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I am unable to appreciate music in major key and it seems to be something I was born with. In early childhood I already had a preference for some nursery rhymes while disliking others. Only when I learned some music theory a few years later did I realize the nursery rhymes I liked were all in minor key. It became more obvious since I started to listen to classical music. I simply cannot appreciate pieces in major key. Some are "tolerable" (like major key movements in a minor key symphony, only in slow tempo though) while most just sound kind of annoying to me.

What's wrong with me? Is this something that can be fixed? I'm kind of running out of "right" music to listen to recently and would very much love to expand my preference for music.

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  • Apart from being opinionated, there are several probable dupes that have answers which will be of interest. Some parts of the world seem to also feature minor way above major, but there are no clues as to your whereabouts or lineage.
    – Tim
    Jun 8, 2023 at 9:52
  • I apologize for the inappropriate title (edited). I've read those questions and they all focus on "why", but I'm looking for a way to change it.
    – user93201
    Jun 8, 2023 at 10:15
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    I’m not sure I have any particular insight into your major/minor situation, but the advice would be the same as for learning to “appreciate” any particular kind of music. I would think they would be a duplicate for that topic, but I don’t see a good one, so I might add an answer here in a little bit. Jun 8, 2023 at 13:00
  • I've never heard of this "problem" before. But my advice would be; there's no reason to prefer any one kind of music over another. Go with your heart. Jun 10, 2023 at 13:15
  • I like major music more after trying to play music in major keys. It made me think they are a bit similar just clustered differently. It still feels a bit corny, like some kid running around at a beach with icecream flapping his arms, but I am slowly treating my major key aversion...
    – Emil
    Jun 15, 2023 at 5:43

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I taught a "music appreciation" course once, and after a lot of thought I titled it "Enjoying Music." The term "music appreciation" is burdened with a lot of implications that are not particularly helpful. It's very judge-y, and cloaks extremely subjective and culture-centric assumptions in objective language. It's usually weaponized in support of "classical" music, and the underlying narrative is "This is 'music' (other kinds of music don't count, and that's why we can just use the word 'music' in our Music Appreciation title while ignoring them), and not only that, it's Great Art, and if you don't like it there must be something wrong with you. It's not that "it's not great to you"; rather, its greatness is universal and objective and you simply don't appreciate it. Maybe you're a Philistine, or 'have no ear for music,' and there's no hope for you. But maybe you were simply never 'taught to appreciate it,' because kids-these-days, support-for-the-arts, yada yada. Let's try to fix that by subjecting you to a course that insists that you're wrong and we're right."

This stance doesn't fit with modern musicology, and isn't particularly helpful. I'd prefer to replace it with something like this:

Sure, there are some kinds of music that you're not currently "into." Let's give them a chance. Why? Not because they're better musics, or inherently deserving of "appreciation." And not because there's something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. But because your life might be richer for it. That's the goal: you currently enjoy some music. Let's explore some more, and you might enjoy it as well, and maybe even get more enjoyment from the music you currently consume, after thinking and learning about it more.

The outcome might not be that you want to listen to that kind of music all the time. My life is enriched by knowing about Schoenberg, or Javanese gamelan, or Gesualdo, or shakuhachi music, but I don't blast any of them on my car speakers with the windows down. (Though I have been known to do that with Steve Reich, or maybe even the occasional Gesualdo...) But by encountering and trying to understand them, I have a richer context that brings me more enjoyment as I blast the Beach Boys or RJD2.

So what do we do? I argue that we can enjoy a music more when we understand it, and when we encounter it on its own terms. That means doing a little digging into its background. Knowing about Shostakovich's political and personal turmoil helps us get more out of his Fifth Symphony or Eighth String Quartet. Indian classical music is more meaningful when we know more about ragas and talas. Music is a cultural artifact, and it does it a disservice to surgically remove it from its cultural surroundings and, as it were, hang it on a museum wall as an "object" in isolation. Any time we encounter an unfamiliar music, it's just a series of sounds until we know more about it. And if we lack the framework with which to listen to it, we can't even make sense of those sounds. If I'm unfamiliar with Indian classical music, it might "all sound the same," because all I can hear is the difference between it and my familiar musics, rather than the differences between pieces.

So proactive "music enjoyment" takes a little work. Research into the historical, cultural, or personal factors that created the music. It also takes, well, exposure. Why would we read entire books about, say, Brahms without also listening to his music? And yet all too often we do. So don't rush into the music without doing some research, but don't stop at the research without also spending time with the music itself. Try to encounter it as it was meant to be encountered. Are you meant to sit quietly and simply pay close attention to this music (as with much "classical" music)? Are you meant to dance to it? Are you meant to "zone out" while listening to it? Was it created to do physical work to? Was it originally meant to be enjoyed not in isolation but in social settings, like a jazz club or a communal event? Try to "enjoy music" in other ways than on your own through headphones. Go to concerts, go to open-mic nights, go to dances, go to ethnic cultural festivals.

Finally, getting this kind of informed and experiential understanding of one kind of music helps us get more insight into other kinds. You write that you like minor, dislike major, and are "running out of music to listen to." But the good news is that music that even thinks about major vs minor is a narrow slice of all the human music! European music didn't even think along those lines for centuries, and many other musical traditions organize around other frameworks. I'd recommend taking (or giving yourself) a crash course in Western music history and in global ethnomusicology. Buy used copies of, or find in a library, textbooks on these topics, especially if they come with CDs (or just look up and listen to the pieces they reference). When I made my course I relied a lot on Mark Evan Bonds' A History of Music in Western Culture (it has a lot of pretty pictures) and Jeff Todd Titon's Worlds of Music, but there are others and maybe some newer titles; Alves' Music of the Peoples of the World looks good.

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    +1 for the erudite answer! Several of my students over time have 'chastised' me for teaching them. " I can't listen to music the same any more - I'm listening for chord changes/ modes/ non-diatonic notes/riffs in minor pent./et al" So whilst I agree with what you say, particularly the background to specific pieces, it will have a different/maybe detrimental? effect on others. Just a thought...
    – Tim
    Jun 8, 2023 at 15:59
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    @Tim See Mark Twain on appreciating the beauty of the river. Maybe one critical distinction is that some music is made to be analyzed/scrutinized while some isn't. Webern and Bach really are hiding Easter eggs like "See what I did there!" While Brian Eno maybe just wants you to defocus your mind and let the music lower your pulse rate (maybe; I don't actually know much about what he wants). We want to be able to turn off the analysis as much as possible when appropriate. Jun 8, 2023 at 16:59

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