on the internet about ethnomusicology I found the following definition of time structure of music:

European = linear
African    = circular
Javanese/Balinese = cyclical

that fits very well with the intuitive difference I am talking about.

In hybrid musics loops and arrow can be arranged in a way to catch different kind of listeners.

Beginners jumps continuosly between the intersections believing each time that they had a revelation. They change tastes continuosly. They spend time "learning" new records, while the truth is that they are switching back and forth between the intersection.
And they miss a lot of fun, because there is scarcity in the intersections and abundance in the vast regions of "pure" musical forms.
Seasoned listeners can find an equilibrium and enjoy one of the three large sets.

In the intersections, where rock/pop music and crossover lay, there is conflict between opinions. In the pure regions there is peace. Have you ever read on the internet a fight about Anton Bruckner, Muddy Waters or La monte Young? Never. Because or you love them if you are respectively a Western, a Folk or a Minimalist listener, or you simply don't care.

It's in the middle spot, where David Bowie, Beatles, Pink Floyd songs are that people spend days arguing.  Because they have three different perspective of the same objects.

That's why Frank Zappa was engaged by Queen and Gentle Giant and not by Hendrix. And why the classical trained pop reviewer of the BBC was bored by Pink Floyd. That's why Lou Reed believed one chord was what he needed to make music he liked.

Frank Zappa is mainly engaging for Western listeners.
Hendrix, Pink Floyd are mainly engaging for Folk listeners.
Lou Reed is mainly engaging for Minimalist listeners.

Since rock is a contamination music and these guys wander nearby the border of intersections, it is not uncommon that each listener can have a good opinion on part of their production, but a real Western listener can enjoy all the Zappa discography.

In this procedure there is nothing at all to learn, just let your brain slowly desensitize to repetition and starting paying attention to the arrow of time flowing doing absolutely nothing new.

If you are a musician you are going to tell me: STOP there is repetition in all the artists you selected. You are fooling us badly! Actually there is a lot of repetition in classical music and jazz too!

Fortunately if you are a musician I can explain you very simply, in the hypothesis you share this terminology (pedals vs drones, jazz riffs vs rock riffs):
a western listener is sensitive to jazz riffs, ostinatos, vamps, pedals, patterns
a folk listener is sensitive to circular riffs, blues licks, scales, call and response phrases
a minimalist listener is sensitive to loops and drones.

Plain and simple: Santana and Who are using Jimmy Page and Rolling stones language with respectively a jazz and classical grammar. Velvet underground and Sonic youth with a minimalist grammar.
Genesis,Pink Floyd, Dream theater, Emerson Lake & Palmer do the opposite: they use classical and jazzy vocabolary in a bluesy like texture. I consider them folk.

Let's go to the practical implementantion of the method.

It is easy as you can't even figure: pick from this list someone you ALREADY LIKE and start listening as soon as possible! There is no need to force you listening to something you don't want to. Skip what you are not interested and start from what you need to listen right now.

The first part of the selection has a stronger effect.

Frank Zappa


King Crimson

Robert Wyatt/Soft machine/Matching Mole

If you are in a hurry and want to shorten your learning time just listen to the first four and push it.

The following are complementary.

Steve Vai

Jonny Greenwood/Radiohead

Animals as leaders

Stevie Wonder



Joni Mitchell

Donald Fagen/Steely Dan

Peter Hammill/Van der graaf generator

The Residents

Captain Beefheart

Beach Boys/Brian Wilson

Tim Buckley

Gentle Giant


David Bowie

The Pop Group

The Who

Queen/Freddie Mercury

Alicia Keys

If nothing hooks or you are tired try to pick something from this emergency routine to bootstrap.
Remember: don't listen something you don't like. Try it and then skip it. You learn only through pleasure.

N.E.R.D./Pharrell Williams/The neptunes


Pere Ubu


Red Hot Chili Peppers

Brian Eno


Talking Heads

Taylor Swift



The Clash

Soap & Skin


Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow, Blackmore's Night)


Geez, this seems very long to read, so meanwhile... put your headphones on and press play on the video to start listening to some contemporary classical music. Doesn't it seem scary, uh?

Just few days (or hours) of listening to random tracks sparsely from this selection of artists, at present considered pop/rock, can actually change your listening habits and train you through a fascinating and mind-blowing sensorial experience.

