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What to Listen for in Music
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What to Listen for in Music

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  3,701 ratings  ·  87 reviews
Whether they listen to Mozart or Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland invites readers to ask two basic questions: Are they hearing everything that is going on? Are they really being sensitive to it? With his provocative suggestions, Aaron Copland guides readers through a deeper appreciation of the most rewarding of all art forms.
ebook, 304 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Not Avail (first published 1939)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jee Koh
A basic and helpful introduction to music for someone like me, i.e., no music training beyond playing the pianica in primary school, and strumming the guitar round campfires in high school. In this book first written in the 1930s, Copland distinguishes between listening on a sensuous plane (mere enjoyment of the quality of sound) and on expressive and sheerly musical planes. While not slighting the first, he contends that a better understanding of music increases our pleasure in it. Knowledge en ...more
Copland logró escribir un libro muy ilustrador y accesible, apto tanto para personas con formación musical como para nosotros los "legos". Es corto, ameno y lleno de información muy educativa para los que queremos aprender más sobre música académica o "culta" (el término es bastante problemático pero...). En realidad siento que la lectura de este libro me ha dado herramientas para escuchar la música de manera más inteligente y poder disfrutarla mejor por lo que no dudaría en recomendarlo. El úni ...more
Standard issue for Freshman majors (or it least it was once upon a time) "What to Listen for..." runs the traditional wire between genuine approachability, and the deeper, music-nerd-driven understanding of music, composition, form, and the artist's own context.

Although this is not quite the emotional trip as "Joy of Music" by Bernstein, it is the affections of a master laid in front of those of us who are interested. Highly recommended as a first read for the concert-goer, the enthusiast, the b
Eric McLean
This book is probably great for musicians, but non-musicians should be careful picking this up. I am a musician and read this as part of a Humanities class and was worried about half the people in the room who had never taken a music lesson in their life.

I thought that it was a good book on how to listen to music and what to listen for, bringing it back to the basics of many genres. I do not appreciate the writing style and Copland comes off as being a bit arrogant and high-brow in his writing,
Martin Read
Aug 14, 2013 Martin Read rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anybody who wants to improve the quality of their listening to classical music.
I enjoyed reading it. I felt that it improved my understanding of classical form considerably although my lack of musical knowledge made some chapters difficult. I have been reading it in conjunction with Bernstein and a variety of Youtube clips. I think it's a book I shall return to on occasion to deepen my understanding. I've already gained immensely in the area of early 20th century works and am looking forward to extending my listening range.
It has also reinforced my interest in the period 1
I found this book very interesting, and thought it said more about its author than its subject, at least for me. Copland provides explanations of and thoughts on all the main elements of and aspects of music: melody, rhythm, harmony, and formal structure, plus some additional special topics like opera, film music, and contemporary music. Copland's aim is to help the non-musician become a better, more sophisticated listener, so none of the information was news to me. However, I often found his ta ...more
I was pretty excited about this book because I'm a big fan of Copland and writing about music in general. In the end, I found this book to be good, but not great.

Copland, more than anything, knows what he's talking about and if you want to go into 'classical' music experiences with a better understanding of what's going on, this book is for you. I've studied classical music theory and composition rules in the past so a lot of this was review. I did learn some things about musical structures (ro
The best pieces of the book for me were the flatly expository sections describing Form -- though it can get fairly tough keeping things in order (an audio companion would be incredible for this book), Copland does a pretty crisp job of quickly running through different types of fugues and variations on symphonic forms that I had no grasp of before hand.

