Hi all, i have been wondering whether anyone knows of some good resources to help with how to critique music and what i should be looking for. Perhaps some websites? I love composing music but am finding that i have little to offer in terms of listening and giving constructive opinions on other peoples work. I feel quite limited when all i can say is that i 'like' something or not. I have done some music theory but would love to improve my education in this area. I think it would benefit my own music composition too. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks and happy composing!

You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –

Replies

  • The best way to critique a piece is give your honest opinion about the piece in the most tactful way possible. If the composer ask you what they would like to critiqued (i.e. mixing advice, notation advice, or opinions about the forum and other elements) in situations its just best to critique just what is asked.

    Keep in mind that critiques do not just have to be your opinions on the piece. If their is a notation error in the orchestration you can point it out (such as the instruments are written out  of the range of that instrument or some isnt idiomatic to the instrument). Or if their are some things mixing wise that you think the composer can improve upon. Critiques like that could be very useful, especially for those who are starting out or learning to write on their own.

  • But thats deppends on the person and its ego. For example I'm the kind of person who takes any constructive critique even without asking for it, but I've been in the many situations before where some people asked me for it and my answers just made them 'not very happy'.So now I'm either not saing anything or just saying 'It's great'. From the othere hand, on this forum i feel that honesty is a priority and that's how it should be ! :)

     

    Anyway, google and wikipedia are you're friends. I've learned classical theory from there ( and how to write from listening to composer and bands ). Production is a bit tougher.

     

    Good luck :)

  • Well said Chris
  • I'm afraid I disagree with most of the sentiments expressed in the replies to your post.

    There is a craft of musical composition whatever anyone says. Just as there is a craft to any art-form.

    The way criticism works is this: The critic ( not necessarily a journalist but perhaps a teacher or mentor) demonstrates a deep understanding and knowledge of her/his subject acquired over a period of time through study and thought.  The critic offers their opinion, yes it is an opinion but it is a considered opinion based on knowledge and/or expertise, on the work in question.

    If the artist recognises and respects the critic's expertise and/or knowledge then the the artist may decide to give some weight to the critic's opinion.

    As a composer I'm worried about one thing only and that is how to become a better composer. Being patted on the back and congratulated and receiving shallow compliments such as "I like that bit  it makes me feel....." or "I enjoyed listening to....it reminded me of...." this is of no use to anyone. Gratifying though it may be, it actually is dangerous because it prevents me from improving.

    If I put a piece of music up for critique, what I want is scrutiny, not casual off hand lazy compliments. 

    I remember as a student, showing a piece to a post graduate who's opinion I had come to respect above even some of my lecturers. He tore into me with things like "why did you do that?" ...."what is the purpose of this?" "why did you bring this section back here?".... etc. 

    By the end of it I was quite depressed but after a few day thinking about the piece I realised he was right. There were too many arbitrary and ill considered elements in my piece that I had no adequate justification for.

    The next piece I wrote was a proper composition, a composition! Everything in it served a purpose, had a reason for being. It wasn't just a bit of self-indulgent waffle pretending to be a composition. It may not have been anything to write home about and nobody would  be rushing to play it but it was soundly constructed, sincere and well executed which is at least a good start.

     

    As for critiquing other peoples music. I am reluctant. except in certain narrow fields where I feel qualified.

     

    All opinions are not equally valid. I don't suppose a surgeon would value my opinion on surgical techniques just because I watched a few televised operations.

    So if you want to be able to make constructive critiques of peoples offerings you'll have to acquire the expertise first. That means study, practice, learn.

     

     

     

  • Michael, I think you've understood where I'm coming from here. This isnt just a general question but something that I'm actually struggling to do-I have people who have taken the time to give me really constructive feedback and then have asked for the same in return, but i feel completely out of my depth most of the time which is a shame as I'd like to return the help. I dont really want to throw comments at people. I understand that the experience and knowledge take years to build up, so I guess what Im really after is a place to start. It would be good to have the context of the piece in mind, an understanding of styles, periods and even the terminology. Sorry, Chris, but im not familiar with some of the terminology you used (those of you who are well versed in these things may not appreciate that lots of us arent). For myself, i think that getting a bit more knowledge of these things would help me to understand what Im composing too. Thanks for all the comments so far-i look forward to hearing more.
  • Chris, you said   "...music and art is not only for the educated, not only for the complex, not only for the historic minded, but it is for everyone. _every_one_. Regardless of technique or competency in a craft created by certain groups. By your definition traditional African song or Balanese microtonal or Tibetan chants would be invalid as music, and you, I'm sorry to say, do not have the authority to claim it so for anyone other than yourself"

     

    Well, I disagree again. Art is certainly not for everyone. It is for those who can be bothered to avail themselves of it. Those who can be bothered to learn how to appreciate what it is. This is not snobbery. And who said anything about defining what makes valid music (whatever that means).

