Why Americans Hate Instrumental Music

What happened to American music culture during the last few decades.

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4.15 - that's the percentage of sales shared by the jazz (2.15%) and classical (2%) music genres in the United States market in 2012. This includes the legends of the genres in popular culture (Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, etc.), current artists working within them (Diana Krall, Josh Bell, et al), artists whose individual musicianship trumps that of most everyone else (Igor Stravinsky, Thelonius Monk) and those who simply make us cringe (Kenny G).

But why is this? Why is it that the two genres of music that take the most training, practice and patience in order for the artist to perfect and be able to competently perform hold such a modicum amount of sales in the United States market? Even despite the fact that these two genres are regarded highly enough by our culture to be taught at every school with a music department and are considered forms of fine art.

However, I am not specifically speaking of the jazz and classical genres - I point them out because they principally consist of what it is that I am referring to: Instrumental Music.

Think about it, what was the last instrumental song that went No. 1 on the US popular charts? How about top twenty? Top forty?

In the 1930s and '40s (arguably the very beginning of American popular music) instrumental music was the norm and many of the greatest pieces of popular music from that period were instrumental: Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine;" Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing;" Duke Ellington's "Take the A-Train;" Glen Miller's "In the Mood." Ironically, all of the aforementioned song titles do have lyrics written for them but it is the instrumental versions that are best remembered and seemingly embody that musical era.

Fast forward the clock to the 1960's and instrumental music was still commonplace: 103 instrumentals cracked the Billboard top 20 - nine of which went number one.

In the 1970s there was a bit of a change - many pop/rock groups were no longer doing purely instrumental works but were having featured instrumental sections (i.e. solos for guitar, keyboard, sax, etc.) many times these instrumental sections were found at the end of a song allowing for long improvisational solos at live concerts. During the decade, only 45 instrumentals reached top 20 status on Billboard's pop chart roughly half of these had success directly due to a movie/television connection or were arrangements of previously familiar material - Beethoven literally went No. 1 in America in September of 1976 nearly 150 years after he died in Europe.

The 1980s and 90s saw a continuation of what was established in the '70s - only to a lesser extent - with artists vying for MTV airplay the focus fell more on an image and less about the performance. As such, the majority of instrumental music that found its way into the mainstream was originally written for movies and television.

By the turn of the century to today, instrumental music (and even featured instrumental sections) has become all but extinct in the realm of popular music (and by popular music I am referring to any new music that is being played on commercial radio - or marketed in a very similar fashion). The proof here being that no instrumental has reached the top 20 since Kenny G's "Auld Lang Syne (Millenium Remix)" in 1999 and since that time only three have found their way to the top 40 (the last being "Axel F (The Frog Song)" by Crazy Frog in 2005 - which is a remake of Harold Faltermeyer's Beverly Hills Cop movie theme).

And for those of you keeping track, the last instrumental work to attain the top spot on the pop charts is keyboardist Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme" in 1985 - the last one to top the pops not originally written for movies or television was "Rise" by Herb Alpert in 1979 - but the piece received plenty of television help to attain the No. 1 spot. The last instrumental without the assistance of visual media to go No. 1 was, arguably, 1975's "The Hustle" by Van McCoy and the Soul Symphony (I say arguably because the song is predominantly instrumental - it does include vocals with tangible words); otherwise, the honor goes to the 1973 Barry White composition "Love's Theme."

So, what is it about instrumental music that Americans are no longer able to understand and appreciate?

Perhaps the answer is that in the last few generations Americans have become less and less musically inclined and every corner of our popular culture seems to exacerbate the diminishing of the typical American's appreciation and knowledge of music as art. This goes beyond the slashing of public school budgets where, typically, music and art are the first things to suffer from the cuts.

Looking at yesteryear, my grandfather speaks of the days in his youth when just about everyone competently played at least one instrument, how every village had its own community band and when artists came to town they found local players to be the backing band (Chuck Berry, for instance, made great use of local musicians when he toured).

My grandfather's generation (my grandfather was born in 1930) is basically the first to live their entire lives with easy and immediate access to music due to the inventions of radio and records; yet, it was still expected for a child to learn an instrument. Before these inventions if you wanted to hear music you had to perform it yourself, go to the symphony or find someone playing on their front porch, at the barbershop or in the local tavern. Now, at the flip of a switch we can have immediate access to high quality music (radio, television, computer, etc.).

One effect of having immediate access to music is that less and less people learn how to play an instrument; simply because it is no longer necessary to play in order to have access to music. With having less and less people playing, the quality of those who do play also gets diminished (i.e. the talent pool is smaller).

Basically, with less people playing any musical instruments there is a less understanding of music due to the fact that there are many people finding no purpose in learning anything about the art. Also there is no understanding of the challenges in learning how to play an instrument (particularly at a high level) and therefore no relation to those who are able to perform an instrument at a high level. With this lack of musical knowledge American ears have become lazier and lazier.

