Do ever say something’s no good, when you really mean you don’t like it?
A friend of mine recently posted a video of a musician playing a ‘show off’ technical solo and asked whether it was really musical.
Which got me thinking…
We all have a set of values we use to evaluate music. These values are ones you’ve learned, they’re culturally determined, they’re neither right nor wrong. But lots of people seem not to have realised this and instead talk as if their particular values are universal.
Someone I know who really likes classical music, with its focus on harmony and melody, was happy to suggest that Stormzy might not be music. They didn’t just say they didn’t like it, they seriously suggested it wasn’t music.
Someone else I know shared a piece of writing that surfaces every few months online. That piece suggests that modern pop music isn’t good because it doesn’t have complex harmony. When challenged, this friend asserted as fact that complexity and a sophisticated use of harmony were universal values that can be used to judge all music.
These attitudes are, to put it mildly, totally nuts. It’s the same attitude that questioned whether jazz was proper music or said that rock n roll was inspired by the devil. You can use your values to judge whether you like something, but you can’t use them to say another form of music isn’t valid.
That heavy metal guitar playing is too fast and seems obsessed with technique rather than playing a nice melody? Maybe rather than condemning it you should consider that the audience expects to hear stuff at that speed and are alive to the subtleties. Maybe you should consider the deliberate attempt in some heavy metal guitar pedagogies to explicitly follow on from baroque violin virtousos like Paganini, and how similarity to that style is a plus not a minus. Maybe, in short, you shouldn’t assume that your own values are relevant to judging how good the music is.
You might dislike it (sounds like I might too), but so what? ‘I don’t like it’ is true, but it’s a pointless, narcissistic thing to say. If you want to discuss whether music is any good, ‘Is the artist achieving their aims’ is the correct question to ask.