    If I spent my whole life reading at the level of 'The Cat In The Hat' and someone dropped Macbeth in my lap I might find myself struggling. And when my critique goes something like   "well William, I thought it was a bit long and complicated with lot's of puzzling words and phrases for my taste. And perhaps one or two pictures would be nice..." Well I don't expect the Bard or anyone else is going to care a damn for my opinion. It is a worthless opinion.

    If I immersed myself in Balanese microtonal music, became a practitioner of it, studied numerous examples of it, maybe one day I could feel I had enough knowledge to pass comment on it.

    One can't use the same yard stick to measure Beethoven and Bon Jovi, Duke Ellington and Ravi Shankar. One can only judge something on it's own terms. But if one can't distinguish the commonplace, the badly structured, the incoherent, or the derivative from the good, the imaginative and the well made, then it is indeed better to say nothing.

     

    If everything is equally good and equally valid then why doesn't that apply to mixing or production or, anything else in life? Why do (some) people think art and especially music is different. I'll tell you why. Because every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a computer and a bunch of orchestral samples thinks they're a composer. They can churn out drones, loops, pads, hits and a few rudimentary chord progressions and someone somewhere is going to say  "wow I really like your new symphony". 

     

     

     

     


     

  • Mozart's operas were, with the exception of The Magic Flute written for the Court, for the educated aritocracy. I don't think the average Viennese or Parisian cobbler or local farmer spoke much Italian. I take it you mean Richard Strauss (?!!) 

    When you are talking of Cinema, that is already a 'popular' 'art' form.
    And by the way, there were many operas more popular but inferior, circulating at Mozart's time. And I bet if you had asked in R. Strauss's time or now someone in the street to whistle a tune from Salome or Rosenkavalier......mmm!
    Jon Corelis said:

    In their own time, Homeric epic, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare's plays, the operas of Mozart, Verdi, and Strauss, and the films of Hitchcock, Ford, Renoir, Hawks, and Kurosawa were all very deliberately and consciously popular art forms "for everyone."   That's a pretty good record.
  • Anyway my whole point was that anyone and everyone can enjoy some or all of a particular work without having an understanding and appreciation of it. But Beth was talking about making a critical judgement as opposed to just stating if she liked something.  I'm sure the finer subtleties and nuances of Shakespearean drama and especially some of the references contained therein, would have passed unnoticed among the crowd as indeed they pass by me too if I am unfamiliar with the play. And therefore I would not consider myself qualified to critique Shakespeare! 

    I can enjoy the superficial surface of something without understanding the deeper meaning or significance. But then my critique will also be superficial.

    Jon Corelis said:

    I've read that there were special Rosenkavalier Express trains from major cities in Austria and Germany scheduled especially to take the crowds to Vienna performances.

     

    If cinema started out as a popular art form, so did Homeric Epic, Greek tragedy (virtually everyone in Athens went (at least among free citizens), and Shakespearean drama.

     

    You may be right about Mozart; maybe I should have left him out.

  • If one can only determine good or bad for oneself then what is the point of even voicing an opinion? "If I like it , it's good. If I don't like it, it's bad" Is that how it is?

    Is everything subjective then? EVERYTHING ? is it possible to be objective about anything?

    What is an expert witness in court. Just any old body with an opinion? Of course not.

    I never said Beth had no right to critique someone else's work. What I'm trying to say is that it's alright to believe that you don't know enough about something to feel you can pass comment. There are a million different activities that I wouldn't feel qualified express an opinion on let alone pass judgement. I eat food everyday but does that make me as expert as a 5 star chef. People who drink wine for years still may go on a wine tasting course to learn something about what makes a good wine, what to look for, how to be more of a connoisseur.