The book's place in history is pretty great, too. Copland has a pretty unenviable position of being the guy at the crossroads trying to explain
Kristin Shafel Omiccioli
2.5/5 stars. Full disclosure: I am a professionally trained musician (bachelor and master's degrees in composition, double bassist for more than fifteen years), so I realize this book isn't really intended for a person like me. But from a historical standpoint, I do appreciate this set of lessons. Through most of it, it was a nice little refresher for me. Everything is educational from a technical standpoint, and it was interesting to read a composition giant's musings, however opinionated and d ...more
This book is a concise and very informative account of (Western) musical concepts, musical forms, and compositional trends, written by one of the most prominent American composers of the last century. His target audience is a reasonably well-informed musical layperson who is reasonably familiar with classical music works but wants to take their understanding of musical appreciation to the next level. He distinguishes multiple planes of musical listening: the "sensuous" plane (sheer pleasure), th ...more
An excellent beginning reference work for people interested in becoming better listeners. I feel I owe a debt of thanks to Copland for taking time from composing (how he usually and successfully expressed himself), to make what turned out to be a pretty impressive foray into writing.
My favorite parts are him just talking about what it is to be a composer, and how he tries to set himself and his world to an abstract art form. The thought processes, the tools and forms, and even the nagging doubts
There is plenty of useful information here on how to listen to music intelligently, but I fear it ends up being far too simple for musicians, and perhaps slightly too technical for the complete novice. Copland is clear and concise with his explanations, but lacks the gift of teaching, that little spark that produces 'Eureka!' moments in the reader. The multitude of written examples will certainly go over the heads of anyone not well versed in reading sheet music, although this does not make it a ...more
This is definitely an interesting book, and I recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested in classical music. Aaron Copland is a composer from the U.S., probably best known for is "Fanfare for the Common Man". While Copland died in 1990, this book was written in the 1930s (as is clear from references to "the World War" and "pre-Hitler Germany", and to "contemporary" composers such as Stravinsky and Milhaud). The way he refers to the radio and records, they sound like they have become ...more
Dec 03, 2007 Louis rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those wanting to enrich their listening of music
Shelves: arts
This is about the listening of concert music, also called classical music (not to be confused with the classical period of music). Aaron Copland is best known as a composer, but he also delivered a series of lections on What to Listen for in Music, which became the heart of this book.

The book almost has to start by answering the question, why a book on what to listen for in music. There is the obvious answer "listen to a lot of music." And that is a truth that the book does state as well. But t
First published in 1939, this unique work is based on a series of lectures by Aaron Copland at the New School for Social Research. The reader glimpses the inner workings of the mind of a great composer, and learns how a composer begins writing a work, the elements of music, and the rudiments of melody, harmony, rhythm, and tonal color. The development and various forms of Western "serious" music from the ninth to the twentieth century are reviewed; each chapter is accompanied by a discography wh ...more
Jakob Hansen
This was a required book for a very basic music appreciation course I had to take. It isn't a bad introduction to classical music, though in some parts it is a little dated. The best parts were Copland's descriptions of the compositional process, since, well, he was Aaron Copland. Also, I appreciated his moralizing about putting effort into music listening. Everything else in here you can find on Wikipedia.
Wesley Andrews
It is still very accessible. Many wonderful tangents can be discovered by taking the recommended listening lists to your public library.
I recommend the video series: Keeping Score (, which currently has three volumes. Each volume has two primary chapters: 1) a history of the composer, a discussion of the composer's music, interviews with the members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, musical excerpts from the highlighted piece, and more...and 2) a highlighted pi
This book gave interesting insight to music from the mind of a composer - an interesting insight to the world of music. I had been looking for reasons as to why certain past composers are given the designation of excellent, and this book explained why, and allowed me to more 'properly' listen to music. It also explained interesting history of the opera, which I had been interested in as well.

Well worth reading for anyone who wants to know how to listen to music. It really is an adequate and accu
Flight/hotel reading during PAA. Nice intro to classical music, but not really necessary. What is more dangerous for listeners nowadays is not a lack of musical knowledge, but a lack of patience for any music that is longer than 5 minutes and without lyrics.
Si no tienen mucha idea de teoría de la música hay que acompañarlo con consultas a Wikipedia para los términos más técnicos, pero vale muchísimo la pena. Hay tanta música por oír, y entender su estructura multiplica el placer de escucharla.
A master of his craft, Aaron Copland dissects the mechanics and explores the presuppositions behind the "other part" of musical communication...listening. Lacking a Christian ethic or worldview, like a man prodding for a jewel in a cave without light, he runs into the nature of an all-wise Creator and the beauty of His holiness in the created thing almost continually...without identifying it. You might say that, in spite of and even amazingly through Aaron Copland, music declares the glory of Go ...more
So many great and prescient lines in this book. I never read with a pencil, but with this one I underlined and dog-eared the whole way through. I loved the chapter on film music.

