What Is Art Music?

Art music refers to any type of music that has a more complex structure than popular music and necessitates the listener’s attention. Popular music is generally catchy and does not necessitate any action on the part of the listener. Art music is typically an acquired taste, requiring the listener to either study it before appreciating it or pay close attention to it in order to appreciate it.

It may be difficult to define art music because the definition of popular music changes over time as public tastes change. Many of the musical traditions that are now considered art music were once popular music styles. The same could be said about today’s popular music all over the world. Some types of popular music may fall out of favor and be classified as art music in the centuries to come.

Music traditions all over the world have used elements that are not immediately apparent to most listeners who are unfamiliar with the tradition. Many music lovers despise entire genres of music because they have never learned what distinguishes them from their favorite genres. Popular and folk music are popular due to their strong, predictable beats, catchy melodies, or both. Listeners frequently enjoy popular music because of its predictability. Even if a listener has never heard the song before, after several verses, he or she can usually complete a portion of the melody and sing the words because it uses the same musical language as other genre music.

Art music encompasses a wide range of musical traditions from around the world, though it typically excludes most popular, traditional, tribal, or folk music. It includes what is known as classical music in the Western world, as well as some types of jazz and blues. It encompasses a wide range of musical genres in the Eastern world, including but not limited to Indian Hindustani classical music, Indonesian gamelan music, and European medieval chants.

Listeners who want to appreciate art music must either study it on their own or be introduced to it someone who can appreciate the layers of meaning and explain them to her. When a Western ear hears an Eastern style of art music, such as Hindustani music from northern India, it sounds exotic because it is not organized in the same way as Western music. Hindustani music, for example, does not use the Western major/minor tonal scale system, which is based on the same 12 notes.

Unlike Western music, which is organized around specific major or minor keys and uses specific notes from those keys, Hindustani music is organized around the Indian equivalent of a major or minor key, with some differences. Hindustani music does not start on a fixed pitch like Western art music; instead, it can start in any key. Indian classical music is organized around melody and the relative relationship of each note to the others, rather than harmony.

This could also explain why some early twentieth-century art music does not appeal to the average Western ear. Many composers during this time eschewed traditional Western harmonic organization in favor of a modal style that avoided the predictability of major and minor scales. Because this music defies traditional Western musical conventions and necessitates active listening on the part of the listener, it can be difficult for the general public to appreciate.