    I happen to like wine that tastes like vinegar and steak that is as chewy as old leather so in my little world that constitutes a very fine meal.

     

    I already said there's no point in paying attention to professional critics if you know what you are doing better than the critic as was the case with your Beethoven example. Do you think Beethoven cared a damn what some idiot said? If Haydn had said the same thing Beethoven would have cared very much indeed. This is because Beethoven respected Haydn as a peer and teacher who KNEW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT!

    This is the great problem with our post modern relativistic era. Everyone is so scared of calling crap when they see it in case posterity proves them wrong. Cowards all!!



    Chris Alpiar said:

    I never ever ever said that everything is equally good, only that I one can ONLY determine good or bad for oneself and not create a definitive public position. But everything IS equally valid. Have you ever been to MOMA in NYC? I highly urge a visit to this world class museum of modern art. It was shocking to me, every time I visited when I used to live there. Because for me (like you) art has a lot of qualifiers and requirements to fit my definition. And going to MOMA I was amazed and dumbfounded at half the works there. Things that can boggle the mind or affect me emotionally to such a degree as to outcry that emotion publicly. But the other half (to me!) is utter horse manure. Ridiculous the notion was that these "works" would have any place in a "museum" and it made me feel a cross between angry at the museum to allow it and distaste for the artist to be so blatantly fooling the idiots that dont understand art into believing it's art! Kind of how I feel about some of John Cage's works like 4'33" but even more so because there are canvases with a splurt of paint randomly tossed on and thats it, and things like a collection of used infant and toddler toys wrapped up in a huge block made from seran wrap, and a single lump of molten and dried iron. Things that should NOT be in a museum!

    But then I am reminded that ART IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. And while many things will never qualify as art to me, as I have studied and worked hard to interpret the world in ways I deem to be deep and meaningful, these works that I see and hear with disdain are indeed works of art to someone else. One man's trash is another man's treasure. And while I would consider my thoughts on the artistic nature to be highly desirable as litmus testing for humanity on good and bad art, another person would easily be offended by my choices and so indeed I can ONLY EVER choose what is art, especially what is good or bad art, for me. Not for anyone else.

     

    As for this thread, and the idea that someone who is a composer (yes a composer, whatever that means) who claims they dont know enough of the language to discuss the merits and failures, in their perspective, of someone elses compositions, well that seems highly suspect to fit into your argument. By your perspective, based on her own declarations of inability to critique, yet still considering herself a composer, she has no right to critique at all apparently. Now that I completely disagree. She may or may not have the same experiences or knowledge of the musical language that you or I do, but she is sensitive and in tune with the act of creating music on some level or another. And therefore her opinion, as is, without instruction on how to critique "properly" is completely valid and quite valuable.

     

    Lastly consider those who profess to know art in its greatest depth. Professional critics, often composers and musicians themselves. Consider how utterly ridiculous their public critiques often are. To really prove this point I HIGHLY urge you to buy a copy of "The Lexicon of Musical Invective" which is an amazing compilation of classical music critique published about most every famous classical composer, which was put together by Nicolas Slonimsky. HERE IS WHAT ONE CRITIC WROTE ABOUT BEETHOVEN!!!!

    Written in the Zeitung fur die Elegente Welt, in Vienna, in May 1804:

    "Beethoven's Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect"

     

    This book is over 300 pages of similarly ridiculous writings by "educated in the arts experts" and to me it shows that every person can be critical in a good way and be a stupid ass as well, no matter the level of education.

     

    Now on a personal level, I certainly dont disagree with your assessment of the current situation of composers and how technology crutches are allowing tremendous amounts of mediocrity to become the great and the terrible to become the mediocre. But I can only declare this as a matter of opinion, it is not fact, only what you and I perceive as truth based on our experiences and training and dedication.

