Classical music as a genre seems to stand alone despite the fact that many famous players trained classically and many still use classical techniques. Somehow we have an idea of what classical music is and it stands out because it is removed from genres that rely on personal creation at their core.
Some people never feel the urge to explore the classical world; the classical style in popular culture has become synonymous with uptight, boring, elite. So why does classical music still play such an important part in our society? And how can it bring you closer to the artist you want to be?
Classical Music Is History
Whatever genre of music you are involved in, classical music is part of its ancestry. It is both amazing and terrifying to think that the classical musicians from centuries ago shaped the pop music scene of today. Without the classical tradition, we wouldn’t have concerts or festivals, in fact, without the development of this genre as a tradition we probably wouldn’t see anything related to visual performance art, like film, at all today. Reading through influential classical pieces can lend us hints as to how other genres developed, which artists the forerunners of our style were influenced by and help us understand the tradition from which our current creation is built.
Not only this but exploring classical music can act as the scenery for the history we are already aware of. Classical musicians have been involved in ceremonies since day dot, all battles had a fanfare, each monarch had a court composer, each funeral, wedding, baptism, each famous historical figure have all had music specifically tailored to them. When you listen to classical music you learn the stories of history through a language you already understand as a musician. It helps us feel close to the real human cost of history; those same things we are transmitting in our music, the serenity, the love, the anguish, were all things that were felt 1,000 years ago and were poured into the music of that time. It provides history, but in an artistic context.
Classical Music Is Mathematics
Surely we have all heard this at some point or other, ‘you play classical music, you must be great at maths’. This doesn’t always track, but there is a reason that the widespread Genius Baby Music is a CD of Mozart sonatas. The patterns of classical music, and particularly the music written in the classical period (c.1730-1820), develop our sense of formulaic cognition. Functional diatonic harmony is engineered in such a way that the patterns recur often enough for us to recognise them and their purpose, whilst at the same time seldom enough that our brains have to work to search for them again.
All this listening and recognising is one of the best ways to develop the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and computing of new information. This means that just by listening to or playing classical music you can improve your ability to learn and expand the power of your memory, which tests have shown lessen the likelihood of developing dementia in later life.
Classical Music Is Sport
All genres of music are demanding, especially paired with the lifestyle that comes with a performing career, but there is no genre more ergonomically demanding than the classical genre. Acoustic instrumentation often takes a lot more pressure from the hands, the fingers or a more stable control of breath and articulation. That is not to say that it is more difficult, it is simply a very intricate and unforgiving genre that requires great amounts of precision.
The upside of this is that technique for classical instruments is one of the most well researched and most widely available knowledge bases that there is. Delving into even one classical technique book/guide/online platform can change the way you play for the better. Musicians cannot afford to hold their instruments for so many hours a day in an unergonomic way without getting injured. Whatever instrument you play, the considerable research about classical technique can augment your playing to the next level, after all, nothing can be easy unless it is pain-free.
Classical Music Is Great
Take it from someone who grew up in the classical music world, for all of its hang-ups, the classical genre is incredible. The way the audience sits in silence, the ceremony of the walk on stage, the fact that you can listen to a piece of music 100 times and still not understand what’s going on in the middle. Classical music is a humbler, a companion, a way to unwind at the end of a long day, it is music that demands as much attention as you can afford to give. It can sit in the background or it can play the main stage, it fills your heart and empties your mind, it plays with you, it soothes you. And there is so much of it, so go on, get exploring! What’s stopping you?
tonebase is an online education platform that gives you access to the world’s leading classical musicians. With a library of 400+ video tutorials, you can unlock the insights of GRAMMY award-winning players, international competition winners, and pedagogues from top music schools like Juilliard and Yale. Whether you’re looking to dip your toe in the classical music world or ready to dive in headfirst, the knowledge and inspiration you’ll find on tonebase is the perfect place to start!
Author Rosie Bennet