How many Americans realize that John Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the USA," John Cafferty's "On the Dark Side" and "What I Like About You" by The Romantics are all basically the same thing? Or that Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" and Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" share the same basic melody? (In fact, Ravel's "Bolero" found its way into many rock/pop songs throughout the '60s and '70s.) To this end, if we put different words to a given tune - for many - it becomes an entirely new song. However, it isn't necessarily the same in other countries (remember Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," with composition credits given to Joe Garland, did you know that its main melody is a carbon copy of "Tar Paper Stomp" by Wingy Manone - recorded circa 1930?).

These days, no matter where you are, it is impossible to escape American popular culture - movies, music, fashion, etc. In music, groups that want to make it big target the United States and foreign groups have lyrics written in English and sing them with American accents (perhaps most notable of these "English as a second language groups" are ABBA and Scorpions). Even native English speakers use a similar approach to broaden their marketability - The Beatles, U2 and Adele have all recorded with American accents on their songs that became popular hits in the United States.

How many Americans commonly listen to music in a language they do not understand? I encourage you to do it some time, what you will find is that the vocalist becomes another instrument and what matters most in the song are the elements that make music musical (and artistic): melody, dynamics, density, structure, timbre and more. Basically, you wind up listening to instrumental music.

This means that most non-English speakers grow up listening to a lot of instrumental music - which explains why jazz and classical music (and the musicians who perform them) have a greater share of the markets, and have more readily available performances (and more lucrative ones at that), in Europe, Asia and South America than they do in the United States.

Thanks to the advent of MTV, music has become more and more about the visual rather than the aural - it has become more important to have a great video rather than great music. The concert experience no longer is dependent upon a musicians ability to interpret the songs selected for performance but are loaded with light shows, pyrotechnics and/or dancers - and often a live performance is an attempt to replicate what was recorded and captured in a studio setting. (All that comes to my mind as I write this is Katy Perry's halftime performance at the 2015 Super Bowl - she bounced around the stage the whole time and lip-synched her much of the performance to a track that was pumped through the arena's public address sound system - only to be joined by Lenny Kravitz who pantomimed his guitar playing. How many could truly call that an actual performance of live music? How many viewers realized that musically several of the songs Perry performed had the same general melody?)

The American culture has become visually dominant (or more aptly dependent) to the extent that music without visual appeal cannot command the attention of an audience. Music has become a background element - a side dish served with the main course. Think about it, many people "listen" to music while working, exercising, driving a vehicle, playing a game, cooking, writing, talking, etc. Yes, the music is present but it isn't the focus of attention it is a backdrop - an accompaniment to something else.

Which is the difference between hearing music and listening to music. When actually listening to music it is where 100% of your attention lies without any outside distractions taking you away from the musical experience (whether they come in the form of sight, taste, smell or sound). At the end of a listening session you should be mentally exhausted because you focused your attention on every nuance throughout the duration of Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony," Miles Davis' "A Kind of Blue" album, even popular music like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" or "I'm a Slave 4 U" by Britney Spears (Yes, even popular music can have artistic qualities to it but the music must be listened to in order to be fully appreciated).

Visual dominance (or outside distractions) are not the only problems, the larger problem is the dominance of thought. Most people have no idea what to do with abstraction in general; in order to fully appreciate abstraction one must be able to turn off their thought process, or at least push their thoughts to the side.

This is not as easy a task as it may seem. Take the time to go to a modern art exhibit or museum and make note of how often you find yourself thinking: "I could have done this" or "That looks like something a third-grader did" or "Why is this in a museum" etc.

Most people are unable (or unwilling) to let the abstraction affect their emotions directly; the experience must be filtered through interpretation. In many ways it is a crutch we all use to deal with fears that state, "I don't understand this and if I admit that I don't understand this I'll look unsophisticated, ignorant and stupid." These types of fears fill the mind with noise and the audience member is unable to see, hear, taste, feel... Dare I say, unable to understand and appreciate the art presented before them.

The same happens with instrumental music. Suddenly, without any lyrics, there is nothing for the mind to latch onto and the projection of emotional values becomes more difficult. However, as soon as there are lyrics speaking of love, hate, loneliness, etc. The listeners emotions are easily tapped and accessed. The listener no longer has to interpret the music being performed (and perhaps even interpreted) by the artist. This is why songs with lyrics in your native tongue and pictures of tangible objects are easier for most people to appreciate and understand.

Being a form of abstract art, which instrumental music is by its very nature, takes effort by the listener in order to be fully appreciated. In the same manner, sampling a winery's selection doesn't instantaneously turn one into a wine connoisseur nor does staring at colors (which we all do everyday) automatically turn any of us into an expert on color schemes. Regardless the medium, fine art is far more demanding for both the artist and the audience than popular art ever will be.

This rather unfortunate trend in the American culture seems to be irreversible, and the popularity of rap music (and TV shows like "American Idol") seems to be a clear indication of this trend.

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate rap for what it is, but it does not promote the full development of musical ears. If a song truly has musical substance it can be played in a purely instrumental fashion (whether by solo piano or guitar, to a woodwind quintet, or all the way up to a full orchestra) and we would still be able to recognize the piece and be able to enjoy it (or loathe it if we didn't care for it in the first place).

