History of Electroacoustic Music

Guidelines for Listening

Much of the music that is examined in this class is strange or unusual. This does not make the music good or bad -- in fact, a quick judgment of the pieces is likely to get in the way of appreciating them.

The key to appreciating music of any kind is to come to some estimation of the composer's intention in creating the piece.

It also helps to develop a number of listening tools to help yourself make sense of what may initially sound confusing. To this end, it may be helpful to make note of a number of questions to ask as you listen:

  • Basic materials/instrumentation -- what are the instruments or sound types that are used in the piece?
  • Tone color/timbre -- what are the sound types used in the piece? Are they smooth, buzzy, noisy, etc.?
  • Tempo -- is the piece fast, slow, or medium? Does the tempo remain the same throughout the piece, or does it change?
  • Dynamics -- is the piece loud, soft, or medium? Does the dynamic remain the same throughout?
  • Meter -- does the piece have a beat? Can you tap your foot to it? The meter is a consistent pulse that you can tap your foot to.
  • Rhythm -- what is the relationship of the musical events to the meter? Do events/notes fall on metric beats, or between them?
  • What role do rhythm and a repeating pulse (meter) seem to play in the piece as a whole?
  • Melody -- does the piece have a melody? If it does, is it stepwise (consisting of pitches that are close to each other in succession) or disjunct (featuring large melodic leaps)?
  • Contour -- what is the shape of the melody? Ascending? Descending? An arc? Something else?
  • Tessitura -- does the piece use predominantly high or low pitches?
  • Motif -- is there a recognizable motif at any point in the piece? (Perhaps the most famous motif in Western music is the "da-da-da DUM" that begins Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.) Does anything in the piece function as something recognizable that is repeated and developed?
  • Refrain -- is there a refrain or chorus that is repeated periodically?
  • Phrasing -- are there clearly delineated phrases? Do phrases end with clear cadential patterns of any sort?
  • Sections -- how many sections does the piece have? How do they differ?