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What to Listen for in Music

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,812 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Aaron Copland, one of the most famous American composers in history, instructs people in the art of listening to music from the composer's point of view. "What to Listen for in Music" creates the foundation for an intelligent musical appreciation, beginning with such basics as harmony, melody, and rhythm. This latest edition features new sections that update the book's cov ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 304 pages
Published March 1st 1999 by Signet (first published 1939)
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Jana L.
Jan 16, 2016 Jana L. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
This is a fantastic book for the layperson who wants to become a more intelligent listener and who wants to understand more of what is going on in classical music (note: all classical music, not just the Classical period). Copland begins with an explanation of what music is and how it functions, moves to instruments, then to forms, adds an apologist chapter for contemporary music, and finishes with a chapter of what it means to be a good listener and the very significant role listeners play in t ...more
Jee Koh
Oct 05, 2009 Jee Koh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tara Brabazon
This book is cut up by a damaging assumption: classical music is difficult. Popular music is easy. Therefore elitism reduces the usefulness of this book.

The best components of the book probe the four essential elements to music: rhythm, melody, harmony and tone colour. Besides that - it is not worth reading.
May 01, 2014 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 05, 2012 Timothy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-music
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
Dec 30, 2015 Genni rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
A wonderful explanation of the basic principles of classical music, not an easy task! He also does an admirable job of attempting to put in words some of the more mysterious elements of music. Although I have a degree in music, I still learned a few things, and benefitted from those things that were review.

What I enjoyed the most about this book, indeed, the reason I read it, was "listening" to Aaron Copland talk about music. You can often learn a bit about a composer's personality by listening
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 24, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful introduction to music. Starts getting into modern and contemporary music, though it's not fully updated. Still, if you want to understand Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, or opera better in a painless and entertaining way, this book is for you.
Mar 04, 2016 Jsavett1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aaron Copland is the composer of "Appalachian Spring," one of my favorite pieces of music; so I was thrilled to learn that he'd written a renowned book for the layperson on how to enjoy music. How this book slipped beneath my radar all of these years is inexplicable to me. Nonetheless.

I learned a lot from Copland because I'm a self-taught music fan. It was published in the 50s I believe (sorry, too tired to check), so there is a directness, economy, and lack of political correctness to Copland's
Pablo Meouchi
Aug 11, 2015 Pablo Meouchi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Aún no conozco a una persona que no disfrute de la música, aunque en muchas de las ocasiones desconocemos términos técnicos sobre los movimientos musicales y los eventos históricos que hicieron posible el surgimiento de tales estilos, es por eso que si surge un interés por conocer y aprender a disfrutar con conocimiento la música, una obra indispensable de consulta es “Cómo escuchar la música” del músico y compositor Aaron Copland, por lo que se tiene la certeza de aprender un poco de música a t ...more
Michael Laflamme
Copland takes a fascinating topic and manages to make it seem tedious. Fraught with elitist overtones, this book takes on the tone of a lecture by an academic long past the prime of his tenure. Classical music is fascinating, a joy, a thrilling adventure. In Copland's hands it feels as if was left too long in a dehydrator.
Ismael de Leon H.
Dec 24, 2015 Ismael de Leon H. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great advice from a great composer

I am surprised it took me so long to discover this book, as it is so well written and so useful for better understanding the ways to enjoy concert music. I really did not know Copland was so articulate and good at writing. I can perceive a successful effort on his part in order to clearly explain something as abstract as music.

This is not a book that will provide the reader with all that is needed to completely own this art form. However, it is a book that shoul
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.
Feb 21, 2016 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very comprehensive look at the make up of orchestral music of equal interest to, as Copland say, 'the layman', and the music fan. It is a little bit dated, but that also adds an element of historical interest, looking at music at the turn of a new century when jazz music was on the rise and the Beatles were round the corner. It's also pretentious and raises the musician or the composer to almost deity-like status. But it strikes the balance between talking down and explaining well. Pedagogical ...more
Dec 06, 2015 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is THE book to read if you're a layperson who wants to understand classical music. It amazes me that such a timeless book was written by such an eminent composer. It first came out in 1939 and is still in print today. Given Aaron Copland's many talents (composer of classical, ballet, Broadway and film music; conductor; professor), I guess this is not so surprising.