Listening is doing: it is an active process. When we listen we select sounds, structures and detect relations between them. You can get easily lazy in doing that and most popular music is not strong enough to stimulate your abilities.

I tested that if you listen to random tracks from these artists something reinforces subconsciously your skills and improves your emotional response to classical, jazz and contemporary.
At the end of this process you can just try to listen to Bach, Brahms, Schoenberg, Ligeti, Boulez, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Berg, Stravinskij, Xenakis, Stockhausen, Ockeghem, Eric Dolphy and get it at the first glance. I don't mean intellectual understanding, I mean emotional rapture.

This list of artists has been selected using both a bottom-up and top-down approach.
Top down, judging the complexity of their language accordingly to what music theorists say about them.
Bottom up, discovering the hidden complexity of their music, using the skill learned listening other artists previously present.

The process in fact is self-reinforcing: you listen a tune by Zappa for example and after you get something in a tune by King Crimson you had never noticed in years. Eventually I learned even how to fully enjoy Trout mask replica by Captain Beefheart for the first time in my life.

I tried to be the most objective possible. Actually in this list there are some I used to consider obnoxious and most of my heroes are not present. And there are some surprises.

These musicians have a mindset that oblige them to deploy a some sort of complexity in their work no matter how frivoulous is their intent. So there is no need to start from best or most underrated work.
You can actually start from Creep by Radiohead for example, or Maria Maria by Santana or Empire state of mind by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.

I am not an encyclopedist and probably someone could have been inserted in addition, but this list works and covers many needs, styles, ages.
I didn't include musicians, like Allan Holdsworth for example, that can be considered jazz tout-court. My goal was to use pop/rock musicians only.

I know that you are disappointed because some of your favourite bands are not in here. And I assure you, some of my favourites are not in here too!
In fact some of the most respected pop and rock artists would fit better in a routine called Teach yourself how to listen to blues and folk music without doing or The easy way to minimalism.

In these years I've used the weirdest jargon to classify music according to the listening strategy. I've used numbers, colors, whatever. It is simplier stick to common language used in literature because it fits better: there is a mindset useful to listen to art music, another for folk music, another for minimalism. We are talking about learning to listen to art music and get this mindset in a robust, consistent and efficient way.

There is nothing magical about it, the more you are exposed to one of the three meta-genres, you more you get good at it. It is just a matter of habit and practice, lasting days or weeks: not years.
And differently from what I've tried and suggested in the previous years, this technique is about adding, not replacing.

In the recent years I started thinking with a sport-like metaphor: it is like driving a car, swimming, running. There is no reason why you can't learn more than one skill, but practicing one will lead you nowhere regarding the other twos.

Listening to Dream Theater for example can be a tour de force, there is a lot of sophistication , but you will practice the folk ear much more. Alicia Keys is absolutely easy listening, but is like stretching the muscle you need and fits better. 

It is field-tested: if you put a Beethoven Symphony after hours of Petrucci's stuff, you have to wait minutes for your brain to adjust, if you listen for half an hour this girl and switch to Sturm sonata, you are already there.

Some jazz musicians are very good in understanding the aesthetics of folk and blues music.
Some classical and avant garde composer are very good in understanding the aesthetics of minimalism.
Simple examples: Miles Davis was a close friend of Jimi Hendrix, Ornette Coleman used to hang out with Velvet Underground. Fausto Romitelli was a Sonic Youth fan.

I have an idea that art music mindset regards paying attention to sequences distant in time (for example scales, melodies, patterns) no matter what texture it is used (monophonic or polyphonic) or as music theorists say extensional music, loops (if present) only have the function of setting the context in which structures develope in time; folk mindset about alternating between paying attention to sequences (for example solos) and loops (for example riffs) and minimalism mindset is about paying attention mainly to loops (intensional music).

This is why classic rock fans (folk mindset) can be considered weak listeners of both art music and minimalism and it is a sweet spot to start for both goals.

The key characteristic is repetition. In art music it is accessory, in folk music it is important, in minimalism is predominant.
Steve Reich is not minimalistic, but art music because his phasing developes in time clearly. And Radiohead/Greenwood music too. Einstein on the beach by Philip Glass is definetely minimalism in this context.

Another metaphore: picture a stone, like in Stonehenge, a piece of art music is monolitic, folk music is fragmented, fractured, minimalism is pulverized.
There are records, songs in the career of greatest rock band that can fit in my model for learning how to listen to classical music, but it is episodic, not consistent and reliable. Mainly pop/rock musicians appeal to folk listener or minimalist listener.

