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4.3 out of 5 stars
What to Listen for in Music (Signet Classics)
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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2004
THIS IS A BOOK FOR PEOPLE AT ALL LEVELS - LAYMAN, COMPOSER, OR ADVANCED MUSIC LOVER. "Why should one have to learn or need guidance on how to listen to what one is hearing?" is the question that William Schuman asks in his Preface. "The answer is simple. Listening to music is a skill that is acquired through experience and learning. Knowledge enhances enjoyment."
What makes What to Listen for in Music so invaluable is that it is the ONLY book on musical appreciation written by a GREAT COMPOSER. "This is a composer's book," Aaron Copland states. "Given the chance, every composer would like to know two very important things about anyone who takes himself seriously as a music lover...1. Are you hearing everything that is going on? [and] 2. Are you really being sensitive to it?"
The only shortcoming of this book is that it should be taken as part of a class to make sure that one gets everything out of it. It would be great if it came with a CD of all the examples to which Copland makes reference. However, each chapter does end with a list of "recommended listening." To make specific points, Copland does include sheet music (but I didn't read this book sitting next to my piano). However, these problems are minimal, considering we live in an age of the cheap CDs and music downloads.
Copland covers EVERY aspect of music, starting with "how we listen," - on the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane. He then goes on to explain to us the Four Elements of Music - Melody, Rhythm, Harmony, and Tone Color. We find out about all the musical instruments, their history and classifications. We find out about all the genres in music - Sectional Form, Variation Form, Fugal Form, Sonata Form, Free Form. Did you know that Sonata Form includes symphonies as well? And that symphonies grew out of operatic overtures?
This is a book that bears re-reading. A lot of technical jargon gets bandied about and, although Copland does his best to explain it all, it still gets a tad confusing. I advise reading this book, listening to a LOT of music, and then reading it again. I know my own knowledge and appreciation of music has grown from reading it. Now I DO have an idea of the nuances I should be listening for in a Mozart piano concerto.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 1998
Anybody who has any interest in music owes it to themselves to read this book. In this definitive guide to musical enjoyment, Aaron Copeland takes a look at how to listen to music intelligently. Two questions are addressed in this interesting, in-depth study: Are you hearing everything that is going on? Are you really being sensitive to it?
It doesn't matter what kind of music you enjoy, everyone can get something out of this book. Though relating more closely to classical music, Aaron Copeland's ideas for listening to music will give the reader a better appreciation and understanding of whatever music they listen to.
From reading this book you will gain insight into the creative process of a composer. In laymen's terms, the book describes the way composers write music as well as how they actually listen to it. It explains that there are three separate planes upon which music is listened to. They are the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane. Copeland goes on to tell how music is heard on each plane and explains how each works, which I found very interesting.
Overall, Aaron Copeland's What To Listen For In Music is a good book that I recommend to anyone who has an interest in music or enjoys listening to it. A whole new level of listening ability can be gained from reading this book. It explains music from the composer's point of view, giving you insight into how music is composed, and how to listen to it, which gives you a deeper appreciation of music.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2001
. . . for the listener who enjoys and wants to deepen her understanding of orchestral music.
Aaron Copland built much of his career on writing modern "classical" music that could be enjoyed and appreciated by the common listener. He felt that modern music should communicate to the non-musician, as well as the more experienced one. He knew that if the listener understood what made up the basics of musical composition and structure, that the experience of listening would be tremendously enhanced. This book is in the spirit of that goal, and like his most accessible music, Copland achieves this with a brilliant, conversational eloquence that is neither pandering nor pretentious. I found this book to live up to its title, "What to listen for in music." Copland takes the reader on a step by step journey of what components make up a piece of music; from the different type of composers, through the creative process and the individual elements that support the musical architecture. These elements include rhythm, melody, harmony and tone/texture. Once these are clear, he then is able to talk about a musical work as a whole, which includes its structure the different forms that it takes (eg. sonata form, synphony, opera, etc.) One does not need a musical backround to understand and enjoy this book, and yet the seasoned musician will also find a refreshing review of the basics of music. Copland loved music and this is always obvious in his joyful presentation. All one need to have to benefit from this book is a curiosity of music and its mysterious ability to move mountains.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This book is akin to Einstein giving you a personal introduction to the foundations of physics. Copeland gently gives you the building blocks to comprehending the structure of music. He reveals both the form and the function of music in a way that is applicable to modern electronica as much as orchestra.

You can read all you want about how some band made it to the top through hard work and good songwriting, or you can read how to merch your t-shirts online to get your band out of the garage. Copeland offers you the chance to go under the hood of music and learn how to hear (and then create if you want) music that will endure.

Forget that Copeland used an orchestra - what he's sharing here will give you some of the tools to create fabulous music in many different genres.