The lack of musical substance becomes clearly visible in much of American popular music. Many popular songs use just a few chords (three or four), have a melody line that doesn't change much (see Katy Perry) and their isn't a wide variety of dynamics, density, texture or timbre in much of what is popular - nor are the songs used as a vehicle to display instrumental, improvisational and/or musical prowess; however, we certainly could argue that popular music shows off the prowess of a recording engineer.

Perhaps this trend promotes the appreciation of poetry but certainly not the appreciation of music as a form of fine art. If we were to reverse this trend, we need to make a conscious effort in promoting the abstract aspects of music. For instance, play more instrumental music in schools, teach kids how to play an instrument instead of how to sing. Maybe even going as far as only teaching school kids instrumental music as their exposure to music outside of school would be dominated by non-instrumental music anyway - it would be a way of balancing things out.

This problem extends far beyond the American disinterest for jazz and classical music; it is a problem for high quality music in general. The dominance of words and visuals in the American culture has lead many to believe that listening to rap or watching music videos is the full extent of what music has to offer. If this continues, they will be missing a huge part of what - not just music and art but - life has to offer.

67 comments sorted by best / new / date

    luciferiad
    It seems now, if we cannot see it, it doesn't exist. We call it boring. We will watch Game of Thrones, but not read a Song of Ice and Fire. We will flock to the theater for the newest installment of The Hobbit, but never crack the spine of the Tolkien classic (and thereby learn that making the novel into 3 movies was mostly a great way to make obscenely wealthy people even wealthier). We will pack stadiums to hear the warbling of computer-generated, autotuned, topical pop schlock...well, you get the point. Idiocracy. Watch it.
    ChucklesMginty
    This is why IMO few people like classical music nowadays. And I don't mean people who put a Youtube playlist on in the background whilst they do their math homework to relax, I mean actually sitting down and JUST listening. How many people do you know who can actually sit down and listen to an 1 hour long symphony without zoning out? Barely anyone has that kind of attention span for music. I know not everyone will agree but that's definitely my impression. Of course classical music is boring if you don't f*cking listen, would you watch a film whilst reading a book or studying and not try and follow the narrative? Passive listening is the worst thing to happen to music.
    jameswryantx
    I listen to Bach while I do math, and for me, at least, passive listening is near impossible due to my interest in music.
    legendaryjj10
    Certain composers I can study to, like Haydn or Bach, but others like Beethoven, Strauss, Liszt, or Shostakovich demand my full attention. Classical and Baroque era classical music are probably the easiest to passively listen to, because they heavily rely on following the same form. Post Beethoven is a lot more demanding on the listener, especially when you get into Symphonic Poems and such. I personally I find it's rare to find someone who has ever chosen to sit down and actively listen to a piece of classical music outside of a few pop hits (In the Hall of the Mountain King, Moonlight Sonata, Toccatta and Fugue in D minor, etc). I wish more people took an interest in that kind of thing because it totally would be something I could connect to others over. As it is, I have two friends I jam with who are up for pretty much anything, from progressive stuff like Steven Wilson, to metal like Strapping Young Lad, to jazz like Django Reinhart, to classical like Rachmaninoff, to EDM like Excision. They are fun to hang out with because we totally get eachother.
    Metal_Man666
    And the UK is different?http://www.launchingfilms.com/research-d... http://www.launchingfilms.com/research-d... Take the word "Americans" out. Its everywhere. We might just be the biggest offenders. This isnt taking a shot at you either. I just find the Brits will jump on anything they can to make themselves seem superior to the USA
    iommi600
    I live in England and I think this place is a shithole packed full of people who do nothing but read the Daily Mail, listen to Ed Sheeran and watch TOWIE regularly. No stereotyping, please. Like you said, it's everywhere. But hey, at least we've got quality football over here, so yeah, we're superior!
    whirlpool
    We're not superior, but we are DIFFERENT to the U.S. England isn't a prison, you can leave anytime if you think its a shithole. So you've been to all of England have you, so you speak with authority on your stupid generalization.
    lopez.j.david
    I really thought that this was a problem excusively in Mexico and South America only. People don´t like anything that makes them think, they want it all easy.
    moros1989
    Well people in the US have that issue. No one here wants to think or work
    Carl_Berg
    Great comment. Though I fear that this is not only valid for Americans, but for most of humanity...
    dyingturtle
    I agree with most of those points. However, The Hobbit film trilogy relies on related Tolkien lore and actually enhances the films to me and a lot of other people. As a fantasy fan, I'd much rather have three awesome movies, than one.
    Izzy-Sweet
    I think his point was proven by the third film. It was just fighting, literally nothing else of importance happened. The war ended and... that was it! Boom. Nothing. On to the LOTR trilogy.
    plaguespy24
    I agree with most of your points, but next time could you please consider other people's conditions when you type your posts. My A.D.D. caught up to me half way through and it became quite overbearing to actually finish reading. Maybe next time you could do a video with lots of pretty colors and a catchy hook line that you repeat over and over with backup dancers. Oh, don't forget to include relevant trends on Twitter and Instagram so future viewers with my condition can "follow" and "like" you and move on with their daily smartphone-oriented lives.
    jvokes
