learning to 'read' music

Listening to music is a special task that needs to be learned. Think of it as reading sound. It needs focus, attention and some effort. But despite the efforts, it's mind-blowingly easy. Unlike reading, it takes no special training (music education is helpful, but definitely not required), just a little practice and a little time. When was the last time you sat down in a comfortable chair, put up your feet, turned down the lights, closed your eyes and let yourself get lost in the music?

Some music is easy to hear. It comes at us. It's fun. It doesn't require any effort. On the other hand, the most interesting and rewarding music, doesn't always jump out and grab our attention. It's much more subtle and intriguing. It asks us to shut out the rest of the world. If we do, it gives us a secret gift in return. A far more fulfilling, refreshing, and satisfying gift. But, like salty, fatty, sugary fast food contrasted with great gourmet multi-course dining, not all music is created equal. Some music has more magic, making itself better for listening.

For me there are three broad kinds of music. Background music—easy to hear, easy to ignore. It fills up the blank space of silence with atmosphere. Another is Accompaniment music—music that goes with an activity, dancing for instance. It's diverting and entertaining, and doesn't require concentrated listening to enjoy. The first hovers around unobtrusively, the second flashes and dazzles.

And then, there is Music, with a capital M and no adjective. Put on some Music in the background and you might find it annoying or boring or both. It's often distracting and inappropriate for most activities. Only when you slow down for a moment, taking some time out to 'read' this kind of music, can you discover what's lying under its surface. Only when you focus you ears will it reveal its secrets—layers upon layers of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic magic. It is filled with nimble musings that twist around one another, creating a musical conversation, painting a gigantic mural of emotion with sound. This is sonic Art. This is Music. And this is its Achilles' Heal.

'Classical' music or Art music has a small audience because the best of it makes demands. It doesn't grab your attention. It doesn't force itself into your ears, rather, it whispers an invitation to you to come inside its sonic wonderland. It requests you to commune with it. And if you accept the invitation, you'll be amazed by your vast new discoveries.

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