On Musical Form: Is one way better than another?

The one session I didn’t go to at the Hutchmoot was the one dealing with song. I am a fan of music, but my back was not a fan of sitting any longer on that particular day.

Later the same day, however, I got the chance to ask one of the many musicians hanging around at the moot a question I’ve had for a while now:

Why does so much new music follow more or less the same form?

That form goes something like this: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus. Years ago I noticed that my own musical interests were going a different direction from the norm. I grew up listening, well, to what my friends were listening too, and then migrated to loud “Christian music” because I wanted to be more holy, and then in college began to develop my own ear, so to speak, for music. You can see a little more about this progression in the Soundtrack of My Life.

The musician’s answer was interrupted by someone wanting to buy a CD, but the long and short of his response was that that I was out of the ordinary as an artist and thus making these kinds of observations, and that the form is used in order to make it easier for listeners to remember the songs. He made it pretty clear musicians, in general, in Nashville, want people to easily recall their music.

I did learn something in the brief little conversation, but I still have questions. Shouldn’t musicians be working imaginatively with musical form though as “artists?” Shouldn’t they be creating things that are memorable in new ways? The musician I talked to pointed out some successful diversion from the common popular form, but they still seemed like a simplistic solution in my untrained opinion.

Are a lot of musicians creating for the lowest common denominator?

I’m also trying to figure out if the idea of memorability enters into the mind and process of a visual artist, a painter or a sculptor. It never has for me that I recall, not in the way that the musician in Nashville suggested anyway. Of course, music has a wonderful enigmatic superpower that the other arts just don’t. Our minds are drawn to it in a way they are not necessarily drawn into processing colors on a canvas or words on a page.

An interesting musical contrast to the make-it-memorable-mentality might be Herva, who I wrote about last year in a post titled The importance, and trap, of artistic freedom. Herva wrote

I want to make music with my heart and my hands, to paint or write (or whatever) with my insides (intelligence, spirit, guts, soul) guiding my choices. Will anyone pay for it? I have no idea. Will anyone other than me think it’s good? No clue. But I have to allow myself not to care or worry about that right now. Every creator I’m a fan of creates things oozing in singularity, works that rise out of the sludge due to their originality, clarity, and vision.

This is the opposite end of the spectrum, it would seem, from the person I talked to in Tennessee. Is there a right kind of way to make music? Is there a correct way to paint a painting? Or should the questions be reworded, “Is there a better way to make music, or a painting?”

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

One Response to On Musical Form: Is one way better than another?

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post… got an entire post in response at my blog, here.

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