Fun music (for a serious musician)

Yes, I consider myself a serious musician.  But that doesn’t mean music isn’t fun for me.

I confess that I get a little smug inside when a teenager says he knows music or is “into music” but hasn’t ever been in a band or a choir or had theory class but maybe had a “music production” class and actually listens to hip-hop on purpose.  Now, you don’t have to know who the “Three Bs” are (NOT the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Boston) in order to love music deeply, and you don’t have to love so-called “classical” music at all, but it does help to be familiar with different types/genres. Also, some comprehension of the basic elements of music (rhythm/duration, melody, harmony, and timbre) can enrich your sense of it and what it takes to create a viable composition. I think much of the public must believe that composing music is nothing more than strumming chords on an electronically tuned guitar or belting out a non-tune with weak rhymes (and maybe hiding your face with a mic so you look cool).  That’s like believing that being a chef is just putting a pizza in the microwave or pouring some canned vegetables into a bowl of chicken broth, turning up the heat, and serving up a cliche, claiming it’s a recipe.

I was starting out to talk about fun music. This might surprise some people who think I’m a serious-minded purist when it comes to music, but actually, I also enjoy me some classic and progressive rock.  Kansas is the go-to when I’m looking for some rock, because most of their songs are interesting compositions. There are some real melodies, some complex harmonies, and a lot of terrific play with mixed and asymmetric meter.  A little less often, I’ll choose Chicago or ELO or Boston or Styx or the Steve Miller Band.  Since I only had about a half-decade of following much popular music, finding a few songs on used albums by REM, Grateful Dead, and Jethro Tull can be a new experience for me.  Yes, one has to be selective lyrics-wise, but the sounds were so much more interesting back then. (Sorta like classic cars — so much more interesting to look at than cars built in the last couple decades. As my wife said once, “No one in 2050 is going to look at a 2005 Corolla and say, ‘What a beautiful car!'”)

I am listening to “Free Bird” right now.  This reminds me that I was once enough of a music geek not only to learn the piano solo in the middle of the long version of “Free Bird,” but also to **write it out on manuscript paper.**  This is not as challenging as a jazz sax aficionado writing out a Parker or Coltrane or Gillespie solo, but it’s a fun fact, and I can still play it. 🙂

Now, my desert island music is more likely to be chamber winds or brass quintets, but lots of different music can be fun.  Tonight, it was the Commodores big band and then Lynyrd Skynyrd.


  1. Casey, 2/25/17

The above was originally a Facebook post.  Here are most of the comments made there:

Joachim Reinhuber For me it’s 6 B’s – the three plus Bruckner, Bartok, and Berg 🙂

Brian Casey Interesting. Bruckner is growing on me, and I respect Bartok, but Berg, not so much. 🙂

Randy Runyan I’m not so sure that there isn’t any interesting popular music being created today. One must work harder to find it, perhaps because the digital age has made it so easy to produce.
I’m also quite sure that there was plenty of uninteresting music made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. (And before). We just don’t hear it much because it is, well, uninteresting.This comment is oversimple; it’s a result of ‘typing’ on a phone. However, I feel that far too many of my friends who are musicians too easily dismiss contemporary music. It’s a shame, because far too many of my students do the same with the music I most enjoy. Perhaps if both groups were able (willing?) to invest the necessary time to find the good stuff, the perceived chasm between the two worlds would seem a mere crack.

