Submitted by Julian Cullen Budwey on Tuesday, 5/3/2011, at 3:13 AM

Edit: After a semester of thinking about music, I am still unsure as to what constitutes "good" or "bad" music. I am also still inclined to think about it teleologically. Our discussion on profundity seemed to me to be very similar to our discussion on good and bad music. Perhaps we are simply stating preferences... perhaps we are muddling our terms... perhaps there is an objective "good" for music. Although I don't have any new answers, I have added a few more "good" pieces for you all to enjoy.

I originally thought "oh good! choosing a bad piece will be so simple! there is so much bad music out there!", but the task of actually sitting down and finding one was rather difficult. As it turns out, I have either seriously over-estimated the amount of awful music or I have had to repress the horrible "pieces" I have heard.

But this piece- "Ade! Ich Muss Nun Gehen", by Friedrich Nietzsche- sprang to mind. On the surface, there isn't much to point to as to what makes the piece bad. Nothing sticks out as horribly offensive: no poorly-handled dissonances, no random fragments of melody, and no awkward rhythms.  A casual listen-through might even spare the song some dignity. But something about the song is... annoying. While trying to put together my thoughts, I listened to the song on loop and wanted to pull my hair out. Nothing breaks any "rules", the form is predictable... too predictable. As Levitin points out, there is a sweet spot between too simple and too difficult. This song is much, much to simple. There is nothing surprising and unexpected to catch the listener and draw them in.

And there is also something vaguely comical about it. For example, the thumping, plodding descending bass line at around 11 seconds is reminiscent of a portly older man trying to make his way down the stairs- neither elegant nor subtle. The exclamation at 40 seconds makes sense musically, but seems forced.

Overall, the piece is technically "correct", but lacks grace, elegance, and subtle points of interest. As Berlioz so aptly termed it, this piece is "insipid" and "innocently stupid".

The good yielded a much larger crop, so I have posted many songs for your aural pleasure, which you may listen to should you feel so inclined.

In order to give a good piece the respect that it deserves, I chose a rather short piece, the Prologue from the Prophetiae Sibyllarum, by Orlando di Lasso, to play in class. This piece, unlike the last, seems to ignore a lot of rules- like, for instance, general tonality (his works were pre-tonal, but I speak of the "rules" of our modern, tonal ears). Yet, even in ignoring these rules, the piece presents a delightful challenge to the listener and can still sound beautiful to a less experienced music-lover. But the piece isn't just a jumble of rule-breaking tricks- it makes sense. The final cadence is wonderfully satisfying.

The di Lasso piece provides a challenge, it is interesting, and it musically satisfies. But beyond that, I am stumped as to how to explain why it's good.

I am tempted to think of good and bad music teleologically. To think that music has a purpose and that any music that fails to reach that goal is "bad" and any music that succeeds is "good" (and that there are varying degrees of goodness and badness depending on how close or far it is from that goal). For instance, a chair that has no sitting surface is a bad chair. But what would such a telos be for music? The best I can think of is that the telos is to unfold an experience of the beauty and/or the sublime. But then music seems to be just a tool and then I am left unsatisfied with such an approach.

Tony Andrews Good/Bad Music

Submitted by Anthony John Andrews on Tuesday, 2/8/2011, at 2:05 PM

Good Music- John Butler - Talented technical 12-string guitarist

Bad Music - Black Eyed Peas - Terrible Pop Cover of an already corny song. Bad Vocals, bad music.  

Gravity Rides Everything - Modest Mouse. Original Vocals, Original lyrics, original sound. 

Good and Bad Music

Submitted by Farris D. Aurelius on Tuesday, 2/8/2011, at 1:44 PM


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Beirut-%20The%20Canals%20of%20Our%20City "Canals of Our City" by Beirut    Beirut-%20The%20Canals%20of%20Our%20City
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Edgard%20Var%C3%A8se%20-%20Octandre%20%2813%29 "Octandre" by Edgard Varese  Edgard%20Var%C3%A8se%20-%20Octandre%20%2813%29
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What makes a song good? Before answering this question, I believe we first must answer the question: how shall we determine the qualities that make a song good? I approach this as I would any concept. How would we determine what qualities make an object a house? We examine many objects that people call houses, determine what qualities those objects have in common, resolve contradictions, and produce an account with an eye towards keeping as much of common opinion as possible.

After examining the many songs that appear good to me, I found two commonalities:

First, the song affects the emotions of the listener in a way that achieves his goals. It’s not the case that the only songs that are good are those that make people happy, or any single emotion. For people call songs good that make them sad, happy, angry, frightened, etc. At the same time, I wouldn’t say that any song that has an emotional effect on the listener is good, because there are songs that annoy people, such as Octandre by Varese, and they call them bad songs. Therefore, I settle on the formulation, a good song affects the emotion of the listener in a way that achieves the listener’s goals. When I compose, I create according to my gut instinct. I choose between different potential melodies based on how each affects me emotionally. I don’t deduce whether a melody is better than another. I judge it so in a instantaneous, unreflective, non-linguistic manner. When I’m composing for the public, my gut instinct is informed by the goals of my audience. It is not so, when I’m composing only for myself.

