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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningPedagogy(Moderators: JP, Doug Elliott) difficult question for me to answer
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thunderslide
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« on: Aug 31, 2005, 12:00PM »

Hi all,

Today, I was asked an extremely difficult question by a tenor saxophone player in band class, and I didn't know how to answer it. This is a bit long-winded, but I would like to know how some of you would have responded.

First let me say, he listens to almost exclusively rap music. He listens to some jazz, but only academically- so that he can play saxophone better. In other words, he listens to the ideas put forth by those musicians only so far as they will further his ability to play sax, but not for enjoyment. (Which I don't understand at all, by the way.)

With this in mind:

He could hardly believe that I would prefer BSO tickets over tickets to see the New England Patriots (local American football team) play. Which for me, is a no-brainer.
So, he wanted to know: "Why do you listen to classical music? What do you see in it?" (Obviously, by classical, he meant not just the classical period, but that whole tradition of music... well I think you know what I mean)

First, how can I explain to someone that classical music is SO MUCH MORE than the light-and-fluffy "familiar" classical they play on the local radio station (you know, Pachelbel's canon, Mozart's Eine Kleine, Vivaldi's 4 seasons, popular piano things, etc)? Not that I don't enjoy listening to that, but it's a narrow view when set next to, say, Stravinsky, Bruckner, etc. (the list goes on and on)

So, I want to know how to answer his question properly! I’ve been thinking about how it’s complex, but I know that’s not it. How can I possibly impart the beauty of counterpoint, or the feeling of playing chamber music, or the mind-blowing number of genius-moments in a Beethoven symphony (the voice leading in an 8 bar phrase is usually enough to keep me occupied for a surprisingly long amount of time)? How can I possibly explain how while my friends listen to rock music simply for lyrics, beat, and “coolness” (or so I’m told), to me there’s something different to be found in an orchestra, in chamber music, a wind ensemble, any of those other mediums (media?)?

For me, it’s not a purely academic thing, listening to music. And yet, when I examine my own tastes (everything from early music, renaissance, baroque, all the way down to contemporary and modern stuff), when I put it into words, it SOUNDS purely academic. Maybe I’m just a “workaholic,” and confuse enjoyment with labor? Hmm, somehow that doesn’t seem right!

(And I think we need a word that means the musical tradition of the aforementioned periods, other than just calling it all “classical” music!)

Well, this was a bit longer than I intended. But it’s also something I’ve been thinking about posting in the past too (what if someone asks me what’s so great about Bach? How would/could I explain it?). So, any ideas as to how to convey my feelings (which I haven’t done a very good job of clarifying, I’ll admit)? It’s important because the vast majority of people I know don’t see quite what music has to offer, and I would very much like to be able to share that with people in an articulate manner.

Thanks very much in advance.
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« Reply #1 on: Aug 31, 2005, 12:36PM »

I often am asked to clarify why I listen to jazz or classical over say, the Black Eyed Peas or Snoop Dogg. It is pretty hard to explain, but for one thing, my tastes in music are simply different than other people's (however, they are not any less valid). When listening to rock music (or ska), for example, I listen almost exclusively to groups that include a horn section. I don't necessarily consider a horn section more artistic or intellectual; I simply like the 'flavor' that the horns add.

In terms of classical and getting people to realize the depth, most people are simply not going to. Not to say that they can't, but they probably won't due to their existing musical tastes and preconceived notions about the genre. Although a majority of people don't realize the genius of Beethoven (except from hearing it repeated by others), many classical listeners are not familiar with rap music and its appeal (many people simply dismiss it due to the behavior of its fans or from hearing little bits -- which is, of course, why many rap fans dismiss classical music -- due to the perceived stuffiness and 'fluffy' television samples).