    Some good points raised here. What worries me is how this ipod generation will affect music consumption. Already we're seeing established groups rely on tour sales rather than selling CD's. Of course the new medium of purchasing music being to download has all but killed owning a hard copy. I myself still try as much as possible to buy music in a solid form that I can touch. I'm just old fashioned I suppose. (or just old). I like to take the time to listen to a an album. Properly; as the main post describes, without distraction. I don't want to sound all condescending, (I do), but these kids nowadays. They hardly listen to albums anymore. One track here, one track there. They are missing so much. When a band, whichever genre they belong to, makes an album; they agonize over what order to put the songs. Over which songs to include. Back in the day it was even worse as you had two sides to consider. Didn't want side two to be just full of filler, but side one had to grab your attention. I find when you put the time into listening to an album, it grows on you. First or second listens will have the catchy songs jump out at you. But with a bit more work you unlock the slow burners, that over time become your favourites. The people I talk to about music don't do that these days. Christ, in a week they'll have totally forgotten about the latest big thing and moved on to the next. I've even met people who claim to have no musical taste whatsoever. Something I find hard to comprehend. There must be something that moves you, something that touches your soul. This new generation of spoon-fed youngsters though aren't far from this at all. "I just want something I can dance to". I've heard that a fair number of times. It obviously doesn't matter what, as long as the beat stays the same. Don't get me started on DJ's as artists or musicians... I will grow old with my CD collection, (I've downloaded too, I'm not that old) and hope that there are more people like me, who want to keep music 'Live and Alive'.
    selrisitai
    Cannot particularly share your appreciation of listening to entire albums. I mean, I do listen to entire albums, but the order of the songs and the story told (even on concept albums) seems to be more theory than practice. Listening to Avantasia's "The Metal Opera, Part I&II" seemed to be exactly the same as listening to a non-concept album, or just listening to a bunch of unrelated songs on my HTC Smartphone. The concepts are so vaguely connected, and so poetically and abstractly written, that there is no way to truly connect them in my mind. You essentially need a booklet to explain the story, song by song, for it to even be understandable as a cohesive story. So for me, albums are pointless. Just give me a twelve-minute epic and I will be happy. Incidentally, the longest song I like is 14 minutes long. I think I would dismiss a song that is an entire hour!
    Silverpack
    Great article, pal ! I agree with several of your points. You reminded me of a brilliant piece of interview from Frank Zappa, in which he said that this major shift in how "regular non-musician listeners" consume music, was also due to a different approach from the music industry itself (which includes both record companies and radio stations). Zappa said that during the 60s to the 70s, most record company executives, while being quite conservative in their own personal musical tastes, still behaved like entrepreneurs when it came to business, thus they took risk and actually signed artists of styles that then became immensely popular, even though no one would have suspected it in the first place - and radio stations would follow the wave. Some of the biggest successes of pop music benefitted from that - Carl Perkins, and a lot of rockabilly artists, actually, had trouble having their songs played on the radio because of the reluctance of the station (back then, those type of artists played neither "black" or "white" music, and this racial ambiguity was still an issue). Still, you had people who were willing to take a risk by endorsing such artists, and the investments paid off. By the late 1980s, things started to change. There was this newer generation of executives which, not only wanted to accentuate the visual focus you mentionned, but also "assumed" what the public's taste would be. Thus, they stopped trying to promote "new" things and played it safe by always marketing the same kinds of genres. The irony is, this approach is completely unjustified. Sure, it's safer financially speaking, and if you always feed people with the same crap on the radio, they'll ask more of it. But if you take the time to make them discover other styles, there is a strong chance they'll get into some of it too. Before she met me, all my girlfriend listened to was piano-based pop and a few boys band. And since I made her listen to several of my personal favorites, she now enjoys New Orleans Jazz, bluegrass, country, tradionnal heav metal, and rock-based instrumentals. Just to name a few. The only point I have to disagree with would actually be your slight overrating of the European scene. Sure, jazz and classical tend to be frequently played on old people's playlists, and we've got plenty of decent festivals too, but... It's not so much the case with the younger generation, which tends to have the same radio-driven tastes as their American counterparts. Walk in a Spanish, French, or Italian street, ask the next 20-something you see if he knows Coltrane, Davis, or Baker, and if he can hum one of their tunes, you'll find yourself sadly disappointed with the results. The sad thing is, even the national artists who still sing in the national language and don't market their music abroad still follow the same tropes observed in Americian pop music and barely stray away from such sounds, let alone come up with instrumentals.
    speedskier465
    I do have a problem with the description of how MTV has changed music by making it visual. What about the extravagant shows of bands like Pink Floyd. The music is fantastic but lights and pyrotechnics and everything else that went into their shows pushed music into a visual art.
    pepisick
    If you look back, you can see they kinda contradict themselves. At first, Waters complained on how the audience wasn't enough quiet to listen the beginning of Echoes, and even literally spit in the face of a guy that asked screaming for a radial song.
