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  • Thank you guys so much.

  • Also, I'd like to thank Shawn Roggenkamp

  • for the slides and this photography,

  • but you should know the good slides that she did,

  • the bad photography is all me.

  • So, a lot of time I hear people talk about classical music

  • the way they talk about broccoli.

  • There's the sort of vague sense that it's good for us,

  • and we should probably have more of it,

  • but it's also kind of boring sometimes,

  • and we'd rather have our high fructose pop song.

  • And even when we get into the concert hall,

  • I often see people also with a look on their face,

  • they're like: "Wow, this is pretty, this is still pretty,

  • how long is this going to be pretty for?"

  • So, why is this so hard?

  • I think it's okay to admit that sometimes classical music

  • can be a little bit boring.

  • But there's two kinds of boring:

  • There's "This is too easy, I-already-know-it boring,"

  • and there's "This is too-hard-to-follow boring."

  • And I would submit that classical music is the second kind.

  • There's a lot of information coming out at us at the same time

  • and it's hard to keep track of how it fits into the big picture.

  • I say information, because I think listening to classical music is a learning task.

  • I think you're trying to feel all the things of the piece for the first time.

  • You're trying to get the characters, you're trying to get the world,

  • things are repeating, you're trying to remember them.

  • And you're often trying to do it on your first listen.

  • And the challenge with learning anything

  • is that your brain gets overwhelmed pretty quickly.

  • When you first learn something, it's going into your head

  • in a working place that you call,

  • neuroscientists call working memory.

  • And that's sort of like your mental scratch pad,

  • where you keep things like telephone numbers,

  • only for a few minutes, though,

  • before you can put in some other larger context.

  • And the problem is, you have a limited capacity to store new information.

  • It's like trying to keep track of too many objects.

  • And that's what it's like when you listen to something overwhelming.

  • So your brain, luckily, has a neat trick.

  • You can put things into groups, or chunking information.

  • And now you no longer see this as 12 objects.

  • You see this as 3 groups and that's a lot less information.

  • That frees up room in your working memory for more new things.

  • And this is why clear writing uses punctuation,

  • and why music has phrases that repeat to show you those groups.

  • So, say you're trying to learn a telephone number that's ten digits,

  • The first thing you do is you make groups,

  • and that may not seem like a big deal,

  • but if you've ever been in a country that has different grouping

  • you know how confusing that is,

  • and how much we rely on this as an expectation.

  • Next, if you know the area code you're in luck,

  • because this is now one piece of information, not 3 numbers.

  • And if you're over 40, you know that 867-5309 is Jenny, and good for you.

  • (Laughter)

  • And this is not just true of numbers, this is true of language as well.

  • So consider the phrase:

  • Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars.

  • Now, if you're familiar with the song and the phrase,

  • this is only one piece of information,

  • you're very easily understanding it, you're ready to move on.

  • But if you don't know the song, well, these 12 words

  • represent 12 different pieces of information,

  • and that's a little bit harder.

  • And if you didn't know English,

  • then you'd be dealing with a level of symbols,

  • and you have 39 different symbols.

  • And that's a really overwhelming task,

  • but I think that's exactly what it's like

  • when we're listening to a piece of classical music for the first time.

  • We often don't know the words and we don't know the symbols,

  • and thats what makes it so difficult for us.

  • The trick to this, though, is whenever you want to use this chunking

  • you have to walk into the room with some previous information.

  • You have to know already there are letters,

  • you have to know there are words,

  • you have to know the phrase of "Fly me to the moon."

  • And knowing each of these things, again, tremendously reduces that.

  • That's what allows you to take a huge amount of information

  • and put it into smaller chunks.

  • And so the difficulty with music is that

  • I think we're stuck at that level of 39 symbols.

  • We don't know that these things exist.

  • But in fact, music does have words, and music does have phrases.

  • And if we can see how, in fact, music is quite organized.

  • That, I think, unlocks a lot of stuff for us.

  • That's what allows a meaningful engagement in music.

  • So, at Oberlin College I did study neuroscience and music theory,

  • and what I want to share with you today

  • is how that combination changed the way that I understand music.

  • So first let's consider a phrase as a musical idea.

  • And this is building off on some work that William Kaplan did in the 1990s

  • and later other scholars extended it to all sorts of other music.

  • But we can really apply this, not only to classical music,

  • but to modern pop music

  • and anything you want to do.

  • Basically a phrase is a musical idea that introduces

  • some sort of tension and then release.

  • It arrives somewhere, like a ball being thrown and then caught.

  • So let's start with an example of some music with words,

  • and we'll try and follow along and see if there's a phrase to it,

  • and just look for a sense of there being tension

  • and there being release.

  • So we're going to start with a group, OC Times,

  • a barber shop group, a good friend of mine.

  • Let's hear it.

  • (Music)

  • All right, I hope you can hear some sense of arriving somewhere.

  • So let's see what happens next.

  • (Music)

  • All right, so, that's basically the same material,

  • I mean, the words are different, but the music sounds the same.

  • And so we can call this an A section.

  • We can give it a letter, and since it's the first thing that we heard,

  • we'll call it A.

  • So, I'm going to play the next part and I want you to tell me

  • if you think it's the same section or different section,

  • and I'd also invite you to close your eyes.