Also, the book was written in 1939 and this is just a footnote of his early on:

"Recent experiments with electronically produced music, however, point to a new species of scientifically trained composer as the pioneer type of our own time."

Also, it's always great to hear a musician try to explain the creative process and
I think the proper way to read this book would be to read for 10 minutes and listen to music for 30, so reading straight through, I probably only got 10% of what I should have, but it is enough to just get a glimpse into this amazing world of music and form. I don't think I'll ever fully appreciate music on the many levels in this book, but least I know that a conductor does more than wave a baton and make goofy gestures. But oh, what it would be like to appreciate and interpret music like this, ...more
Eric Sundquist
What a treat to read a book by America's greatest composer! How many composers have written books? Not many. Most listeners of classical music will be familiar with much in this book, especially in the first half in which it discusses rhythm, harmony, melody, and tone color. The second half is more enlightening. Copland provides a basic lesson on forms in small and large classical music compositions, such as the fugal form or the sonata form. Having an understanding of the larger picture in musi ...more
Aaron Copland is the best!
This book is based off a series of 15 public lectures he gave in NYC in the '30s. From the acknowledgments:
"The talks were designed for the layman and music student, not for the professional musician. The present volume, therefore, is correspondingly limited in scope. My purpose was not to be all-inclusive on a subject that might very easily spread itself but to confine the discussion to what seemed to me to be essential listing problems."

It's a delightful read from a
Jordan Kinsey
I will be using this book for the rest of my career, particularly the chapter on "Contemporary Music," which I intend to copy and distribute to students en masse.

It's not without its faults, however. Most disappointing, for instance, is Copland's statement that "Harmony [...] was quite unknown in music until about the ninth century. Up until that time, all music of which we have any record consisted of a single melodic line." Come on Copland. What about the Greeks? And the Hebrews? There was ha
Sarah Rogers
Interesting to read, even as a musician. It's especially interesting to read this from a composer such as Copland.
Mostly very very good. Copland’s valuable little book introduces audiences to fundamental musical parameters (rhythm, melody, harmony, tone color) and forms (small forms, variation forms, sonatas, and fugues). The writing is clear and personal, and one wishes there were more books like this. The concluding chapters on opera and contemporary music are not so great; Copland moves the discussion from music theory to history, and his brief sketches do little to develop the “active listening” he desi ...more
A bit of technical and old fashioned for my tiny mind.
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  • The Joy of Music
  • The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart
  • The Study of Counterpoint
  • The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
  • The Lives of the Great Composers
  • The Inner Game of Music
  • Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination
  • A History of Western Music
  • Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
  • Music, Language, and the Brain
  • Beethoven
  • Tonal Harmony, with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music
  • Silence: Lectures and Writings
  • The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
  • Theory of Harmony
  • Listen to This
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
  • The Enjoyment of Music: An Introduction to Perceptive Listening
Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900 in New York City. His musical works ranged from ballet and orchestral music to choral music and movie scores. For the better part of four decades Aaron Copland was considered the premier American composer.

Copland learned to play piano from an older sister. By the time he was fifteen he had decided to become a composer. His first tentative steps included
More about Aaron Copland...
Music and Imagination Copland: 1900 Through 1942 Copland: Since 1943 The New Music, 1900 1960 Appalachian Spring Suite

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“The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No'.” 14 likes
“Speaking generally, there are two kinds of descriptive music. The first comes under the heading of literal description. A composer wishes to recreate the sound of bells in the night. He therefore writes certain chords, for orchestra or piano or whatever medium he is using, which actually sound like bells in the night. Something real is being imitated realistically. A famous example of that kind of description in music is the passage in one of Strauss’s tone poems where he imitates the bleating of sheep. The music has no other raison d’être than mere imitation at that point. The other type of descriptive music is less literal and more poetic. No attempt is made to describe a particular scene or event; nevertheless some outward circumstance arouses certain emotions in the composer which he wishes to communicate to the listener. It may be clouds or the sea or a country fair or an airplane. But the point is that instead of literal imitation, one gets a musicopoetic transcription of the phenomenon as reflected in the composer’s mind. That constitutes a higher form of program music. The bleating of sheep will always sound like the bleating of sheep, but a cloud portrayed in music allows the imagination more freedom. One principle must be kept firmly” 1 likes
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