I do take exception to his statement that those who try to understand music by learning more about the composer's life are benea
Raul Duarte
Oct 09, 2015 Raul Duarte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El libro se encuentra dirigido a estudiantes de música y a personas que quieren saber más de la música docta. Para los músicos no habrá muchas novedades, si acaso aprenderá más de la historia de las diferentes periodos musicales y sus estilos. Para alguien que no ha estudiado música, podrá encontrar difícil algunos capítulos, aunque el autor intenta explicar de manera sencilla muchos datos musicales, no creo que llegue a lograr por completo su cometido. Lo recomiendo si:

+Eres estudiante de músic
Chantel (Been Bookin'? Blogger)
Aaron Copland is a famous music composer and is best known for his Appalachian Spring as well as Fanfare for the Common Man. After studying music in Europe, he found that listening to music and truly listening to music were two totally different things and therefore, the idea for What to Listen for in Music was born.

What to Listen for in Music delves deep into the crevices of music and for a average person, may get deeper than can be comprehended. Although I do suggest reading this book at some
Roberto Bechtlufft
Fiquei decepcionado com o livro. Não gostei do estilo do autor e não acho que o livro seja apropriado para leigos. Meu pouco conhecimento de teoria musical não me ajudou em quase nada, parece que o autor parte do princípio de que o leitor já sabe de uma série de coisas mais básicas. Ele definitivamente poderia ser mais didático.

Se você, leitor leigo, espera encontrar conceitos bem básicos, que possam ser "quebrados" e aplicados a várias músicas facilmente, sejam elas clássicas ou pop, é melhor n
Ismael de Leon H.
I am surprised it took me so long to discover this book, as it is so well written and so useful for better understanding the ways to enjoy concert music. I really did not know Copland was so articulate and good at writing. I can perceive a successful effort on his part in order to clearly explain something as abstract as music.

This is not a book that will provide the reader with all that is needed to completely own this art form. However, it is a book that should be read by anyone that intends t
Erik Akre
Oct 12, 2015 Erik Akre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: budding music-lovers ready for deeper appreciation
Shelves: art
When I picked up this book, I had begun to listen more intently to music compositions, ranging wider than my interests in rock and roll, jazz, and blues. I was ready for something new and diverse. I dabbled in Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Bartok, and became interested in many other composers. With a layman's interest strongly established, I was ready for this book. It sent me further into the different aspects of music, and my appreciation and interest deepened.

The book starts with the reader's s
Jul 09, 2014 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
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
Apr 14, 2012 Adrian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
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
Jun 09, 2009 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2010 Francis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 28, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 11, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to love music, and anyone who already does
Man. Took me years to get to this book, probably because it's a fairly academic read on a fairly academic topic: how to listen to music.

But it's a solid book. Actually, once I finished it (finally), I thought that the class I had in college about "how to write about music" would have been better off asking us to write about a piece -- said writing would have been awful -- and then reading this book. Aaron Copland writes about music well; and by this I mean less about the methodology of music, a
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
May 21, 2009 Ramin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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 Lives of the Great Composers
  • Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination
  • The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
  • Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
  • Theory of Harmony
  • Music, Language, and the Brain
  • The Inner Game of Music
  • A History of Western Music
  • Tonal Harmony, with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music
  • The Cello Suites
  • Beethoven
  • Listen to This
  • The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
  • The Enjoyment of Music: An Introduction to Perceptive Listening
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
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...

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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'.” 17 likes
“but I have always suspected that one could substitute the Minuet of Haydn’s 98th symphony for the Minuet in Haydn’s 99th symphony without sensing a serious lack of coherence in either work.” 2 likes
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