What is Good Music?

“It is quite possible to talk about a song as being “good” while actually not liking the song at all.”
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website. See Gary Ewer’s Songwriting E-books
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audience2We all have the music we like to listen to. Because we listen to it, it is (to us) good. Someone else might listen to the very same music and be turned off. For them, it’s missing the mark. So while we can certainly agree that not everyone will like the same music, is there actually an answer to the question, “What is Good Music?”

You might think that if it were completely predictable what good music really is, we’d all be creating music to that formula, and the world of songwriting would be a boring world indeed! But that would be confusing the question with another completely different question: “What kind of music do I like?”

It is quite possible to talk about a song as being “good” while actually not liking the song at all. This is because once you’ve removed the concept of style from the discussion, and your own personal sylistic preferences, you discover that most songs are trying to do the same thing, regardless of musical genre. And it’s what composers of all genres have been doing for centuries: they are trying to present a coherent musical experience that transports a listener from the beginning to the end in an aesthetically pleasing way.

For those who love 50s rock & roll, that “transporting” happens in two to three minutes, with a somewhat restricted harmonic language and relatively simple lyric. For lovers of Mozart, it’s listening for the development of thematic material in a highly structured tonal framework. For those who love progressive rock, it happens as they experience a complex song cycle with highly developed lyrical material and melodic phrasing. No matter what the genre, the composer is pulling the listener along in what could be called an enticing sonic journey.

And yet as different as 50s rock, Mozart, progressive rock, and all other possible genres are from each other, they are each, in their own way, good, if the following is true:

Good music presents an initial musical idea or set of ideas,
and develops and expands on them over the course of the musical work

When songs fail, it is because there has been a glitch in the development of some aspect of the song. To minimize the chance that failure can happen, songwriters resort (quite wisely, usually) to using a songwriting formula of some sort. Using formulas to compose is not a weakness. And in fact, Mozart and all other composers of symphonies used the so-called sonata formula for composing their symphonies. But all good writers must stray a little from their formulas, or their compositions will start to sound too similar. And it is the straying that is the risk! Stray well, and you’ve got a killer song. Stray badly, and the listener turns away.

In the end, your music is good if you set for yourself a musical goal, a goal that requires you to develop an initial idea, and create an enticing journey for the listener. So after each song, you should be able to identify what you did to develop the song’s melody, lyric, possibly harmonic treatment (though in many songs, harmonies will be the constant factor), and energy. If you can describe how those changed over time, you’ve probably got the makings of “a good song.”

6 Songwriting E-booksGary Ewer has written a set of songwriting e-books that will show you how to write great songs. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..

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