This book has done more for my music than a few years of theory or the hundreds of dollars worth of other books I have read.

Yes, some of you have been to Juliard etc. and are beyond this text, but for the rest of us...jumping in at the deep end of the universe is always more rewarding.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2003
I first heard about Copeland's book a few years ago in a college English composition class, where we had to read a section of the book and write a reader response. The chapter we read was called "How we Listen," and I was immediately struck by how clearly Copeland addressed such a complicated subject, and admired his candidness and honesty.
"What to Listen for in Music" is excerpted from Copeland's series of lectures at the New School in New York City in the late 1930s, lectures that were open to the general public. As such, Copeland's goal was to cover a wide range of musical topics that appealed to musicians and non-musicians alike, from general music theory and harmony to how composers work and the differences in operatic forms, with the premise that one can enjoy music better if he understands the underlying technical aspects better.
Copeland's ideas are very interesting, especially when he talks about the methodological differences between several well-known composers. He talks matter-of-factly about music and the creative process; even comparing a musician's working method to a plumber's so as to de-mystify it. Indeed, Copeland's is a fresh perspective about a subject that has become bogged-down in jargon and egos since its invention. The only forgettable sections of the book come toward the end where Copeland discusses opera and music drama, and some of the fundamental forms such as sonatas and fugues. Frankly, his descriptions become too detailed and I lost interest, feeling like a student in a lecture hall. But, for my intents and purposes, Copeland's work was done.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I checked out this book hoping to gain a new perspective on the music I was listening to, unfortunately chamber music hardly dominates my music playlist. Nevertheless this book provided invaluable information to not only a music lover, but also an active musician. The in-depth description of the various musical forms was interesting and foreign to me. Although I find it hard to believe that this book is really that accessible to non-musicians those music lovers that have never studied music theory would seem to be lost through this at times lofty guide. The most comprehensive method used to illustrate his points in this book were the actually notated music figures and the recommendations of each form at the end of each chapter. Enjoy this book, but beware those not versed in music theory you could be in for some heavy reading.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 1998
I am not a musician...I don't even read music... but I love listening to great orchestral and chamber music. This book is the perfect guide for someone like me. It was absorbing, informative, and entertaining. It explains different structural forms of music, when and how they are used, and how to listen for them. It also explains many terms that I did not know, such as rondo, scherzo, sonata, etc. It has enhanced the pleasure I get from listening to music.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2005
If you know absolutely nothing about music other than your favorite radio station, than this is not the book for you. If on the other hand you've enjoyed some classical music, been to a symphony, or ever played a guitar, the book will launch you into more about music than you ever knew existed. It starts off slowly but gains momentum quickly and it uses written music to demonstrate its points. It uses an outline form and is not too difficult to follow. If ever there was a need for a Book-on-Tape this is it. You really have to hear the music being described to appreciate it. And if you do read the book, make sure you get the 1957 edition as it has chapters on Modern Music and Film Music not present in the original 1939 edition.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2002
Aaron Copland forgot far more than I will ever know about music. In reading this book, I learned a bit about the differences between Sonatas, Concertos and Symphonies. I learned why Beethoven and Wagner are highly regarded, and I can more readily recognize reflections of their styles in the music I hear. I diligently acquired and listened to many of the recordings listed in the back pages, much to my benefit. I've referred many times to a copy of the 1957 edition I've kept on my shelf for years. I learned about many composers I hadn't much listened to or heard much of, and for some of them, I now know why I never listened much. I learned that for me, Bartok, Haydn, Hindemuth, Nielsen, Hugo Wolf, Berg and Stravinsky are boring if not annoying. On the other hand, due to this book, I intentionally heard Couperin, Gesualdo, Palestrina, and Berlioz's "Harold in Italy" for the first time, and much to my delight. Copland and I had different tastes, I suppose. With as much benefit as I got from this book, I can't call it a bad book. But I must confess it was hard for me to read. Copland gets technically deeper than I can follow. Still, it was a good experience for me, and there were some really fine pieces of information. For example, "The first real interpretive problem is presented by the notes themselves. Musical notation, as it exists today, is not an exact transcription of a composer's thought. It cannot be, for it is too vague..." But because it wasn't really a pleasant read, I lopped a star from the rating.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2000
Music, especially great music, is spoken in its own language. If I were to listen to poetry in French (which I don't understand), parts of it may sound pleasing, and overall, be an enjoyable experience, yet, I'd be willing to bet that I'm missing at least some of the author's point. The more you understand a composer's 'vocabulary,' the more enlightened you will become. So, if you are interested in understanding more of what you are listening to, than here is a great place to start. The book is not pious or needlessly academic. Instead, it reads like a conversation with your buddy who happens to be one of this country's most influential composers. Casual listeners and students will both find a few nuggets to take with them on the road of music apprecitation.
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