I want to start a music hobby. I've dabbled in viola and piano lessons growing up, but I want to get into making music using electronic methods.

As a digital artist, I'm kind of approaching some parts of this the same way I did when I was first teaching myself digital art. I'm pretty sure I want to develop my personal musical style the same way I developed my current art style: by examining styles I like that are done by other people, taking the part I like the most, and including it in my own style (rather than copying one other person's style almost exactly, like I did as a newbie at art.)

The thing that confused me is I don't really know how to study someone else's music. Art is easy for me to study because I'm a very visual person, but I struggle to know how to study music. Where should I start? And how do you tell the difference between traits of someone's style and traits of the genre someone is performing in?

3 Answers 3


What you need is an instrumentarium for building categories - the knowledge of all elements (rhythm, melody, motifs, harmony, applying style of instruments, arrangement, instrumentation, voice leading, phrasing, homophony or polyphony, groove, voice characteristics etc. etc. with other words an immense experience of listening to music, and a great repertory of performed music by yourself including analysis and descriptions like e.g. a polarity profile of similar or different composition.

  • In our music program in school there was on aspect called "talking about music". The goal was learning to listen to music, name it's characteristics and effects.

  • I have once downloaded for my students more than hundred different versions of "GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN giving them the task to speak about it and describe the characteristics.

  • when listening to music you can draw a polarity profile - what are the characteristics and effects of this piece when you listen to it.

  • In our Radio program there is once a week an emission called "Discothec" where musicians and music critics are discussing 5 different versions of new CD's. This of great benefit to sharpen your ears and getting a vocabulary for speaking about music.

  • for starting you can do analog to the described methods above compare by listening different versions, interpretations and performances of a same titel, then same titles by different composers, later you can download sheet music, study and analyse the differences and characteristics by sight seeing.

  • for beginning I could also recommend to start by the software BAND IN A BOX (BIAB). In this program you'll find hundreds of different styles and you can play any song in all these styles (by composers, r'n'b-, jazz-, pop styles by hundreds of performers). By learning to differ these styles you also get a repertoire of terms, categories and you will learn how to differ and apply the specific styles.

What you're asking for is in general cognition theory "The building / development of categories. This is a very broad field in psychology of learning. You might find more answers in Gestalt Psychology and Psychology of Cognition.


  • Really like the idea of the comparative discussion in "talking about music." Seems like very practical advice for the OP. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 15:40

I can only state my own experience when attempting an answer to this question. I've listened to music my whole life and there has been music that I immediately wanted to try and replicate and music that did little or nothing for me. I focused my energies on the music that most appealed to me. I did what I could to try and sound like others, but because I'm a separate individual, the aspects of what I'm noticing about the music are different from others, and as a result, my attempts at copying others styles and effects turn out to be different than the original. You might argue that it's not accurate to the original style or genre, but for me that isn't very important. And the result is that without even trying, I have my own individual style featuring my own taste and skills, and if someone else wishes to call it one genre or another, well what do I care.


Genre and style are often used interchangeably. But, when trying to distinguish them, genre seems to me a high level category with superficial identifiers. I don't mean superficial in a pejorative way, only that they are checkbox type things. Instrumental or mashup seem like genres to me. Instrumentation is often a genre identifier, ex. string quartet, big band or small combo jazz.

Style then gets into the nuance of writing or performing. This can get tricky, because the points may be fairly broad or details. Miles Davis' style change over time from bop, to modal, to fusion. Those are broad style categories. He often played with a metal mute, but as far as I know he didn't use a plunger mute. That's pretty particular about how he performed on the trumpet.

Regarding electronic music I immediately wonder what genre? Recoreded like Musique Concrète, avante garde like Stockhausen, or EDM, etc? Within those genres the sense of style with involve very different musical aspects. Some styles may use quite a bit of traditional musical elements like harmony, melody, rhythm, etc. while other styles might be completely non-traditional.

  • 1
    Good answer, but the trouble with very many modern styles is as soon as you get more than two bands in a single genre, someone feels compelled to invent another genre. Seems you can't have more than two pigeons per pigeon hole these days. ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 19:57
  • @Tetsujin, defintely! Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 20:54

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