I wrote here before about my issue with studying intervals. I got the will again and went to train my ear, but I have a great fear all of a sudden that I will listen to music and melodies recognizing intervals, not being able to enjoy the magic of just listening... What advice can you give me?

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    When you learnt to read letters, did it change how you perceived words? Maybe. Do you spend your time mourning that you can't go back to the innocent, symbol-less hearing of your golden youth? Probably not. Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 6:41
  • Somewhat related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/61479/…
    – Tim H
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 7:03
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    There is Richard Feynman's famous quote about flowers and science: youtube.com/watch?v=zSZNsIFID28 "knowledge only adds to the excitement, (…) I don’t understand how it subtracts." Maybe you won't enjoy listening to the same music after you understood how it works but we have a few centuries worth of really interesting music, more than you could ever hope to understand.
    – linac
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 11:21
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    I used to fear knowing more about music theory out of fear it would ruin the "originality" of my uncoached instinct. Little did I know that without knowledge, I was doomed to do the same basic things that have been discovered a million times by every musician. The more you know, the better an idea you have of what's out there and why it's interesting or skillfully done. I've never looked back in regret after learning something new in music! Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 15:27
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    The more I have learned about music, the more I have appreciated music that I didn't "understand" previously, and thus the happier I have been. And, when I go back and listen to the song that started my musical journey, and the songs that I enjoyed in my youth, I still smile, not just because I they bring back good memories, but also because I know that these songs opened up the door to the ability to appreciate the broad range of music I listen to today. Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 21:29

6 Answers 6


Yes, it'll change how you listen to music. Anything you learn about will affect your appreciation. Watch a magic trick, and it's magic. Find out how it's done, and it's not magic any more - to you.

Several of my students have said that now, they don't listen to music like they used to. ' I know exactly what's happening in that part', 'I know what trick's being used there', etc.

It will change the way you perceive music, but not necessarily in a bad way. For most, it's a positive thing, but the trouble is, you won't know what the effect will be for you until, actually, it's too late. Can't turn the clock back then...

But it's not just intervals, it's the whole gamut. Intervals is but a small part of it. Realising you've just heard a tts, or an interrupted cadence won't make the music any less enjoyable, only make your appreciation of it broader, and probably give you more inspiration to try out new things in your own playing. Go for it !

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    No. Inspiration should reach a higher level. Don't most of us strive to be better at whatever we do? Knowledge often gives us more power - or at least the feeling of it. The alternative is somewhat bleak - remain ignorant...
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 7:01
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    @LoveIsHere: I think you'll still get inspired, but you'll find it in different places. You'll be practicing something and think "what if I tried eliminating the root when I play the main chord here?" and it'll give you a new sound or make your composition feel different, and send you in a new direction.
    – TMN
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 11:28
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    @mkrieger1 - tts is a tritone substitution which is where a particular 7th chord is substituted for the 7th chord a tritone (3 tones) away. Give it a try, say, between C>C7>F, but play C>Gb7>F.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 14:03
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    As far as perceiving music goes, the risk of being able to analyse music is that you become less tolerant of "lazy" music. If you can't understand English, rhyming "moon", "spoon" and "June" might seem OK - but if you speak the language then you know it's trite rubbish. If you become a technically better musician, you'll become less tolerant of gratuitous key changes where the musician/arranger has run out of ideas, and similar trite rubbish. (Which means you'll probably hate Pop Idol and the like!) But you'll be making better quality music yourself by avoiding those traps.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 16:56
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    @Graham the moon/spoon/June thing has nothing to do with understanding English. They do rhyme. And I consider myself pretty fluent in English. So I didn't get your comment. Only after googling I found out that the only reason it's considered bad because it's overused and cliche. So it's more like a cultural thing I guess, and not per se about understanding English.
    – Ivo
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 9:12

I go back and listen to music I haven't listen to in a long time and I hear things I didn't hear before because my ear has improved and I have learned things I didn't know before. I can now actively listen and understand more than before, which is awesome. At the same time I can just listen and enjoy.

I Understand your fear but I honestly think you will enjoy music more as you understand more and can hear better.

One positive side effect it may have is that you will be more picky and you will listen to better music. You will still like the stuff you liked before (maybe) but you will want to listen to better music. Same reason you don't read kids books anymore. Doesn't mean you can't enjoy reading cat in the hat with your kids because it holds a special place in your heart and you want to share it with your kids but maybe now you want to read Vonnegut. It's a natural part of growing up and getting better.

