Why Does Music Sound Bad When Played Backwards?

Why does music sound bad when played backwards?

Why Does Music Sound Bad When Played Backwards? 1

Eric, Classical music, and really, most kinds of music, sound odd when played backwards because the harmonic progression does not lead where you expect it to. Without going to deep into music theory, I will outline the basics.A typical cadence, or ending of a chord progression, is a IV chord to V to a I chord. (Roman numerals signify chords built out of a major scale, starting on that degree of a major scale, so V is the fifth scale degree.) This cadence is a very typical one, and you will hear it everywhere. What that cadence does, is go from the chord with the most tension in the key... to the tonic, or home chord of the key. In this way, you have tension and relaxation, which is the foundation of harmony. A more advanced chord progression might go I-vi-ii-IV-V-I. This progression sounds different, but it still ends with that characteristic IV-V-I, also called a Perfect Authentic Cadence.Now getting into one of the reasons music played backwards sounds so odd: Our ears expect that Perfect Authentic Cadence. (Simplifying here, there are other pleasing cadences.) Sometimes, a composer will do a cadence like: IV-V-vi. This cadence is called a Deceptive Cadence, because your ear will expect the IV and V to inevitably lead to I. When it goes to the vi you get a denial of expectations. While I am simplifying, these basic ideas of tension and relaxation are what gives music it's sound, feeling, attitude, soul, etc.When these characteristic cadences and progressions get reversed, it essentially throws that whole system out the window. Now you are going I-V-IV-ii-vi-I and not only does that defy expectations, your brain likely is just going WTF?!? For lack of a better term...To hear these cadences for yourself play this on the piano: Courtesy this Wikipedia article: To hear a recording of just these three chords, go here.Hopefully this makes sense!

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How has learning music theory changed the way you listen to music?

Because music theory is generally key to the compositional process for classically trained musicians. When the musical stave first developed (Guido d'Arezzo [c.995-1033] is credited as a pioneer in this field), composers could for the first time conceive their ideas by working them through in writing. It was at this time that the more complex art of counterpoint evolved as a result.Now, if you are a genius like Mozart, you might well be able to conceive a symphony or concerto in your head and then simply commit it to paper. However, most of us lesser mortals are very grateful for the opportunity to work our ideas through. So was Beethoven, by the way -as his sketch books bear ample testimony.How all this has changed the way I listen to music is that I now hear it from a composer's perspective. There's an old maxim "Hear with the eye, see with the ear"; this is what music theory/composition has developed in my faculties of response. Music can be appreciated at different levels, but if you have studied music theory and composition, your critical faculties are more highly attuned as to what is going on in the music. You see, as composers we are engaged with certain events that lie below the surface presentation of music. These events may not be at all apparent, therefore, to the casual or less informed listener. Nevertheless, they contribute to the overall auditory experience, but at an enhanced level to the trained musician who is seeking to follow the composer's thought processes in greater depth.When you are working on paper (or nowadays on a computer screen quite often), you are innately occupied with the idea of "perfection" - getting things "just right" because by writing them down they are achieving a form of permanence and public scrutiny (including ones own). At this level, it goes against a composer's instinct to "cut corners" whereas work of an improvisatory type, by virtue of the instantaneous nature of its conception, cannot have received the same level of intellectual consideration. This by no means relegates improvisatory music to a lower tier necessarily; but it does require recognition on the part of an informed listener to have different expectations from those which he applies when listening to paper conceived music. This can sometimes prove to be more of a challenge, therefore, for the trained musician than the simple music lover unconcerned with background technique

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