Brian Casey I do hear some interesting AND uninteresting music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I find the Beatles overrated and overplayed, for instance, although of course quite a few of their tunes are interesting. I’m sure you’re right that there is interesting music being produced (if not composed) in the 2000-teens. Why is it that every time I’m in a store or restaurant, I’m subjected to the same nothingness and vocal glottal attacks with a slightly varied wrapper? (The answer to that, I suppose), is marketing.
Michael Asbell I don’t know music, but I do know about learning and having a passion for a subject, and I would suggest that you and other music geeks OUGHT to enjoy “fun” music more than the rest of us. You hear more; you understand more; you are more capable of appreciating what’s going on. I would even go so far as to suggest that serious musicians who don’t get this have robbed themselves of one of life’s simple pleasures because they take themselves too seriously. I’ve seen this for years with my wife and son. They know a good deal more about music than your average Joe, so I recognize that they’re better equipped to enjoy whatever’s playing on the radio than I am. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy music a lot. But they can enjoy it more. My full enjoyment and their full enjoyment are not the same. Learning and interests are like that. In a similar vein, lots of people enjoy trees and wildflowers, but I assure you I enjoy them more than 99% of the public. I can’t imagine that ignorance ever leads to a greater enjoyment. Carry on wayward son.
Brian Casey Yeah. Totally w/you about deeper enjoyment’s relationship to deeper knowledge. I guess each person can decide what is “fun” to him/her. My fun music tends to be well-composed, interesting music that’s not very derivative.
Dorothy Lutz I agree with you totally. I know so many people that think they know music but They enjoy what they are listening to or what they are participating in! We can’t educate everyone but we can share our talent with them!
Beth Nie You forgot the people who think playing real instruments should be like Guitar Hero. I’ve actually had parents (yes, more than one…) tell me: “Well, little Snookums here LOVES Guitar Hero and he’s GREAT at it, and now you’re making him re-do his lesson page for trumpet because he didn’t practice enough. Guitar Hero never needs to be practiced, so there’s no reason trumpet should be, you must be teaching wrong.” They’ll be shocked when Mario Kart doesn’t get Snookums his drivers license…
Brian Casey Hahahahahaha! This is wonderfully funny, and I feel your pain nonetheless.
Hannah Beecher “Tango Misterioso” by Pedro Gomez captured my notice almost five years ago when I went through a brief stint of watching “Dancing with the Stars.” (Excuse categories include “pregnancy” and “needing distraction from the question of whether we were about to move or not.”) Lately if I ever find myself in the car alone, my most frequent mental project is to try to put the base part of said tango to solfege. Aural Skills live on in this heart 🙂 I guess all this is to say, I can only imagine that, given more musical training and aptitude, I would only expect to have more fun–at least with complex music.
Brian Casey Aural Skills. Yay! And I like your last sentence a lot. …
Lisa Manning Perhaps ignorance really is bliss. Why must we understand to enjoy? I enjoy a lot of what you might deem inferior because I don’t spend my time analyzing and criticizing it: stars, flowers, pop music. And I’ll take Brubeck over Bach any day.
Brian Casey I suppose there are different levels/types of enjoyment. My enjoyment is deeper and more … well, enjoyable with Kansas than with Boston, for instance, but I can still enjoy the latter. I’d probably agree with you on Brubeck and Bach.

Brian Casey  This has been on my mind and bothering me off and on. I think you misunderstood my intent if not my words, Lisa Manning. I wasn’t trying to say one has to understand in order to enjoy. However, I do embrace my capacity for some analysis as a means to what at times *feels like* deep enjoyment at times.
Overall, I was hoping my tip of the hat to some pop/rock would be taken as just that — not as an appeal for everyone to criticize or to see some music as superior or inferior. For the record, I think Bach is probably just about as mixed as the Beatles. I only own two Brubeck CDs, but I like them a lot. Bach cello suites are excellent to calm the soul, but I had more Bach than I could take during a certain 6 years of my life.

Stan Manning I like Willie.
Brian Casey I can’t even name you three Willie tunes and have always found that curious. Your tastes are varied, so I excuse your Willieness. 🙂
Stan Manning Haha! You have heard HUNDREDS of Willie songs, and have likely played many. Interestingly, he is a highly versed serious jazz guitarist.

Brian Casey Ha. You may be exaggerating my familiarity with the corpus. I would guess I have heard 20, but not a hundred. I’m really pretty ignorant about most popular music. It would be hard to imagine that I’ve heard more of his tunes than James Taylor or Billy Joel, and I don’t think I know more than 40 or 50 of the either of the latter.

Scott Mills This is akin to appreciation of poetry and even movies. I can appreciate the poetic language of poetry without fully understanding the true meaning. I can love a movie for it’s simplistic message and completely miss the meta-narrative that exposes a much deeper treatise on the human condition. In both cases I recognize that I’m not realizing the author’s deepest intention, and I may be the worse for it, but missing their intention doesn’t diminish my own enjoyment of the work.
Brian Casey Somehow I missed this comment earlier. I see your point(s) as important alongside one I was trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to make. I didn’t mean to suggest, because I understand this or that at this or that level, that my enjoyment is superior to someone else’s. Enjoyment is what it is for each person, I suppose. I probably should have been more clear about one or two things I was downplaying. Apologies for that.


James D. Wallace I am feeling so much cooler since I know the 3Bs of music and its “more than a feeling”.

Stan Manning Well played!
Stan Manning Brubeck, Byrd, and Basie is my three B’s.


Scott Mills Bruce, Browne, and Bonnie for me.
Oh No, and there’s the 3 A’s – Atkins, Alison, and Al. And then… the C’s…
Stan Manning This could be a fun game!
Andy Pearce Can B.B. count as two?
Brian Casey Haha. Only if the Bee Gees count as negative 3.

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