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    As a parent, I still enjoyed reading quality children's lit to my kids, though I wouldn't read it for myself. But sometimes understanding how the simplicity of writing can evoke such a powerful emotion or communicate such a powerful message is the same in music as it is in children's lit. A moving folk song is an example. With knowledge, we can differentiate what is quality or not within the same general "genre" and we can understand how/why it works.
    – Heather S.
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 12:04
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    @heather s. Totally agree. And sometimes you want to read a trashy beach novel. That's fine. Crappy pop song that makes you dance...sure crank it up and have fun. But then you can enjoy some more complex stuff that you might not have enjoyed before.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 13:09
  • I absolutely agree!
    – Heather S.
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 0:06
  • This brings up a great point...someone might well lose a certain affection or appreciation for some pieces or types of music. But a the same time, they will also likely gain a new appreciation for other more complex or subtle pieces that they wouldn't have been able to appreciate as fully before.
    – Beska
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 19:03

In my opinion, enjoyment increases with greater awareness. I still enjoy simple punk music, as I did when I had no theory training, but now I also enjoy complex musical compositions, across genres I would never have approached back then.

I can still "just listen" but I can also listen and analyse, or listen and appreciate the skill.


In general, I agree with the sentiments that learning music only improves appreciation of music. However, I find the best way to get over a fear is to embrace it. It makes sense to look at some corner cases where such fears may be realistic.

From experience there are times where you can have to overcome training. I have perfect pitch. If I go to a concert, like a Rush concert, I am immediately aware when they tune a song down a step to fit with the vocalists aging vocal tract. That awareness is part of having perfect pitches. What I do with that information is up to me. If I become unhappy that they're not performing the song properly, then my training has gotten in my way. If, on the other hand, I recognize that these musicians are adapting so that I get to hear a live concert when they'd otherwise have to cancel due to vocal limitations, then I can appreciate the sound.

Learning can change your taste. If you listen to a lot of electronic music, and you start learning about the classics, you may start to develop a taste for the richer sound that a full orchestra can bring to the table. This may cause you to appreciate the electronic music less. That's fine. Musical tastes shift. Remember, there was a time in your life where singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" at the top of your lungs on repeat for an hour straight was really entertaining. (Your parents thank you for growing out of that phase)

Beyond that, the only other way I can think of where learning hurts enjoyment is if you learn it the wrong way. The more positive the better. You want to hear your favorite song and think "Holy crap! That's a diminished seventh! That's why that sounds so cool!" If you think that way, the learning has added to your enjoyment. If you focused on negative training, say high-stress quizzing on intervals with self flagellation if you get them wrong and small mis-tunes thrown in to trick you, you'll likely develop stress whenever you hear intervals. It should be obvious, but if you relax while you're learning intervals, this shouldn't happen.

Of course, there are things you cannot unlearn. You can't unlearn just how many four chord songs there are, and you may have to snicker when you hear that progression. But even having heard Axis of Awesome make fun of that chord progression, my enjoyment of the songs they make fun of hasn't diminished.

Maybe if you play cello, the enjoyment of those songs might diminish. Poor souls.


You can still feel the same magic and appreciate the same music

You can still enjoy music in the same way after acquiring a trained ear--you just have to learn how to "turn off" your analytical brain. You can even enjoy the same music you enjoy now.

There was a time when I was transcribing jazz solos for 2-3 hours a day. After several months of this, it began happening automatically whenever I listened to music, even if I was simply sitting in a coffee shop with jazz playing in the background. It was like my OCD took over whenever music hit my ears, and I couldn't turn it off.

You might hear the suggestion that you'll appreciate different music after you train your ear--that you'll lose your appreciation for pop/simple music. I don't think this is true. The first time I got that magical feeling back was actually when I was listening to simpler, repetitive music. When the music is simple and repetitive, the exercise of analyzing it becomes boring, and the brain stops trying. And complex doesn't necessarily equate to good (which is a hard thing for a jazz musician to say!).

That said, I find that I most easily get the feeling back when I:

  • listen to live music
  • play music in a band/group
  • sing along to music
  • dance to music
  • listen to music that is very simple, but still good

Gaining a new appreciation

The final thing worth mentioning is that studying music opened my eyes to a very different type of beauty in music. It's not the magical feeling you're describing--it's an appreciation for the analytical and mathematical structure. I remember studying a Brad Mehldau solo and having this light-bulb moment when I recognized a motif he had used 8 "choruses" earlier in the same solo. This type of appreciation is equally exciting, and it's not possible without studying music.


The more you know, the more you are connected to people in the know, both past and present. The more you know, the more choices you can make, the more discriminating you can be, the more you can lead others to quality stuff. No matter what you do in music, whether you play, teach, produce, etc. all this knowledge will help you be better at it.

As Tim said, this applies to every bit of music (and life in general.) Learning and growing is like opening Pandora's box - you don't know what will happen as a result, and you can't close it and return to before.

I remember when I was in Freshman theory in college and first learned about non-chord tones. My mind was blown. A whole new world was opened to me and, suddenly, I became a MUCH better player, as I had a greatly increased understanding of the movement of harmonic tension and resolution in the music.

When I returned to school later to study composition, I became frustrated with music I used to enjoy playing which I now see as just "meh". On one hand, it was disappointing to realize that what I thought was good really wasn't. On the other hand, knowing the details that are missing from those compositions helps me know how to improve my own. Now, I make sure my musical "diet" is more full of significant pieces which I trust to be high quality.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dom
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 16:31

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