If asked why you prefer classical, perhaps just respond by asking why he likes rap.
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Dennis K.
« Reply #2 on: Aug 31, 2005, 12:54PM »

It sounds to me like your sax player student fails to see the importance of art as something that enriches our lives.  Art music transcends the drudgery of bill paying, work, and the gazillion things to which we commit ourselves.  In art, there is always something new.  it changes. Grows. evolves.  It has a life ( even thoug it is not alive).  Art transcends the here and now and can affect us for a lifetime.

To help him see the value of art, meet him where he is.  He is surprisingly close.  When he asks you "why classical?," respond with "why Rap?"  Approach it with an open mind.  there is a surprising amount of fine wordsmithing - poetry - going on.  Then talk about what makes it great.  Talk about the elements of rap - rhythm, ostinato, sound effects. Teach him to make aesthetic value judgements.  Before long, you will both discover common links, and one day, Beethoven might come alive for you student.

You are in a great position as a teacher.  You actually have a relationship with your student!  Keep talking!
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john sandhagen
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« Reply #3 on: Aug 31, 2005, 12:55PM »

You talk about being academic...you describe the music that way too.  What about the emotion?  

I was at the beach last week with my family.  I always bring a shovel to play in the sand (kills my wife...put that thing away!).  I just start digging whatever comes to mind, a hole, a trench, pile up a wall.  My kids always ask what I'm doing. I don't tell them, just keep digging. Without fail they start helping, other kids on the beach come over and help too.  Someone finally figures out what we are building (last week was dolphin traps) and they really get into it.  What did I really do?  I got the kids involved, I got them a place to operate from, I got them a couple of other kids to play with.  I sucked them in, big time.  If I had told them I was digging a pit to keep them busy, they'd be halfway down the beach, me chasing them.

Play the 1812 overture, loud.  Be sure there is the chorus and cannons.  Not the deepest of music, but emotional and accessible.  Play Maynard Ferguson for them.  Play the Kenton Wagner album.  Drum corps.  Loud sucks them in.

Make them ask, "What else did Tchaikovsky do?".  Once they ask, your job is a lot easier.  

As for why you listen to classical music, I'd say I liked some of it from the beginning, I learned to like more of it as I developed, and I like most of it now, and the stuff I don't care for I can at least appreciate...That it takes time and thought to understand and comprehend.
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« Reply #4 on: Aug 31, 2005, 12:56PM »

What a good question!  I look forward to seeing how the discussion develops.

I'm having some difficulties right now dealing with enjoyment of music, but putting that all aside, I'd say that what interests me about classical music is the compositional complexity and the interplay of voices.  I'm far less interested in melody than I am in how multiple melodic lines are put together, for instance.  And I find the scope of classical pieces, taking relatively long times to develop ideas and see where they go, appealing, although short works can also be interesting in a different way.

I agree with tbone stake's second paragraph; well put.

Trying to explain why you like something will certainly sound purely academic.  Your friend's description of why he likes rap will most likely be purely academic if he says anything more substantial than "I like it" or how it makes him feel.  That's the nature of explaining things.
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« Reply #5 on: Aug 31, 2005, 05:27PM »

I had a similar discussion with a freshman here just a few days ago, and it really made me think about why I listen to what I listen to.

I listen to classical music for historical and emotional reasons. Historically, listening to it is going to help me be a better performer, and it gives me a good understanding of how the music I play has developed. I like knowing my roots. Listening to jazz for me is almost purely emotional though, as jazz isn't really my primary field.

But I think even if I weren't a music major, I'd still listen to it. There are some pieces that are just a thrill for me to listen to. The first time I heard Verdi's Requiem, the Tuba Mirum gave me chills and it still does today without fail. My first jazz album was "Kind of Blue". Hearing Miles do his thing was all I needed to go out and start snapping up other artists. The soul and creativity that is in the music is contagious. There are a lot of pieces out there that elicit a big emotional reaction from people.

