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What to Listen for in Music

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  7,828 ratings  ·  207 reviews
In this fascinating analysis of how to listen to music intelligently, Aaron Copland raises two basic questions: Are you hearing everything that is going on? Are you really being sensitive to it? If you cannot answer yes to both questions, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Whether you listen to Mozart or Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland's provocative suggestions for li ...more
Paperback, 266 pages
Published November 5th 2002 by Signet Classics (first published 1939)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  7,828 ratings  ·  207 reviews

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Jana Light
Sep 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Michelle Curie
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, music
"We expect a fine composition brilliantly performed, but how often do we think that it should also be brilliantly heard?"

Music is notoriously difficult to write about and classical music particularly is notoriously difficult to listen to. Aaron Copland, an important composer and conductor of the 20th century himself, makes you disagree with both.

This is the perfect book for people who want to enhance their own listening experience and broaden their understanding of what it really means to l
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) stands as one of the giants of American composers. Charged by his French music teacher to produce an authentic American style of music, he would compose classics such as Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Rodeo. Copland also would conduct, teach, and write over the course of his prodigious career.

Based on a series of lectures and first published in 1939, What to Listen for in Music remains in print. Along with his compositions which are still being performed, this b
Jee Koh
Oct 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you do not have any musical training, but are a fan of the aural arts, you might be tempted by a book which promises to show you what you're missing out on. Copland's is a good starting point. He identifies three planes of listening: the sensuous (which is practised by anyone who enjoys music by "getting lost in it"), the expressive (which is practised by anyone who tries to understand the mood, the message, the idea behind the music), and finally, the musical plane (for which you need a degr ...more
Kristin Shafel
May 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Tara Brabazon
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, american
A tight overview of the most significant things to look out for when listening to classical music. This guide is a very easy read for anyone with at least a rudimentary musical education, and is unlikely to lose many readers who lack one. Perhaps some of the discussion on harmony might be a little confusing, but if one takes it slowly, it is not difficult.

For the uninitiated, Aaron Copland, the author, is one of the most highly regarded American composers. During his ninety years, he made major
Apr 04, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Martin Read
May 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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. ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
This is a wonderful introduction to "classical" music by the American composer Aaron Copland. It is highly readable and chockfull of examples for laymen like myself armed with Deezer and largely illiterate in reading musical scores. It definitely enhanced immensely my listening skills and opened my mind to new works and composers with which I was previously unfamiliar. A must. ...more
Aravind Prasad
It is exactly how the title of the book said. Focusing mainly on what to listen was addressed in deep but i wish to find a book with title as "how to listen what in Music" but never mind. It is not waste of time, at least as i learned many things.
One thing i learned is " we humans are dynamic as well as our feeling". Listening to same music can feel different as time goes on, So, it is better to listen music without concrete attachment to music. Other thing i learned is "we need to be inside an
Thuy Dinh
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
Great introduction to classical music for laylistener, but written in textbook style. Still a very good book for a fan of aural arts to begin with
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it
While this book may clarify musical forms in the way an "Introduction to Music Appreciation" lecture might, its chapters on "Contemporary Music" (c. 1939) and "Film Music" are so short as to be meaningless, and even if they were more expansive, they have not aged well. ...more
Owen Goldin
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
The book is of course dated -- how could it not be? -- but Copland's general sense of what is important and what is not in early 20th century concert music has been vindicated -- who else was championing Mahler and Ives in the 30s? And though Copland would not himself take a whack at serialism for decades, he is sympathetic to the project and his advice is still good advice -- listen to the stuff over and over again until your really know the music -- only then can you decide whether you like it ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: frst
This book is good for what it is: an investigation into the elements and construction of (primarily classical) music for the layman. I am a classically trained pianist, and despite Copland asserting at the beginning that even professional musicians can get value from this book, the value diminishes pretty rapidly.
This book is at its best in the beginning when Copland first distinguishes his four basic elements (rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone color). These are such fundamental ideas that it's
Paul Manytravels
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Composer Aaron Copeland begins by reminding people that the best way to learn to appreciate music is to just listen to it. Nevertheless, understanding a little about the various elements that comprise music, the building blocks of a composition, can help listeners not only enjoy but also more deeply understand any musical composition.
I cannot say I have completed the book because I am actually reading it more like a study guide or textbook. I read a little, then turn to either the music Copland
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very nice book if you want to understand classical music better. I'm a regular concert goer, with some background in music, but nothing really in classical. I've been curious about the forms of the music and how to better understand this sometimes complex music I hear in the concert hall.

This book was a great introduction. It gives you tips and ideas for listening to the different elements of classical music, melody, harmony, rhythm with examples of works to listen to. It goes over the major f
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Eric McLean
Nov 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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,
Jakob Hansen
May 11, 2014 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Feb 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: inspirational
I'm learning to listen for melody, theme, drama - in music. It's fun!
Remember, Aaron Copeland is one of America's classic composers.
Richard Pohl
Jul 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
Fine one, will use some ot very direct and explicit remarks of Mr. Copland in my educational work for sure...
Gage Garlinghouse
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most people only hear one level of music when just listening to it, but as Aaron Copland explains in his book there are actually three. And he argues that a person should train themselves to listen for all three to better appreciate the music that they hear. In his book the Composer Aaron Copland explains what makes music music, and why you should care. Granted he makes assumptions based on this, being that you know what lots of musical jargon means, but if one is going to read this book that c ...more
William Schram
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, music, art
What to Listen For In Music is a primer on Music Appreciation written by Aaron Copland. While I do enjoy Copland’s arrangements, but I was not aware of his position as a music professor. This book is pretty old. The edition I read came out in 1988, but the first edition had a copyright of 1939. According to the author information, Copland was still alive at the time of publication.

Anyway, the book talks about the different aspects of music and how to listen to them in practice. The book mainly f
Jan 18, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. This book is at times very simple and at others much too challenging. Copland goes from explaining what rhythm is - something anyone with even the most basic musical training from grade school should know - to delving into the specifics of four different types of fugal writing - something even people who have studied music extensively might struggle to keep up with. I had hoped he would choose one side or the other but that is not the case so regardless of what knowledge you start wit ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love Aaron Copland's ability to explain how to hear different forms of music! He makes it quite clear that there is no "right" or "wrong" music either, we are just unaccustomed to hearing new or different aspects of music. And he reminds us that it is always evolving or revolutionizing because music is alive! Our job is to learn how to truly, actively listen in order to make the music come alive for us. Copland stresses listening to a piece repeatedly in order to really understand the musical ...more
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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

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