Second, a good song manifests human excellence. In other words, it is not the case that any ordinary person could create a song like it. Its creation required enormous skill. It impresses. It earns our admiration. The difficult that the creator traversed amazes us.

When I listen to Octandre by Edgard Varese, I want to turn it off, to flee, to never listen to it again; it annoys me because it is not pleasing, because it rejects the rules of classical music that have made songs in its style compelling to listeners for centuries, because it does not elicit an emotion that serves one of my goals. If I loved the flouting of rules in and of itself, then I might call the song good, for it would serve one of my goals. But such is not the case.

“Canals of Our City” by Beirut is a good song because it is impressively formulated to create a mood congenial with the listener. The ukulele intro sets the mood—a mood that is, from the G chord (I), buoyant, yet, from the Dm (v) chord, pensive. Its speed is stately, though its mood is humble, pensive, connected with the surroundings in beatitude and wonderment. It has a walking, intoxicating gait. That is the song’s Idea. The walking, intoxicating gait exudes through rhythmic and tonal symbolism—through the ukulele’s constant rhythm accenting the 1 and 3 beats and ornamenting the 2 and 4 beats, through the I-v chords’ creating an air of pensive transport, through the drums’ constant, walking rhythm, through the trumpet’s long, enchanting notes, and the accordion’s pulsing notes.



Edgard Varèse - Octandre (13)


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Beirut- The Canals of Our City


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Disturbing and Comfortable

Submitted by Joseph T. Kelly on Tuesday, 2/8/2011, at 9:25 AM

I found Sapolsky's investigation into the time windows of new taste experiences compelling. In explaining how we continue to listen to the music of our teenage years - a point also well made by Levitin - in part because we "crave familiarity" and want to maintain a sense of identity across the years. Turning this logic around, music as a means to identity preservation can also explain why some music is "bad." This is the primary reason that I have chosen Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness "( as my example of "bad music." I played football in high school, and I used the anger that fuels a lot of metal to pump me up for games. This type of music played into the aggressiveness and anger that I have since tried to separate myself from. Additionally, there are characteristics of the music itself that I could describe as "bad." It is loud and grating, repetitive, contrived, and commercially driven.

There are many reasons why I think Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" ( is an example of "good music."  As an album, The Wall - sometimes considered a rock opera - is primarily Roger Water's creation, reflecting on his own life from his father's early death in WW2 and life with a single mother to the "empty spaces" and drug use brought on by fame. As such, the song is brimming with sincerity. However, I think the main reasons that I like Pink Floyd are more contingent and personal. Levitin talks about how musical taste can be a way of "externalizing the bond" of a social group. I first listened to this song when I was 12 with 3 of my best friends at a summer camp. Our counselor - your typical college stoner - played the song non-stop and we grew to love it. However, unlike "Down with the Sickness,"Pink Floyd has remained one of my personal favorites by keeping its message and emotional range in sync with my growing and changing identity. For example, I am a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and Roger Waters recently released a version of "We Shall Overcome" directed at the people of Palestine.

Good and Bad Music

Submitted by Brian J. Kim on Tuesday, 2/8/2011, at 2:49 AM

Not sure why, but this isn't letting me upload files. So, I'm settling for the youtube versions. Click on the song titles for the link.

Good: Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

When I thought about my choice of Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the first thing that came to mind was that this song will probably mean something different to me than to other people in the class because I’m actually from Los Angeles. When I hear this song, I can almost see the streets of downtown L.A. at night. Listening to it makes me feel like I’m actually driving down a street back home, looking at shadows cast by the city lights. I have actually never watched the music video for this song, and I hope I never do, since I have my own music video for it in my mind. I feel the song still has a lot of emotion in it even if you aren’t from L.A. though. The depression that Anthony Kiedis talks about is very clear, and the feelings of loneliness are very powerful in this song.