I'm sure rap music elicits similar responses from people, but perhaps our brains are just wired a little differently. Perhaps these people neglect classical music and jazz because of their "elitist" stereotypes, or to protect their images. Perhaps all they need to do is give it a chance. I used to avoid percussion music. Went to one really good percussion ensemble concert, now I'm hooked. Why? Can't say for sure, really. But I think a lot of different genres, given a proper chance, can appeal to a wide range of people.

At the very least, these different genres should be appreciated for what they are, if not loved. I can usually live with a piece if the writer showed some musical merit and creativity, but not if it's just a cookie-cutter pop tune that is indistinguishable from the rest of an album. Perhaps you could recommend a music appreciation class to the sax player and get him exposed to all the great music happening across the world and across history.
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« Reply #6 on: Aug 31, 2005, 05:35PM »

My response would be: it takes me somewhere else. It makes me feel, makes old memories of places, events, people come to mind, it's an adventure of the brain, soul & spirit. It's like reading a good book.

Of course, this kid probably never reads, either.
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« Reply #7 on: Aug 31, 2005, 06:05PM »

I think that there is no possible explanation for why people like things.  It is purely a reaction.  The answer is, "I like it because it makes me happy".

Quote from: "Joe_Guarr"
Perhaps these people neglect classical music and jazz because of their "elitist" stereotypes, or to protect their images.


Or, maybe classical types might not like rap because of their "elitist" self-image.  There's lots of reasons people talk themselves out of liking music.  

It's far easier to dislike different kinds of music then it is to find reasons to appreciate them.  But of course, you all know I think that...  :)
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Frank B
« Reply #8 on: Aug 31, 2005, 06:24PM »

Well, to help convey pure spectrum in size, Ask him about how much rap is out there currently, and whether he feels that's a large amount of music. Then whether he can distinguish between different rappers, and maybe rappers of different locations(east coast vs west coast or such). How similar is Enimem compared to Snoop Dogg compared to RunDMC compared to Nelly? Then can he place styles of rap by the decade atleast? Then realize, the first rap recording was mass produced in about 1979-ish and is worlds apart from the rap on the radio today. So the kicker, what he probably knows of rap has been around for only a short period of time and largly distributed across a single country. Now think of the vast amount of rep there would be if, oh say, it had 600 years worth of time across an entire continent to develop.

Then think of if he can remember any old rap songs from the 80's or 90's. How many? In all likly-hood, if he can remember any, it is because they stuck out from the crowd, either for just him or they stood out in general. A vast amount of music comes and goes, as the waves of the sea, but only a small portion of that is meaningful enough, whether through words, groove, harmonies, or a host of many other aspects to stick out and stay around. Now, considering how old the large majority of classical music is, think about what it takes to stay. In the case of the longer term of classical music it not only has to be good, but also very influential for the most part. People build and shape their entire sonic concept around a few select and key composers and ideas- that's how influential this music was and still is.

Maybe he doesn't hear anything special, or profound, in the realms of classical music. Very likly. This deals with one of the most widespeard lies of music- that it is a universal language. It ain't by a long shot. I've listened to a decent amount of ethnic music recordings ranging from music of other strongly developed cultures to tribal music, and I'll be damned if I can tell what's going on at all without really sinking into the music, reading about what I'm hearing and attempting to understand the culture it came from. Anyone who thinks otherwise, I challenge you to sit at a record player with an old ethnic recording you've never heard before and describe it's meaning and the setting in which it is used, and subtle inflections that differentiate that person's meaning from others.

So think, what would american rap mean to someone who couldn't speak english? Think they would get much out of it at all? Now give a little and say they can speak english but know nothing about American culture or just that part of it and cannot understand the meaning behind the rap. What then does the rap "f*** the police" mean? How do you think they would take it? Hell, how do most older upper/middle class american's take it? The ones I knew who actually heard that(by mistake) when that came out thought it was absolutetly horrible. That grouped was banned from performaing at many places due to that, and their record label even recieved a letter of condemnation from the FBI. Yet, that's not the meaning behind it, not really. It deals with a reaction to tension, oppression, and fear of the police in their area, and the ability to stand up through that and say "f*** you!"

