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Why is modern music so difficult?


Modern music can be perceived as difficult due to several factors. One aspect is the complexity and innovation found in many contemporary compositions. Modern musicians often push the boundaries of traditional musical structures, employing unconventional chord progressions, intricate rhythms, and unique instrumentation. This departure from familiar patterns and expectations can make the music challenging to comprehend and appreciate.

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg, who can be considered as the mastermind behind the birth of difficult modern music, sought to create music that went beyond the traditional tonal system, commonly described in terms of major and minor keys. As a result, he developed the "twelve-tone technique," which utilizes all twelve pitches equally within an octave, eliminating a sense of tonality. This innovation in composition made Schoenberg's music sound unfamiliar and unconventional to listeners.

Let's take some time to listen to a few works by Schoenberg.

<Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 - Boulez>

<Suite for Piano, Op.25>

Furthermore, modern music often blurs the lines between different genres, resulting in a fusion of styles that can be unfamiliar to listeners. Artists draw inspiration from diverse cultural traditions, incorporating elements from various musical genres and incorporating unconventional scales, rhythms, and tonalities. This amalgamation of influences can create a sound that is unfamiliar and harder to categorize, contributing to the perception of difficulty.

Experimentation is another hallmark of modern music. Musicians strive to explore new sonic territories and challenge established norms. They may experiment with unconventional sounds, techniques, and structures, prioritizing artistic expression over immediate accessibility. While this experimentation leads to exciting and groundbreaking music, it can also make the listening experience more demanding as it pushes the boundaries of traditional musical conventions.


It's important to note that not all modern music is inherently difficult. There are contemporary artists and genres that prioritize accessibility and provide a more straightforward listening experience. Pop, rock, and jazz musicians, for example, incorporate innovative elements into their music while still maintaining a level of familiarity for a wider audience. So, it's not accurate to generalize modern music as uniformly difficult.

Here are some examples.

<Arvo Part - Spiegel im Spiegel>

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer known for his minimalist and spiritual approach to music. His compositions often feature simple, melodic lines and serene harmonies, creating a tranquil and accessible listening experience. Pärt's music draws inspiration from sacred music traditions and incorporates elements of mysticism and contemplation.

<Henryk Górecki - Symphony of Sorrowful Songs - 2nd Movement>

Henryk Górecki was a Polish composer known for his emotionally evocative and accessible compositions. His most famous work is his Symphony No. 3, also known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," which achieved widespread popularity. Górecki's music often combines haunting melodies with rich harmonies, conveying deep emotional resonance and providing an approachable entry point for listeners.


Ultimately, the perception of difficulty in modern music can also be influenced by individual preferences and exposure. What one person finds challenging, another might find exhilarating and intellectually stimulating. Exploring and expanding one's musical horizons can help develop a deeper appreciation for the diverse and evolving landscape of modern music.

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