Bad: Only Girl (In the World) – Rihanna

I chose this song for a simple reason: It sounds like she’s yelling at me with all her demands. Now, this isn’t exactly a critique of form or structure, but that’s basically why I dislike this song.  I wouldn’t care if it had incredibly innovative musical methods (which I’m assuming it does not; I wouldn’t know since I’ve never actually listened to the whole thing before because I always change the radio station or otherwise stop listening) or if it stuck “the right balance between simplicity and complexity.” I don’t like how she’s yelling her demands me, and I think I’m not the only guy in the world that feels this way (sorry, had to fit that last bit in).

samia's not so/good music

Submitted on Tuesday, 2/8/2011, at 1:07 AM


"Upular," a remix by Pogo, is a work made up of sound excerpts - mostly dialogue - from the film "Up" set to a simple percussive beat. It is a novelty, but that does not preclude it from being good music. The piece is impressive because it is music composed largely from non-music. Yet, it still has most (all?) the features we typically associate with western music: a theme, an A A' B A structure, melody, rhythm, etc. It has a catchy tune, but is still innovative. It is technically impressive -- the arranger had to sift through the entire film to find sounds and phrases that form appealing musical phrases and fit together in a certain key. It may not have much depth or "truth" unto itself -- Frith might criticize it for this reason -- but it does evoke emotions or feelings of a sentimental film. Though, in broadening our traditional conception of music, it does challenge us to rethink our own definitions of music.
The piece takes a medium with which the listener/viewer is familiar and places it in an entirely new context while still retaining the familiar qualities (the video helps) of the original.

Not So Good

Art Garfunkel sings "The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)" with his young son after the break-up of Simon & Garfunkel. The song, written by Paul Simon, is (super) good; the performance of it is not. The performance seems to rely largely on its fan base and its appreciation of the original song, and the timing makes it all a bit too gimmicky. I would characterize this as lacking in Frith's categories of truth, taste, and intelligence.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Submitted by Zachary I. Bleemer on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 11:46 PM

I chose to play Dave Matthews Band's Ants Marching as my example of good music. The band is full of incredible musicians, which best comes out towards the end in an electric violin solo, but really what I like about the song is an association it carries to a leadership weekend I led for underclassmen at my high school- it was a really wonderful weekend, and this song played into the message's climax late Saturday afternoon- since then listening to the song has always brought me back to that time. I'm no music lover- I rarely listen to it, just not finding the time, and although I do have iTunes  (although no music player of any kind), even my computer only has 13 songs on it, all of which have particular meanings hearkening back to different times in my life, leading to my liking them. I think this is what makes for good music- connections to goodness of other kinds.


As bad music, I chose The Fishhead Song. It's annoying. It's meaningless and purposeless. But mostly, it was the song my best childhood friend would sing whenever there was a free moment that could possibly be filled with the annoyingness that fourth grade boys could be characterized by, and it's badness was defined by its purpose. Fortunately, it's only two-and-a-half minutes long- the torture need only last so long...


There's no ugliness in music. I don't think. Actually, I'd like to talk about that. Although really, that part of my title was just for show.

Sean's Good/Bad music

Submitted by Sean E. Doerfler on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 11:23 PM

For my example of good music I chose Bob Marley's live performance of "No Woman No Cry". This is the type of song that puts the hair on the back of my neck up everytime I hear it, it really strikes a chord with me. It's interesting to say however that up to this point I've never really paused to think of why I like it so much. If I had to say one thing that really sticks out to me it is how much emotion and feeling Marley pours into the song. He is not simply recreating a recording, but breathes new life into the song with this performance. The song also has a 'jam session' feel to it that I love, especially the guitar solo. Finally, I also love how it changes and mixes up, passing from a deep relfective feel to cheerful and exciting all in a smooth and coherent manner.

My example of bad music is Soulja Boy's "Kiss me Thru the Phone". From the second I heard this song (probably late night somewhere at Amherst) I hated it and continue to cringe everytime I hear it. I think part of the reason has to do with what Frith said about feeling as cheated by formualized piece of music. The song seems to me something desgned specifically to be a hit. The hook is repeated far too often and the verses seem to be nothing but filler. In contrast to Marley's "No Woman No Cry", there is no emotion, no feeling of sincerity in the lyrics or performance of the song.

Good and Bad Music

Submitted by Christopher W. Payne on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 11:11 PM

Lately, there has been this debate regarding whether hip-hop is dead or not. I personally believe that hip-hop is not dead but it is very weak and dying. There are too many artists today who are making extremely commercial music and are selling. Can you blame them? With a good beat and a catchy hook anybody can make a record today.  These artists are destroying a true art form because of the money. These artist lyrics are stupid and require no talent at all. Hip-Hop used to be about lyrical ability, clever phrasing, the use of sampling and referencing, and the art of making the most normal aspects of life beautiful and funny. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy listening to some of the commercial music today but overall I think the music is dying and is being replaced by this watered down garbage. However, there are still artists today that are selling are true to the art form such as Kanye West. Devil in a New Dress is a breath of fresh air for all hip-hop fans. I think Drake had talent at some point in his career but he became so commercial that his music has no substance to it. He is the most unbelievable artist I have seen in a long time. This song Over is a clear example of the garbage he is putting out.