Similar thing with classical music. Once you begin to understand the language, you can grasp some of it. The upper crust almost. Enough to realize that there is some meat there, but not enough to understand the full power behind it. Even those first inital layers though, have a great deal of power if you know how to find it. Look deeper and attempt to understand the innerworking of the music along with the philosophies behind it and the history behind it, and it is enough to be utterly aghast and in awe of a great deal of repitorie.


There are many profound reasons for listening to "classical" music, but to actually understand any of them, you have to try to understand the music and it's roots. There are also many reasons to not care about it in the least. Pick your flavor, or don't pick one at all. What does it all matter? We live, we breathe, we die. Pick your time as you wish- it's yours alone and you only have it for a short time.
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« Reply #9 on: Aug 31, 2005, 06:27PM »

I always go back to my music/food comparison.  

Steak or Lobster?  They're both delicious, I love them both, but they're totally different foods.  Not liking one doesn't make it bad, or make the person who doesn't like it less sophisticated.  Maybe they're allergic to shellfish.

Maybe your classical music is a nice Maine lobster with drawn butter and your friend's rap is a plate of Spaghetti-O's, but it's what each of you enjoys and there's no reason to defend or even try to explain it.
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« Reply #10 on: Aug 31, 2005, 08:34PM »

Quote
I always go back to my music/food comparison


I LOVE using this comparison. Except I use it slightly differently.  I always say to my 12 yr old "pop listening" daughter "millions of people eat McDonalds, but does that make it GOOD food??" he he, I think NOT.

I always think of the cliche's - music being food for the soul etc.

Quote
You talk about being academic...you describe the music that way too. What about the emotion


I think this hits the nail on the head as well. Music should make you FEEL something, preferably a whole RANGE of emotions and not just "hyped/up/happy" like rap/pop etc.

Lastly, I say that I like to listen to music that takes you on some sort of  ride/journey. It has to go somewhere and do something to make it interesting, not just be the same beat/rhythm/key/volume etc. all the way through.

At the end of the day though, I guess it's "each to his own" My daughter really hates the stuff I listen to, but I keep playing it in the hope that one day it may "sink in" - maybe wishful thinking, but you never know.
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« Reply #11 on: Aug 31, 2005, 09:07PM »

Quote from: "FreddyB"
I LOVE using this comparison. Except I use it slightly differently.  I always say to my 12 yr old "pop listening" daughter "millions of people eat McDonalds, but does that make it GOOD food??" he he, I think NOT.


For many people, it IS good food.  It's food they prefer, regardless of the views of others as to what constitutes good food.  And this is the point.

One difficulty with this subject is that asking "why do you like classical music" can become "why do you prefer classical music to this other music", which is a different question entirely.

Quote
I think this hits the nail on the head as well. Music should make you FEEL something, preferably a whole RANGE of emotions and not just "hyped/up/happy" like rap/pop etc.


Perhaps.  Personally, I don't like to get into what music should or shouldn't do.  If the music you like does these things for you, and this is the reason you like it, fine.  Again, it's not a question about "why is classical better than rap", but rather "what do you see in classical".

Quote
At the end of the day though, I guess it's "each to his own"


I concur.  Still, it is interesting to consider what characteristic you find appealing.  Sometimes such analysis can help you find other things you might like because it has similar characteristics.  Kind of like realizing you like spicy food, or mild fish, or creamy sauces.

Quote
My daughter really hates the stuff I listen to, but I keep playing it in the hope that one day it may "sink in" - maybe wishful thinking, but you never know.


Let us know how it works!  Or maybe you'll come to like what SHE listens to.  Maybe both!
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Brian

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« Reply #12 on: Aug 31, 2005, 09:25PM »

Quote from: "Joe Jackson"
I think that there is no possible explanation for why people like things.  It is purely a reaction.  The answer is, "I like it because it makes me happy"...



I wouldn't exactly say it always makes me happy, but the music I like "moves" me. It causes an emotional response.