    eGraham
    But they also began to tour less because they didn't like performing to large crowds. They claimed that it felt too impersonal. Also, I'm an American and instrumental music is my preferred style. I won't disagree that it's relatively unpopular in the US right now, but I think "hate" is a particularly strong word. Perhaps "don't appreciate" would have been better.
    sloppyjoe24
    I might argue that just as much people today can play an instrument today as they did back in the day. Although I have no source to back that up, when this author claims people had to learn how to play an instrument to hear any music at all (and I'm sure that's true), that doesn't necessarily indicate that more people back then could play an instrument as opposed to today. I probably wouldn't have evolved passed the beginning stages of guitar if if weren't for the Internet. The problem may be that we have too many distractions to have the patience to develop such appreciation instrumental music, or even learning how to play an instrument skillfully/properly for that matter.
    bunnyh0pz
    Simple. Because the youth controls what's popular. Of course most kids aren't buying classical or jazz albums. No journalists in the 50's were writing articles about our dying culture because kids were listening to "that damn rock and roll devil music" instead of classical.
    Nameless742
    Can't say Britain hasn't gone in this direction either. I reckon it's just down to exposure. The further you go back, the more pianos, guitars, violins, cello and many other instruments were in households. Now we have TV and internet for exposure which is dominated by the big record labels limiting our exposure. The only reason I started out playing guitar was my grandfather bought my sister one, I happened to take a shine to it and have played ever since. My grandparents exposed me to a lot of tasteful music and I'm glad they did. I'll be sure to remember that when I have kids.
    Captain Insano
    I think the major flaw with this argument is that - it acts like electronica, dubstep, techno,, etc are not legitimate forms of music. Most of which is 'instrumental' in nature, and I would say those are curently enjoying moderate popularity in the US.
    cjog210
    The author didn't take into account that the Harlem Shake song was actually the last instrumental to reach number 1.
    Corner9
    People act like I'm crazy for liking bands like Pelican and Russian Circles. I tell them that you can't be in a hurry to listen to it; just let it wash over you. I think that's a major reason why instrumental music has such little exposure. People are just too impatient to listen and learn about music, whether it is listening or playing. It's pretty sad in my opinion.
    Way Cool JR.
    Just because Instrumental music isn't in the mainstream in America does not mean it's not greatly appreciated here. In fact I find it to be quite the opposite here, Americans actually love it (maybe not as many as you would like). And I think there are just as many, if not more people playing instruments today as there were 50 or more years ago. You do make some good points, but I think you are far off on these 2.
    yogosan
    If anything, there is an over appreciation of instruments. How often does a song with no instruments (apart from the human voice) top the charts. Perhaps the over emphasis of instruments serves to belittle what the artists is trying to communicate, or what they should communicate. Take this song for example, the lack of a dominating physical instruments actually serves to highlight what a beautiful, powerful and skilled instrument the human voice really is.
    Kueller917
    I had a discussion like this a few weeks ago (about foreign music, not instrumentals) about the sing-along aspect. Nothing new to music but it seems to have dominated popular culture. The kinda thing you can sing along to with catchiness, or the big anthems everyone can go along with. Speaking anecdotally, the lyrical hook seems to be the part that really gets peoples' attention. Hip-hop is primarily lyrical and its rise would also represent that. Probably an emotional level too. The voice is the hardest instrument to properly synthesize because it's the one we are the most familiar with. Even loving foreign music I sometimes find myself disconnected from lack of understanding. Spoken language can offer a lot more complexity in emotion. Not inherently (I can't prove that), but just cause most people will be likely to have a higher understanding of it. Someone mentioned electronic music which does tend to be vary sparse or empty of vocals. That's big today. Also I see a lot of people loving soundtracks. Whether it be to games or movies or whatever. In a quick YouTube search Interstellar's main theme has over a million views.
    jerrykramskoy
    I think technology and economies of scale play a huge part here ... it doesn't cost a fortune to have a home recording set up, and the DAW manufacturers have a vested interest in making music production easier and easier, as they compete with each other. So song writing can easily become an assembly process, without the need for understanding of music. With that in place, the voice and lyric becomes the differentiator (mix aside!!). Having heard the imagination ( agreat deal) that still gets applied in the above context, I think there's a lot of music waiting to surprise us if the barriers to understanding are reduced / broken down.That said, there's a huge amount of satisfaction in gradually improving on an instrument to the point where mechanics and knowledge are not an issue, and that's a shame that lots of kids don't go down this route.
    zoizma