  • I think you'll absorb a lot more information from music.

  • You'll be surprised, I think, at how much you'll hear more of it.

  • All right, let's go.

  • (Music)

  • Ok, same thing or different thing? Right.

  • So, this is the next thing we've heard, you guys are all fantastic.

  • So, the next thing we've heard and we're going to call it the B section,

  • and now I want you to keep both of these sections in mind

  • in your working memory,

  • and tell me what happens next.

  • (Music)

  • All right, what do we have?

  • Ah, so, it's mostly A material coming back,

  • but it is a little bit different,

  • we do have some changes, so we can call it A prime.

  • But the gist I want you to get is that it's essentially A material,

  • it's pretty similar, it should be more similar to that than anything else.

  • It's not totally new, it's not totally the same.

  • All right, let's take us home.

  • (Music)

  • What was that? It wasn't exactly anything we've heard before.

  • It kind of summarizes a little bit of the piece,

  • but it also shows off with some fancy chords,

  • so we can call it a coda, which means a tail,

  • it's sort of a little bit at the end of it.

  • So when we put this together you see

  • there's really a very simple overall structure.

  • And in music theory we call this a binary form.

  • Binary, because it has two basic parts to it.

  • We have an idea, we showed you that again,

  • we moved on to something else,

  • and we came back a little bit changed,

  • And you don't just have to have 2 parts.

  • In fact you can have 3 parts and that's a classic pop song.

  • But before that, though, we can subdivide these phrases as well,

  • and I'm just going to highlight in red

  • all the parts where he says "All I wanna do".

  • And you can tell that it comes at the end of every A section,

  • and the coda is just chock-full of it.

  • So, like I said, we can have 3 sections, as well.

  • (Music)

  • Oops, all right, so, before we get to that,

  • we're now ready for a Schubert waltz,

  • and I would like to invite you again to close your eyes.

  • (Music)

  • All right, so, this time there are no lyrics to help you out,

  • It's classical music, but we hear the first 2 sections

  • are note for note the same.

  • And that's because they're also both A sections.

  • So here what we have so far.

  • (Music)

  • All right? And after that it got really exciting,

  • we had this thing that was new material,

  • and it subdivides in itself to 2 little parts that are repeating.

  • (Music)

  • And I hope you recognized that at the end,

  • we came back to a little bit more of A material,

  • and then the concluding part was just doing the same thing again.

  • We also have a binary form.

  • This is a classical phrase analysis of music.

  • And so, like I mentioned, you can also have 3 parts.

  • (Music)

  • And now we just call them verse and chorus,

  • and that hipster whistling part in the middle is a bridge.

  • And you don't even have to go there.

  • Sometimes you can just get away with just 2.

  • (Music)

  • They never introduce a third theme,

  • and if you subdivide these,

  • you'll see each of these going

  • to a call and response theme pretty easily.

  • (Music)

  • Like I said, this applies to a lot of different kinds of music.

  • I found that reggae is a little bit more disorganized

  • and I won't speculate on why.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Music)

  • Now, until I mapped out Friday I'm in Love,

  • I didn't realize there's this acually kind of cute parallel.

  • In the beginning and the very end

  • there are these 2 instrumental sections.

  • And if you're feeling really generous to The Cure, you can say:

  • This is all a little repetitive, but it's metaphorically suggestive

  • of a bleak emotional week leading up to Friday.

  • But I'm not really,

  • I don't know if I'd give them that much credit,

  • because that's actually what they're talking about Saturday,

  • it doesn't really fit.

  • (Music)

  • I love Ben Folds.

  • I think his music is much more complicated,

  • which you can even see a little bit from his pictures.

  • The first thing, he starts you off with these 3 different sections.

  • You can already tell just from here.

  • You actually don't get a repeated note until about a minute into the song.

  • And when you start, even at the end of the song,

  • he's introducing this explosive piano section

  • in the middle, which I put in red,

  • and he's giving you new material, even by the end.

  • He keeps introducing new themes,

  • it's not just one thing and repeating it over.

  • And we start looking at the bigger structure,

  • something else also kind of interesting happens.

  • You see, this A B C is like a little rotation.

  • You start ABC, ABC, ok, this is an expectation,

  • I know how that goes.

  • He gives you the A, huge piano solo,

  • and then finishes out with C,

  • and you realize this isn't random.

  • The piano solo part is taking the place of that middle section.

  • It's sort of exploding, it's stretching out the piece,

  • and by the end, the structure entirely falls apart.

  • It's a very angry song that's sort of exploding in the middle,

  • and it collapses the structure of the song.

  • If you listen to it again, I think you might hear it this way.

  • All right, so music has structure.

  • Why do we care?

  • Because these are simple examples, even with Ben Folds.

  • And when we get to the level of a symphony,

  • this bubble diagrams start becoming extremely powerful.

  • I have some examples from Mahler, you can do this with anyone,

  • but I just happened to work with Mahler a lot as an undergrad.

  • And you can see it's chock-full of these themes and organization structure.

  • This is part of what makes music challenging to listen to,

  • but also so worth listening to multiple times.

  • This is from a short song that Mahler wrote.

  • And you can see, again, it's packed with a lot of stuff.

  • I couldn't even fit it all in here.

  • And now, I love Foster the People, but the 3-minute pop song