My thoughts are that the music that you enjoy listening to is the music that is there; the music that you listen to; that is part of your culture. It is associated with your social interactions. I grew up listening to classical music (my parents, older siblings) and jazz (my older brother) there was always something playing around the home. My children grew up with some classical music, but picked up their affection to the "rock" of the era by association with their peers. (Lately when they are older, they have developed more eclectic interests.) Unfortunately the large majority of the music that youth hear is that that has been feed to them by dint of beeing the type of "music" that will generate the most revenue. e. g. appealing to the least common denominator. I am hoping that with more types of music available via the internet and the ability to have quality CD recordings more inexpensively, this will result in greater interest in a wider variety of musical styles. Additionally, you cannot underestimate the contribution of music programs in the schools. The necessity of supporting them is paramount. Many of us have been turned on to quality music through the school music programs that we participate in.  Hopefully even the sax playing friend mentioned in the first post
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« Reply #13 on: Sep 01, 2005, 06:51AM »

Hi. Another very interesting topic. I was classically trained from the age of 12. I can read and play any type of music and and spent most of my professional career in theatre and session work where reading was paramount. I love all kinds of music and listen to all kinds. Tell your tenor sax friend to listen to the structure of Bach. I think that a lot of Bach's music could be classed a classical bop. I love listening to the great bone players like Carl Fontana etc, but I doubt that the average listening public appreciates the technical difficulties of playing that kind of music. they either like it or they don't. One of my young students is an avid Jazz fan and had never heard of Tommy Dorsey and when I played him some old Dorsey records he wouldn't believe that some one could play like that in the 30's.
In my lesson's I make a point of playing a classical CD for them to let them hear Mahler's 3rd or Mozart's Requiem, to give them an insight into the classics even though they want to learn Jazz. Regards Max Croot
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« Reply #14 on: Sep 01, 2005, 09:02AM »

BFW wrote:

Quote
FreddyB wrote:
I LOVE using this comparison. Except I use it slightly differently. I always say to my 12 yr old "pop listening" daughter "millions of people eat McDonalds, but does that make it GOOD food??" he he, I think NOT.


For many people, it IS good food. It's food they prefer, regardless of the views of others as to what constitutes good food. And this is the point.


But do they really think it is GOOD food or just cheap and convenient and a bit tasty until the horrible after taste kicks in??


Quote
Quote:
I think this hits the nail on the head as well. Music should make you FEEL something, preferably a whole RANGE of emotions and not just "hyped/up/happy" like rap/pop etc.


Perhaps. Personally, I don't like to get into what music should or shouldn't do. If the music you like does these things for you, and this is the reason you like it, fine. Again, it's not a question about "why is classical better than rap", but rather "what do you see in classical".


Point taken, but I still think (just my opinion) that Most people listen to music for pleasure don't they?? I personally just find it more pleasurable to feel it in the heart. I guess the rappers maybe like to feel it in their bodies?? Don't know

P.S. I'm still not very good with navigating the quotes, sorry :shuffle:
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Dennis K.
« Reply #15 on: Sep 01, 2005, 09:19AM »

You are a musician.  You know how to break down and analyze music.  You know how to make comparisons.

Talk to your student.  Analyze his music.  Point out what is interesting.  Draw comparisons.  Lead him (like a good teacher would) to draw his own conclusions.

You can show him how rap is linked to music.  Better yet, ask leading questions so that he can make the leap himself.
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BFW
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« Reply #16 on: Sep 01, 2005, 09:31AM »

Quote from: "FreddyB"
But do they really think it is GOOD food or just cheap and convenient and a bit tasty until the horrible after taste kicks in??


Yes, some folks do.  Your tastes are different.  My kids, like a bunch of kids, would rather go to some places like McDonald's or Burger King than to certain places that sell what I consider far superior food.  It's a personal matter.

Quote
Most people listen to music for pleasure don't they??


