Frank Zappa once said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." He may be right in a way, but being able to actively describe music allows you to appreciate it more. If you get into the habit of analyzing music and trying to put it into words, you will find that you hear things in it that you might otherwise have missed. Describing a song is also helpful when you are talking to someone and trying to recommend something new to listen to.
Method 1 of 2: Describe Music Objectively
Step 1. Identify the gender
Genres classify music within dominant structures: large amounts of music brought together through a common nuance or structural approach, but generally both. Referring to genre is the easiest way to describe music to someone. Genres may refer primarily to sound, but they come with many preconceptions, including lyrical content and artistic intent. If the song you are trying to describe fits what you know about the genre, the genre tag will be much more useful to you.
- In modern music, it is common for musical groups to draw on two or more genres to develop a unique character of their own. Calling a band "eclectic" is a good start if they play a lot of different genres. However, try to limit gender labels to one or two. More of that will confuse whoever you talk to.
- The Beatles, for example, incorporate many styles, but are generally considered pop. Led Zeppelin can be considered any genre, from progressive to blues to metal, but they are arguably best considered as hard rock with blues influences.
- For example, you can say: “Obombration by Deathspell Omega is an interesting song from the band. It has an orthodox black metal atmosphere, but the instruments used are largely orchestral, so it sounds like very dark classical music. "
Step 2. Study the letters
Most of the songs you will hear are quite clear in their themes. Many pop songs, for example, refer to romantic encounters the singer had. If the meaning of the song is still not obvious to you, do your research online to find out what the song is about. Many songs, especially the classics, will have some information about the history behind them. Using this story in conjunction with your description will help specify the nature of the song.
For example, you might say, “Pink Floyd's Dogs tells a story of dogs that are naturally aggressive, but it's also a cynical comment on the 'dog eat dog' mentality in modern society. This cynical undertone has a great effect on the atmosphere of the song. "
Step 3. Educate yourself in formal notation
Formal notation is the way musicians accurately describe the objective details of music to their peers. It takes years to develop a masterful understanding of notation, but having a general idea about the tools musicians use to communicate with each other will go a long way.
- The "clef" of a song refers to the chords and the set of notes that it predominantly uses. A "minor clef", for example, tends to sound intrinsically sad, while a "major clef" is often motivating.
- The beat refers to the speed of the music or the speed of the rhythm.
Step 4. List the participating musicians
Giving an overview of the specific people involved in creating the music is most important in performance-based musical styles, such as jazz. For popular styles of music, telling someone which singers are involved will give them a better idea of the sound of the song. Many of the better known singers have very distinctive vocal qualities, and simply mentioning a name can give the person you are speaking with a clearer idea of what to expect in a song.
For example: “In a Silent Way by Miles Davis is a wonderful album, and I think much of it is due to the fact that Chick Corea and John McLaughlin (among others) participated in it. If you listen carefully, you can hear their personalities blend with Davis's. "
Method 2 of 2: Describe Music Subjectively
Step 1. Listen to the music carefully
Even more than a formal analysis of music, getting a full emotional reaction requires that you really dedicate yourself to listening to it. Find a time and place where you are not likely to be distracted and play the song. Allow yourself to focus on the mood of the song. Listen carefully to the lyrics if you have any. As you listen to the music, try to find out how the artist felt when he wrote the song. Giving your heart and mind to the music will make it much easier to convey your personal response to the material.
Listening with headphones is often the most convenient way to listen carefully. It helps to block out all external sound, and you will be able to identify the details of the mix more clearly
Step 2. Read music reviews
Music journalists and critics take it upon themselves to describe music in a way that sounds intensely descriptive and engaging, or unattractive. Music reviews have become a very useful medium in the internet age, and you can usually read a lot of reviews about darker albums. Reading some of them can give you a better understanding of how to describe music yourself. Pitchfork online magazine is often recommended in this regard, but the flashy style of writing isn't for everyone. More specialized and alternative outlets like Heathen Harvest Periodical or Prog Sphere Magazine can provide better examples of descriptive writing.
Music reviews are also in print. Newspapers will often include them alongside movie reviews. You can also buy music books that will focus specifically on a band, scene, or genre
Step 3. Try to visualize the music
Actively viewing the music you listen to is related to mindful focus. If you are looking for interesting ways to describe music, it is a good idea to meditate and imagine the music, and to score a scene in a movie that you imagine in your mind. The active music viewing process may seem slow at first if you're not used to it, but otherwise it can be a great way to appreciate music without distraction.
For example: if the music is sad, you can visualize rain or images of death and loss. If the music is upbeat, you can think of a car racing down a highway. If the music is soft, you may remember the image of kittens curled up in a hand-knit blanket. Neither interpretation is wrong. If an image honestly pops into your mind due to music, it must be for a good reason
Step 4. Use metaphors and poetic language
Music itself is an intensely personal and creative adventure with poetry inherent in its very nature. It makes sense that descriptions of music can and should be poetic as well. If someone is emotionally enthralled by a piece of music, they will often explain their feelings in terms of a metaphor. Metaphors and other descriptive poetic devices (such as comparisons) will allow you to describe the emotional experience of music.
- For a metaphor, you can say: "Paracletus (Paracleto) from Deathspell Omega, is an absolute whirlwind of calculated insanity."
- For comparison, one can say: "Anton Bruckner's first symphony sounds like going to a night gala at the height of 19th century Prussia."
Step 5. Compare the song with other songs you have heard
If you listen to a song that left a particular impression on you, you can probably compare experiencing the music to something else you have heard in the past. Comparing music to another is a solid way to develop strong associations and expectations in the other person's mind. The music comparison can be done in objective terms (genre, time signature, musicians, etc.) or subjective (mood, tone, etc.).
For example: “A Change of Seasons by Dream Theater reminds me quite a bit of Close to the Edge by Yes in terms of its vast design, but is obviously a bit darker and heavier in comparison.”
- If you're still having trouble describing a song that you like, it's always helpful to ask a friend what they think. Have a friend listen to the song in question and ask them to describe it to you. Someone else's example can help your own descriptive creativity flow more easily.
- Music appreciation is definitely a skill, and an important one too. There are many innate benefits of music appreciation, and knowing how to describe the music you listen to is sure to deepen your ability to enjoy it.
- Understand that there are certain things about music that you can never convey to your satisfaction with words alone. Some things need to be felt directly to be fully understood. Music is no exception.
- Don't get too stressed out when describing the music. If a proper way to describe a song is not immediately obvious, there is probably a reason for it. Being very stressed will prevent you from properly interacting with the material. If you think this is the case, take a step back, wait a moment, and come back to the song again when you feel more balanced.