    There are a lot of fine points, but also stuff that's just ridiculous. For example this line caught my attention: "This rather unfortunate trend in the American culture seems to be irreversible, and the popularity of rap music (and TV shows like "American Idol") seems to be a clear indication of this trend." To summarize TV shows like "American Idol" and call rap-music an unfortunate trend, was either intentionally provocative line in the otherwise mostly well written article, or then you simply haven't had enough exposure to either of the genres. American Idol has, while not denying the amount of horrible music, also given us undeniably talented artists like Adam Lambert, whether or not you like his singing or music. Rap music on the other hand - fans of hiphop know their jazz- and funk-records in general much better than the average music-listener, and the amount of influence from these two respective genres in hip-hop is undeniable. No, not meaning the listeners of the rnb-techno-whatever-nickiminaj-shit you might hear on radio. Instead of instrumental prowess however, in hip-hop it's more about the groove and rhythm - something that a lot of jazz lost at some point, which I would attribute also to the decline of it's popularity. Things like free-jazz or fusion just do not really appeal to the casual listener.
    selrisitai
    I think he just meant that, in mainstream music, the explosive popularity of rap is just an indication of the greater interest in lyrics than music.
    ninjamo
    That "no lyrics, no point" mentality has always been annoying. It's like a sign of insecurity for the musically challenged. Music can still speak to the soul without words.
    LightxGrenade
    I see the point the article is trying to make but there's not really much to back it up if you ask me. 1. You say the talent pool has decreased because people don't NEED to learn how to play an instrument in order to have access to music. - What facts are you using to make this assumption or is it just an opinion? What if it turns out that in actuality more people are playing instruments now than ever before? 2. "How many Americans commonly listen to music in a language they do not understand? I encourage you to do it some time, what you will find is that the vocalist becomes another instrument" - who's to say that this isn't the way some people view song vocals to begin with? In fact, some of the most famous and popular singers in many genres are known for their vocal range and the timbre of their voice; it's what defines them. So when I hear someone like Freddie Mercury, Barry White, Whitney Houston, or Mariah Carey am I not appreciating their vocals for how they act as an instrument within the song, not just because they are singing lyrics I may like? 3. The American culture has become visually dominant (or more aptly dependent) to the extent that music without visual appeal cannot command the attention of an audience. Music has become a background element - a side dish served with the main course. - I would argue that music has always been involved with other forms of art and that this is something that is neither "American" in nature, nor is it a "recent" trend. In plenty of cultures, music is regularly accompanied by dancing, or some sort of visual performance. Opera is technically a visual performance accompanied with a musical performance and I don't think anyone will argue that opera somehow contributed to the diminishing popularity of instrumental music. 4. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate rap for what it is, but it does not promote the full development of musical ears. If a song truly has musical substance it can be played in a purely instrumental fashion (whether by solo piano or guitar, to a woodwind quintet, or all the way up to a full orchestra) and we would still be able to recognize the piece and be able to enjoy it (or loathe it if we didn't care for it in the first place). - There is no basis to prove this because the criteria that you say can lead to "full development of musical ears" is completely opinion based and open for interpretation. And simply because a rapper's lyrics may be spoken instead of sung like a melody line doesn't make it have less "musical substance". Unless it's acapella there's usually a song with a melody playing while a rapper does his/her thing. 5. The dominance of words and visuals in the American culture has lead many to believe that listening to rap or watching music videos is the full extent of what music has to offer." - Again it's totally opinion based and there's no data to back it up. What if it actually works in reverse and words and visuals are just guides or doorways to a deeper exploration of what music has to offer? Overall I get what you're trying to say, but when you're writing a persuasive article (which seems to be the case here) you can't say certain things without the data to back it up unless you're a highly regarded expert in the field you're talking about and even then having data is preferred. If this was an article written by a jazz or classical music historian it would help convince me but again, data is king because numbers don't lie. Without data, or proper context of who the writer is and why we should care about his or her opinion, an article can easily turn into a rant, a complaint, an advertisement, or simply just a very biased opinion.
    Silverpack
    1. I have to admit his point here wasn't really well explained. Personnally, I understood it that way : in modern days, we have more people learning instruments, yet back in "the old days", people would learn a wider range of instruments, different types. People today seem to be only interested in learning the guitar, the piano, or becoming DJs, while before, apparently, people would want to learn more obscure instruments - be it the clarinet, the double bass, the banjo, or the trumpet , out of sheer curiosity, mainly because such instruments would be part of the popular styles. More people can play something today, but it seems like there was more variety before.
    selrisitai
    A quick Youtube search shows that "popular music played on the radio" may be less varied, but man, people know how to play -everything-. The ukelele, electric and acoustic guitar, tons of harmonica players, male and female, saxaphone, trumpet, clarinet, that one instrument with the funny name.
    MaggaraMarine
    What about electronic music? It is many times instrumental (or has little singing in it). Also, I usually prefer music with vocals, even though I don't pay that much attention to the lyrics (at least on the first couple of listens). I do enjoy long instrumental sections, but long instrumental sections exist in music with vocals too. But yeah, I guess today most people want music that is danceable, easy to listen to, short enough, catchy... A complex instrumental piece just doesn't work for that. And regular people may not appreciate a long jazz solo. Classical music may be too dynamic and the pieces may be too long. Pop music has a steady beat, not too much dynamics and most of the time pop songs aren't longer than 5 minutes. All in all they are very easy to listen to and you don't need to pay that much attention to it to enjoy the music. Just my thoughts. It was an interesting article.
