Featured Article for January 29th, 2016
On the Perception of Music
by Lee Fitzsimmons
The basic emotional impact of music is a thing that is not to be denied. However, there are biases that can affect a listener's perception to different types of music. These biases often play a vital role in the perception of musical sounds when they are heard by a listener. Quite often, a basic change or shift in these biases can lead to an enormously different perception in the way that different kinds of music are heard.
The most important of these biases are those that are cultural in nature. When these factors come into play, the less developed ear of the common music listener—especially someone who has received little or no musical training—is often the most heavily affected by this phenomenon. Since musical technicalities are not well noticed by musically untrained individuals, the culture that is associated with many forms of music often comes to the forefront when music is heard by these types of listeners.
Thus, if the cultural elements associated with a particular genre of music are either liked or disliked, then these elements of bias usually accompany the perception of musical sounds.
Other biases that affect musical creations are the visual elements involved. While there are an infinite number of creative options that link music to various kinds of visual stimuli, the most common have always been the look and movements of the performers. If the dance and dress of the performers are not liked by the listener, then the actual sound itself is often perceived in a more negative fashion and vice versa. However, it should always be remembered that music itself is only sound—nothing more and nothing less.
Another factor to consider is the title of the work itself. The name of a work will set the stage for the listener to perceive the work of music. Quite often, many individuals will make up their mind about a piece of music right after hearing the title. It is also interesting to note that every person will have differing conceptions about how music should sound just by the words used to describe it.
So are the non-musical aspects associated with music important? It depends on your definition of importance. However, if you are an artistic purist who claims that the only thing that should matter is the sound of the music itself and nothing else, then these other elements could be described as distractions.
Therefore, depending on your philosophical mindset, the visual and cultural elements of music could be classified as either distractions or enhancements, depending on your opinion.
Thus, the beauty of music is not always found in the ear of the beholder, but is often found within the mind.
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