There are a bunch of reasons that you might get put off listening to classical when you first start. Some things seem like a really big deal initially, but before long you’ll adjust and get used to them. Here’s a list of some of the most common problems you might encounter when first starting to listen to classical:
- Understanding a piece isn’t trivial – It takes much, much longer to get familiar with a piece compared to almost any other form of music. Lady Gaga makes sense about 5 notes into a song, but Berg will take about twenty listens before you even begin to get it. This is probably the hardest thing to deal with when starting with classical.
- Remembering melodies is really hard- Alright, with some composers this can be much easier then others (Mozart is pretty easy, Shostakovich can take many more attempts). Popular songs are designed to zap directly into your head – you can pretty much hum a melody as soon as you’ve heard a couple of bars. Classical melodies are way longer, and there are often a whole bunch in a piece so it’s hard to keep track of them.
- The amount of stuff going on is overwhelming – There are sections where you’ll have the violins playing one melody, the cellos and violas a different melody, the basses playing an accompaniment, the winds and brass doing something else, and the percussion accompanying all of them at once. It’s hard to keep track of it all, but after a while you’ll be able to mentally filter out each individual section.
- The dynamics can be extreme – That is, things go from loud to quiet really quickly and dramatically — dynamics is the technical term for that. Most non-classical stuff pretty much stays at one volume, with maybe a couple of stops and starts thrown in for dramatic effect (like that one song by Garbage). Classical will go from pindrop quiet to eardrum-busting loud before you even start to twitch your fingers to the volume control. Initially you’ll probably get really frustrated by this and be constantly adjusting the volume. I know I did.
- The pieces are so loooooong – Well, yeah, but so is an album. The difference is that classical pretty much has to be listened to all the way through, whereas you can usually jump around between songs on an album. You can definitely listen to individual movements at first — although you’ll lose the full force of the piece — but even some of those can pretty hefty.
- The music sounds too cheesy – Some romantic stuff is excessively lush (Rachmaninoff… we’re looking at you) and I also find that kind of thing pretty tough to get into. Some of you will, or already do, love it. I prefer it when…
- The music sounds too dissonant – Some modern stuff is full of weird combinations of notes which you will initially think sounds like garbage can lids clanking/cats wailing/people dying. You may or may not get used to this.
- The instruments all sound the same – It takes a while before you can easily pick apart what you are hearing, and until you get enough exposure to orchestral textures, things tend to kind of blend together. Listen to a few quartets (well, not too early on perhaps… small scale pieces are a bit harder) and you’ll be able to tell the strings apart much better.
- The violins sound too shrill – It could be a bad recording… or it could just take a while to get used to. The idea of a violin concerto, or – god forbid – violin sonata freaked the hell out of me at first.
So you’re not alone if you have issues with any of these, but don’t let them put you off the music because they won’t be a problem for very long.