I listen to music. That is true. But is it "real" music? What exactly justifies what is and isn't music? I hear many people say "That isn't real music" about a genre or song. Do they really know if it isn't music or are they saying that only because they do not like it or understand it? Such as the music in mainstream society, a lot of older people, such as my father, will say it isn't real music. He is a musician, so would he know? Does music have to be to a degree of technicality to be considered "real" music? - Darren, 14 years old

I expect teenagers have been hearing their parents say that the music to which the teenager listens isn't "real" music for about as long as there have been teenagers, parents, and music. It's not at all clear what that is supposed to mean. Is it that the music is fake music? the way a toy car isn't a real car? Presumably not. I expect it is meant, rather, in the sense in which one might say that someone isn't a "real man". It's not that the person isn't a man, or is only pretending to be one. It's rather that, although he is a man, he doesn't meet some standard for manhood the speaker endorses; or again: He's a man, but not a very good example of one. So, in that sense, saying that something isn't "real" music means: It's music, but it doesn't meet some standard or other; it's music, but not very good music.

Of course, different people can be presumed to have different standards, but it certainly doesn't follow that there are no objective standards. What those objective standards might be is, of course, another question altogether. But I don't myself see why technical difficulty should be an appropriate standard. That music is hard to play doesn't make it good; that music is easy to play doesn't make it bad. Of course, if someone is a mediocre musician, then that will sharply limit how they can express themselves, so it's not as if technical ability isn't relevant. It's just not the end-all and be-all.

My own view is that really good music is music that is full of ideas: musical ideas, at least, and lyrical ideas if it's music with words. Such ideas may be present in the piece as written, or they may be present in the piece as performed. (With some music, there's less of a difference there than with other music.) Only music that is full of such ideas really engages me and keeps me engaged. Otherwise, I just find my mind wandering elsewhere, especially if I've heard the song a few times: It's all used up, like an empty can of soda. A really good piece of music, one full of ideas, I can listen to over and over and over again and always find something new and interesting, even surprising, in it.

You might find it interesting to engage your father here. If he's amusician, then I'm sure he could say a great deal about what makes for"real" music, and he might be interested to hear what it is about the music you like that makes you like it. (If he's just closed-minded, well, that's too bad.) You too might find it interesting to think about that question, too---what it is about the music you like that makes you like it---and you might even find that reflection leading you to become interested in music you don't appreciate now. I've been a total music junkie since I was about your age (I own about 1000 CDs and maybe 4000 records), and I know that my own musical tastes have changed and evolved over the last three decades. That isn't to say I don't still like the music I liked when I was twelve, or twenty-two, or thirty-two. Some of it I still like, some of it I don't, and sometimes I am really surprised what I don't like anymore. But I'm glad I heard it all. There's so much great music out there, and, well, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you get to kiss the prince(ss).

One last thing. I think we ought also to remember that it is possible to enjoy music that one doesn't oneself think is actually very good music. It might be, for example, that a particular song has a really good groove that just makes you want to get up and dance, and yet one might also be prepared to say that a really good groove is about all that tune's got. So one enjoys it, for a while, until it gets kind of boring, which it eventually does because there's just not much to it. And that's OK.

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