     

    What we CAN do tho is to push people to make the tough choices, remind people of what WE think is great music and art and why, influence those sitting next to us to see how much more they can be (by giving fair yet not mean critique!), lead by example and create as excellent of musical works as we are able, etc. But to give a pompous judgement of "none of that is art, you are a loser, walk away" is not fair and only is reflective of your ego's need to be validated that you yourself are in the know and others Pffffhsaw just are noobs and idiots. I understand, 20 years ago I was VERY definitive on what is good and what isnt for myself and everyone. If it wasnt on the level of John Coltrane "Transition" it was utter crap in my book, and I let people know that every opportunity I had. But as I grew older, I realized I am a being of the world, of every aspect of music, art and culture. And while I still dont spend time listening to Kenny G (my ex-arch-enemy musically) I dont find him offensive anymore, just not interesting to me. While I still dont enjoy Chopin and Schubert, I respect them both immensely. While I still think that Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Shostokovich are superior to most other composers, I realize that I grew up listening to Crosby Stills and Nash, Jim Croce, and a huge list of 70s pop, blues, rock and soul and those are JUST as valid as Stravinsky. They are not equally as good musically, but they are both quite valid

     


    Michael Tauben said:

    Chris, you said   "...music and art is not only for the educated, not only for the complex, not only for the historic minded, but it is for everyone. _every_one_. Regardless of technique or competency in a craft created by certain groups. By your definition traditional African song or Balanese microtonal or Tibetan chants would be invalid as music, and you, I'm sorry to say, do not have the authority to claim it so for anyone other than yourself"

     

    Well, I disagree again. Art is certainly not for everyone. It is for those who can be bothered to avail themselves of it. Those who can be bothered to learn how to appreciate what it is. This is not snobbery. And who said anything about defining what makes valid music (whatever that means).

    If I spent my whole life reading at the level of 'The Cat In The Hat' and someone dropped Macbeth in my lap I might find myself struggling. And when my critique goes something like   "well William, I thought it was a bit long and complicated with lot's of puzzling words and phrases for my taste. And perhaps one or two pictures would be nice..." Well I don't expect the Bard or anyone else is going to care a damn for my opinion. It is a worthless opinion.

    If I immersed myself in Balanese microtonal music, became a practitioner of it, studied numerous examples of it, maybe one day I could feel I had enough knowledge to pass comment on it.

    One can't use the same yard stick to measure Beethoven and Bon Jovi, Duke Ellington and Ravi Shankar. One can only judge something on it's own terms. But if one can't distinguish the commonplace, the badly structured, the incoherent, or the derivative from the good, the imaginative and the well made, then it is indeed better to say nothing.

     

    If everything is equally good and equally valid then why doesn't that apply to mixing or production or, anything else in life? Why do (some) people think art and especially music is different. I'll tell you why. Because every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a computer and a bunch of orchestral samples thinks they're a composer. They can churn out drones, loops, pads, hits and a few rudimentary chord progressions and someone somewhere is going to say  "wow I really like your new symphony". 

     

     

     

     


     

  • Yes Chris, we probably are of the same mind. Sorry Beth, to get carried away but these are issues I've wrestled with my whole life and I do like a good debate! Thankfully we're talking music and not politics or religion LOL !!



    Chris Alpiar said:

    Well I think you still misunderstand me. I am not saying to not have or voice an opinion. I myself have one of the strongest opinions about a lot of things (noticed? Heh) and I believe also strongly in vocalizing. Because it is the sum of opinions and understanding of those opinions, where they come from and how much experience those people have, that helps to shape the overall feedback being received. I've already mentioned that feedback is crucial to the process, and very healthy. My point is that a laymans opinion of art is just as important as an educated person's and evrything in between. Not as "good" of feedback possibly, but just as valid. Because while that layman might not be educated in the specific details on how to express certain aspects of what they hear or see or feel, they are still experiencing it, and their reaction is just as deep as anyones. So, as the person receiving critique, it's wise to understand who your critic is and their background (a great feature of the Composers Forum is everyone has their own home page to make quick reference to!) but ultimately it's just as important for me to hear (no, not "oh it sounds lovely, blablabla") some explanation of how my piece moved someone or failed to move someone. And keep in mind that while the synergy of CF has sort of whittled itself naturally into more classical and western harmony conceptual discussions, this is not the classical composers forum or the forum for writing in the style of Bach or something. So we aren't and should never be limited to perspective from one specific school of thought. Anyway, I think we essentially agree conceptually, with some small misunderstanding. Good topic for banter IMO I'm sorry Beth that we kind of took it and ran. Pease let's get back to pragmatic thoughts to help Beth be a better critic ;-)
This reply was deleted.