    MaggaraMarine
    Also, jazz and classical can be really boring if you haven't got used to it. They usually have different kind of forms than basic pop music. Once you get used to it, it doesn't bore you because you know what's happening. But somebody who has never listened to classical or jazz may not have any idea of what's happening. If they are used to a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, they will be just thinking "where is the chorus?" They get nothing out of the music. Same with jazz. It has so much to do with improvisation and if you aren't familiar with the basic jazz structure (I mean, playing a melody and then playing a solo based on the melody) and improvisation, the "endless" solos may just sound like a bunch of random notes played one after another. I understand completely why that may bore some people. I don't even think there are less musicians today than there used to be. I actually think playing an instrument is more common today than it used to be. That's because instruments have become a lot more affordable and all in all easier to find. Also, I would guess music education has improved and for example taking guitar lessons today is a lot easier than it used to be. Also, the fact that jazz and classical don't sell doesn't mean they are hated genres. It just means most people prefer listening to something else. Jazz and classical are kind of old genres. Nothing new has happened in them for a while (the last big thing in jazz was jazz fusion, and in classical music people started composing more atonal stuff that doesn't really please the listeners - it's musicians' music). They aren't that "relevant" any more because nothing that interesting happens in them. They both used to be mainstream. And even then it was the contemporary classical and jazz that people listened to, not the "oldies". But today when people listen to classical or jazz, it is old stuff or new stuff that sounds like older stuff. At least that's what I have understood. But pop music changes all the time. That's where the new stuff is happening. We come up with new genres like djent and dubstep and whatever. Classical and jazz are part of high culture today.
    pepisick
    But I bet you remember Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 from start to finish thanks to our friends Tom & Jerry.
    moros1989
    I actually disagree with your comment, let me explain why. Yes, Jazz and Classical music have their own different forms and maybe they are slightly difficult to understand (more so classic, jazz is relatively straightforward) but so does pop. Pop music or whats considered mainstream is basically cut and paste. There is a "formula" if you will. You might have different genres which in reality could not be that different from one another. As a music student, we are tought that the music that sells today has several very specific attributes that are very important (form, length, etc.). And a lot of mainstream music today continues to be a subgenre of jazz. Listen to the harmony and techniques used in some pop songs today, they are actually pretty rich harmonically and rhythmically. Of course for has changed and you dont have the 32 bar (or whatever length) anymore. I understand that times have changed and that whats mainstream now is different, but what people ned to realize is that music that sells follows the same basic structure. Look at all the top 40 tunes,once you start analyzing these pieces you start noticing certain things that are reused over and over again. Now a days is the time of the producer not performer, which is kind of sad. Bands are used, tossed away and they all basically are the same thing (one direction, five seconds of summer, etc). These bands are products of an incredible production team which exploits these "formulas" and sell millions of albums.
    mp8andrade
    "The lack of musical substance becomes clearly visible in much of American popular music."Could you explain what "musical substance" is? As far as I'm concerned only because a genre is simpler than another one, it doesn't mean it's less musical. Your article is pretty well written, but really, all I see is someone complaining about how the music style he/she enjoys is not making success. Does it matter if people enjoy a certain style or not? What you like will always be there for you. If you like cracking your head trying to understand what someone is doing with his/her instrument, fine, but understand not everyone does this.Have you ever stopped to considered that people used to buy more instrumental music in the past simply because there were more musicians doing instrumentals than musicians not doing it? Humans have the tendency to follow masses and mimic what the majority is doing, and this following has its twists and turns now and then, that's why our culture changes so much. Complaining about certain music not selling as well as in the past is the same as complaining about people not dressing as they did decades ago. Sorry if you were not really complaining about it, but I could not help but feel like you were, specially when you referred to it as a problem, which it surely isn't and said that it's a problem that's harming "high quality music" when the quality of music is completely subjective.
    Izzy-Sweet
    While the article was a good read and raised a few points, it does ultimately come across as yet another "time's moved on and that's somehow a bad thing" rant. The ending lines were a little too dramatic for it's subject matter as well. I also completely disagree with the idea of there being less musicians now, I'd argue that there's actually more than there ever were. You can buy most instruments dirt cheap to start off with and lessons can be found for free on YouTube, music playing is more accessible than ever before.
    iommi600