Yes, but the question remains, WHY does it please you?  That's an interesting question, and the point, I think, of this topic.  You feel it emotionally, great.  Rap fans probably do, too, just in a different way or in response to a different set of stimuli.  WHY does it generate an emotional response in you?  What is it about the music that makes you respond that way?

Maybe you prefer not to think about that, it ruins it for you.  That's understandable; I know plenty of people who feel that way.  I don't respond emotionally, but I do like to think about why I find certain music interesting.

Quote
P.S. I'm still not very good with navigating the quotes, sorry :shuffle:


To add "BFW wrote" to a quote, put ="BFW" in the first quote tag.  An example:

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[quote="That's all she"]The end![/quote]


yields:

Quote from: "That's all she"
The end!
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Brian

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« Reply #17 on: Sep 01, 2005, 09:33AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
Talk to your student.  Analyze his music.  Point out what is interesting.  Draw comparisons.  Lead him (like a good teacher would) to draw his own conclusions.


Oooh, good idea, Dennis!  Good!

Quote
You can show him how rap is linked to music.  Better yet, ask leading questions so that he can make the leap himself.


I'll assume you meant to say how rap is linked to other music.  :-P  But a good point, again.
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Brian

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Dennis K.
« Reply #18 on: Sep 01, 2005, 10:23AM »

Darn, those Freudian slip typos :)

But - The elements of rap that are the most prevalent are the words and the ostinato rhtyhm, interspersed by breaks.

Rap lyrics have VERY close links to modern poetry.  When tying it to poetry, the thought process is Rap -> Poetry -> Literature.  Lots of music if based on literature.  So the big question to be answered by all the small leading questions is: how is poetry like music?

The ostinato rhythm interspersed with breaks - check out Christopher Rouse's Infernal Machine, or the ginastera Three Cornered Hat - malambo mvt.
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Dave
« Reply #19 on: Sep 01, 2005, 02:52PM »

Very interesting discussion!  I deal with these questions all the time in college courses I teach that are geared towards non-music majors and non-musicians.

Quote from: "BFW"
Quote from: "FreddyB"
But do they really think it is GOOD food or just cheap and convenient and a bit tasty until the horrible after taste kicks in??


Yes, some folks do.  Your tastes are different.  My kids, like a bunch of kids, would rather go to some places like McDonald's or Burger King than to certain places that sell what I consider far superior food.  It's a personal matter.

Quote
Most people listen to music for pleasure don't they??


Yes, but the question remains, WHY does it please you?


Here's some food for thought (pun intended  :-P ).

It's all well and good to acknowledge that different individuals have different tastes in food and music (and everything else), but if you take a look at  individuals with a background in the subject (such as trained musicians or chefs) you'll notice that they tend to have "high brow" tastes.  Why is it that intense study in music tends to make individuals at the very least more likely to enjoy "art music" and often even leads to an inability to enjoy pop musical styles?

BFW commented that his kids really enjoy fast food.  Why is it that kids tend to enjoy pop music and fast food and adults tend to prefer other types of music and food?  

Why is it that some pieces of music have stuck around and continue to be performed today, hundreds of years after they were composed and other pieces of music receive a great deal of radio play and then are little heard from again after a few months?

People chose music for a variety of reasons, not always purely based on the sound.  People also choose food for different reasons, not always based on flavor.  Should music appreciation be taught with this in mind?

Quote from: "thunderslide"
First let me say, he listens to almost exclusively rap music. He listens to some jazz, but only academically- so that he can play saxophone better. In other words, he listens to the ideas put forth by those musicians only so far as they will further his ability to play sax, but not for enjoyment.


The answer to your question may be found in the answers to the questions I posited above.  What I think is important to note as we consider these things is that your student does listen to some jazz, even if it is only to further a goal of playing better.  What I really want to know is whether in 5 or 10 years this same student's tastes in music will be similar to what he listens to today or whether they will be different, regardless of whether he continues to study music.


Dave
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