Changing your tune on music you hate

It has happened to all of us.  You settle into your seat for a concert performance, begin looking through your program, and there it is a piece of music you’ve never heard by a composer you don’t recognize.  No problem.

Maybe it’s a student of Mozart’s or someone who studied orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakov, or Ravel’s next door neighbor.  Wait its a world premiere?  Something written in 2013?  Your palms begin to sweat and your pulse increases.

Is this how you or someone you know reacts to classical music being written today, or even 20th century classical?  It doesn’t need to be that way.  While I can’t guarantee you’ll like everything you hear, there is a way to relax and potentially enjoy something new that doesn’t require therapy or hypnosis.

There’s a scene in Back to the Future (which you can watch below) in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) finds himself playing guitar with a band in the 1950s.  When he breaks into a guitar solo, the entire dance comes to a screeching halt.  Seems he started throwing down some riffs from the 1980s which the left the high school students scratching their heads.  His comment was, “Guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet…but your kids are gonna love it!”

I can attest to that myself.  When I began doing mornings at WOSU-FM, I spent a lot of time digging through the music library to see what was there.  Some of what is considered standard repertoire was music my ears didn’t understand.  That didn’t make the music bad, I just didn’t have the point of reference necessary to make sense out of what I was hearing, much less enjoy it.

Conversely, there are a number of compositions I have gone back and listened to in recent years which made me ask myself, “What was I thinking playing that?”

Music is like food or wine, tastes change, one dish offers a point of reference for the next one, one wine leads to another.

A study by Australia’s University of Melbourne suggests that lack of enjoyment of a musical piece can be our brain having difficulty deciphering chord structures and combinations that are unfamiliar.

It’s believed that the brain may be unable to pick out individual notes or parts of a chord which allows us to begin to untangle the music, something akin to hearing words in a foreign language.

In the above-mentioned study, researchers then gave the participants with no previous musical training some music theory instruction.  According to their responses, the dissonance level decreased, because they were able to better decipher what they were hearing.

It’s always a roll of the dice when a new piece of music is commissioned.  You never know what you’re going to get.  However, if your ears are ready, or you give it a second listen, you might hear things in there in a new and more enjoyable way.

Read more: Can you learn to like music you hate? (NPR)