    Exactly what I was going to say, it did sound quite dramatic. We've got plenty of good musicians out there nowadays, all we have to do is look after them and support them if we like their music. The fact that the culture industry churns out outrageous amounts of pure, unadulterated rubbish every year doesn't change that, although it's extremely saddening. It makes the entire article sound like an enormous slippery slope argument. And, to be fair, classical music is the polar opposite of pop culture. The fact that it only represents 2% of the music market in the US is not exactly shocking.
    yogosan
    Classical music was a skill that only the absolute elite of Europe were allowed to partake in at the time as lower class citizens couldn't afford the education or the instruments to become 'real' musicians. Rory Gallagher with his tattered guitar or Hendrix who is famous for being practically musically illiterate would be considered musically retarded by the elites 150 years ago. Yet both are renowned for being grand masters of the guitar, brilliant instrumentalists. Point being, be very suspicious when someone declares musicians to be unqualified, which is what the author did in abundance, however poorly disguised. The auhtor has more in common with Simon Cowell than they would care to admit.
    Baby Joel
    The opening statistic about record sales is not relevant. I did a quick Google search, and found that the UK has a 4.5% sales of classical and jazz albums in 2013. Germany has about 8%, and Australia has around 6% (different sources I found varied and were pretty vague). In fact, in 2009, globally there was 8% of sales in classical and jazz. So this article is a nice cultural opinion on musical development of America, but let's not make it out as if America is uniquely un-instrumental, and the rest of the world is. No one is.
    rotebick
    Well... for me, the biggest problem to modern music is the market itself. Ever since music has become a business, most of the popular music -all around the world, not just USA- is made with the only intention of approaching sales. In order for the "popular artist" to become successful in the market, the only thing that matters is to PRODUCE (instead of create) something capable for being accepted and consumed by the masses. The musician has been idealized by the music industry, and so, every "artist" whose only purpose through music is to sell, has to reproduce and repeat unconsciously the paradigmatic prototype mass-produced trend of what "the artist" is expected to be (which includes image above it all; appearance, behaviour, and music turned into a thing), regardless of what it really is. See, it isn't art what really cares, is the profit, the amount of money earned, the economy, and not artistic expression anymore.
    flightsimdude
    I'm American. I enjoy instrumental music. Hell, I write a little. Saw the title of the article and thought "well this ought to be good"
    Rex Inclitus
    My son is 9 now and for a few years I have been taking him to jazz bars where he can actually appreciate what music is all about, he meets the musicians, gets pictures with them. I taught him to listen to music at a young age before learning an instrument. He likes to relax to classical music for an hour before he sleeps. He uses Rocksmith software for guitar and enjoys it ( if I was teaching him he would bored and probably discouraged LOL ). He also has a Bodhran, a recorder, electronic drums a keyboard etc.. It is in the parenting, something nobody likes to do in these days of selfishness. Lately I rarely get time to practice because I devote most of my efforts to his enlightenment as my Dad with me. Hopefully he will do the same for his children.
    CelestialGuitar
    Because they still haven't gotten over the horrible memories of the talentless shit that was Jazz. The problem is that people who mistakenly call themselves musicians are quick to say 'HURR THIS ISN'T MUSIC LOLS'. Be aware that Jazz only exists because people couldn't play Classical and they felt that Blues was too easy. That's all. To moan about people more skilled than you and making more money purely because 'HURR IT'S POP' is infantile, and anyone who thinks that should just get a life.
    Ro-may-o
    To be honest I don't know what's wrong with disliking instrumental. I listen to music quite regularly (as in, sit down and just listen), but music without vocals is quite boring to me.
    97sparkys
    I'm a guitar player, since I was10, have always loved the same thing, guitar driven instrumental music. Ventures, Champs, Astronauts.....that's what I like. Herb Alpert, Horst Jankowski, and big band is what I heard on the parents hi fi.....lyrics are the last thing my brain considers, so I think I hear music differently than those who don't play music.....blessing or curse, it is what it is.
    clintbeachwood
    I did not see any reference to "Surf" music in the article or the responses, but the same is true for this genre as well. Starting in the early 60's with unsuccessful attempts to be killed off by the British Invasion, today surf music is as popular as ever... in our own little world that is. Surf music IS instrumental music, it is NOT The Beach Boys, etc. It is an amazing underground genre that definitely has a world-wide following. Check out my free podcast to get a glimpse of what modern surf / instro music is all about: http://www.austinribbonmicrophones.com/adayatt...
    deepfriedoreo12
    I agree with this, which is one reason i love listening to more extreme metal, I don't even try to understand the lyrics (think at the gates) and it just becomes one with the music, and it basically becomes instrumental
    a fret so
    Pathetic Generalisation. Yep. All 390 odd million of us...
    selrisitai
    Yes, remember the part where he said, "Yeah, totally guys, no one in America, ever, listens to instrumental. Like, 0%, not exaggerating, guys!" Psh, pathetic unreasonable extrapolation.
    Seismatters
    Maybe people don't like instrumental music because it's more fun to sing to music than hum to it?
    The Funeral Jag
    Well, most of that music has evolved. From classical, to jazz, and now to the electronic music today. Of course, even the greatest pieces from before cannot be repeated in the same fervency as when it was created. On a side note, anybody forget post-rock or post-metal? This Will Destroy You, Caspian, Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, even If These Trees Could Talk (my absolute favourite band), they're all there and my God, the emotions they convey...