To avoid any misunderstanding or bad feeling about this selection, I don't think these are the best pop/rock artist ever: it is not my job decide or argue about this. Everybody can get his or her valid opinion about who are the best; I think these are not rock and roll/pop at all but in fact art music disguised. Someone can call them crossover. I think they have crossed.

Blackstar by David Bowie could have been published by ECM for the quality and the style of the music.

The difference can be subtle, but I took care of this for you. For example Peter Gabriel-era Genesis are (according to my test)  a contamination of rock with classical elements and are not in this list, Steve Vai and Van der Graaf Generator are straight contemporary classical music played with rock instrumentation.
It is not that far in this case, like going from Toronto to Buffalo, but there are Niagara Falls in the middle.

This stuff started to work exactly when I realized that I wasn't going to rank the best, my favourite or the most interesting, but just the most useful to the goal.

I mean, my old classical/jazz/contemporary routine, tested and working since 2002,  contains only three artists: JS Bach, Charlie Parker, Schoenberg! and since then Beethoven, Berio and Coltrane have never mailed me to file a complaint :)

It is just something to do  once in a while, when you realize your listening skills are weakened: prepare a playlist on your streaming service, shuffle it and enjoy the experience!

The most interesting part of this practice, beside getting better at enjoying classical and jazz music, is to re-listen to some of your records with a new ear and finding things that were there but how come I've never noticed?

There are no constraints other than sticking to people present in this list for certain amount of time: some hours, some days... the more is better. You can start from someone you already appreciate.


A question:


Because there were side effects:

in particular every time I lost the sensibility to popular music, that seemed me as noise except for some Zappa's records. I had my issues also with Mozart, Mahler, Debussy, Renaissance, Miles Davis, some avant-garde like spectral music and some free jazz.


In modern popular music there are too many harmonics (heavy distortions) and unconventional voice leading, and if you use the old one routine (Bach, Parker, Schoenberg) you become a (too much) specialized listener, unable to deal with those. 


The key ingredients of this recipe are both COMPLEXITY and VARIETY, so the more random and disordered you approach this stuff, the better it works. SHUFFLE SHUFFLE SHUFFLE. Start from something you like and while you reach something you don't like just skip it after a minute if you are not yet ready. This is meant to be fun!


Led Zeppelin
Jason Becker 
Dream Theater 
Eric Clapton
Peter Gabriel
Joe Satriani
Funkadelic/Parliament/George Clinton
James Brown
 Blues (BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters,  Bobby Parker, Robert Johnson,
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown,John Mayall,Buddy Guy...)
Classical Indian music (Ravi Shankar for example)
Bob Dylan
Pink Floyd/Barrett/Gilmour  
John Fahey
Megadeth/Iron Maiden/Metallica
Emerson Lake & Palmer
Aretha Franklin
The Aristocrats/Guthrie Govan
Grateful dead


Einstein on the beach by Philip Glass
Glenn Branca
Lou Reed 
Velvet Underground 
Husker du 
Nick Drake
Sonic Youth 
Royal Trux
La Monte Young
Gamelan/Lou Harrison

As a personal suggestion: make a choice, at least for an year or two!

Find an equilibrium: try to became a good classical musical listener, or a good blues listener. It is quite straightforward to become a blues listener and I did it for a couple of years (2017-2018): start from the roots (Robert Johnson) and you'll have a century of good music up to present day guitar heroes Derek Trucks, John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan, Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa. I had still the blues ear when Eric Clapton Christmas album was released and it is really good. So, I confirm there is a lot of fun there.

If you fool around here and there you will always have a restricted perspective of both universes because you will be just jumping from an intersection to another missing vast grasslands of artistic expression and shining beauty.

Another personal opinion: minimalism is not a good place to stay. It is an equilibrium state too, but there is little fun there.

After Prince made me come back to classical ear, I felt back home in a certain sense and this is the end of the journey at least for me.

I am grateful to Rick Beato for sharing for free on youtube a lot of analysis and insight that fastened me the classification of artists.

I am passing you the map, have a nice trip!

A theory about musical tastes and listening strategies. The role of repetition in perception of music. from r/musicology

A theory about musical tastes and texture: the difference between western, folk and minimalism from r/musictheory