Ioanida's Good and Bad Picks

Submitted by Ioanida Costache on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 11:04 PM

For my “good music” post I’ve chosen Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor better known as the Chaconne. I listened to a lot of recordings of this piece from Heiftz to Hahn and find this Romanian violinist George Enescu’s interpretation the most engaging and true to Bach. Although not as technically secure as others’, his performance is highly emotive without straying from the reality that Bach created on the page. Unlike other performers who are more concerned with communicating their own technical expertise Enescu, I think, really let’s Bach speak. In a sense there is a tension in performance between the consciousness or ego of the performer and that of the composer –interplay entre these two participants in this creation of a musical moment. Allowing the composer to translate through one’s performance necessitates a suppression of self or the “petty I”.  (But, I guess I should save that for our discussion of transcription).

The Chaconne is one of the most technically difficult pieces for violin. However, the basis for this music is profoundly simple. Everything you hear in this piece is based on a 4-note motif that is explored through variations. I’ve included a youtube video link ( in which Joshua Bell better articulates the philosophy behind this piece. Basically Bell likens the Chaconne’s motivic basis to the idea that everything in the world is created from a 117 elements. The four notes of the Chaconne, he argues are like the elements in that they make-up everything within that expansive piece. Like Levitin argues music “has to strike the right balance between simplicity and complexity in order for us to like it. I think the Chaconne accomplishes this exactly. It’s basis is very simply but it’s variations are extremely complex. The Chaconne takes the listener through almost the entire range of human emotions. Even without these grandiose thoughts likening the building blocks of life to the 4-notes in the Chaconne’s theme, I simply think this is beautiful music.

I found it much more difficult to classify something as “bad” music. It’s easy for us to reject a song or piece for ourselves. Generally, when we hear a piece of music we pass a “yes” or “no” judgment on it.  We like it or we don’t – thought to qualify that it is possible for something to grow on you if you hear it a few times. Generally however, in order to completely reject something and classify it as bad you’re really judging from personal preferences. That judgment is based in culture for example. If I had posted some Gypsy folk music for example, people who have no affinity for that type of music would personally have classified that as “bad” music. It’s much more difficult I think to completely reject something by labeling it “bad” because at some point in time for someone somewhere that music meant something. Levitin discusses how various isolated elements of music-- timbre, rhythm or form for example-- can create barriers for the listener making it difficult to appreciate the music. That being said, for my bad example I have chosen Tool’s song Parabola. I think the timbral effects, the instrumental texture as well as the meandering vocal melody and tight harmonic movement simply don’t sit well with my musical taste.

JM's good & bad

Submitted by Joseph G. Moore on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 10:07 PM

Here are two recordings that I thought were absolutely wonderful when I was in high school. My opinion has changed. I now find "Slow Ride" to be a rock cliche--derivative and almost embarrassing in its expressive crudity. By contrast, I still find this recording of "In Walked Bud" to be remarkable. Recorded spontaneously and on-the-spot, with throwaway lyrics scrawled on the back of an envelope, Jon Hendricks and Thelonious Monk jointly express a bouncy and playful joy that I find riveting. I'm still gripped by the deceptive simplicity of Monk's solo (2:10-3:30).

Audio icon 07 In Walked Bud.m4a13.25 MB
Audio icon 03 Slow Ride.m4a15.98 MB

Debussy/Quiet Riot

Submitted by Maxfield H. McKenna on Monday, 2/7/2011, at 3:50 PM

For my example of good music, I selected the third movement of Claude Debussy's Suite Bergamasque - 'Clair de lune.'   To me, this piece represents a piece of music that is both highly technical and difficult, and also beautiful in a subjective sense.  The piano evokes an emotional response with bright, romantic notes, and slight discord at times, bringing a necessary tensional quality to the music as well.  Also, the music is never stagnant, but always driving forwards.   I think that Debussy strikes a very nice balance between repetition and variation throughout the piece, as the piece grows in complexity from the beginning through the middle, and then settling back somewhat towards the end, and reprising some earlier themes.  The technical difficulty itself I think lends the piece beauty as well, as it features an intricate interplay between the two hands (which I think is highly visible in this youtube video of the piece - ), and also has a unique and original style, distinct from other composers that I've heard.

For my bad music, I selected none other than 'Come on Feel the Noise,' by Quiet Riot.  While this song is a guilty pleasure of mine, I think that it fails all requirements to make it truly good music.  The song is formulaic and predictable throughout, with incredibly repetitive drums and guitar, all with meaningless and shouted lyrics over the top.  Even the guitar solo in the middle of the song doesn't show all that much technical difficulty, and in itself is repetitive and simplistic.  Generally, the repetition throughout the song, with really no variation - even down to the drum fills, which are entirely predictable and simple - creates a simple song with no depth.

Audio icon Come On Feel the Noise.mp34.41 MB