Paperhouse: On learning music

Enjoying a new type of music is similar to learning a new language. Developing a functional knowledge and understanding a few key phrases isn’t that difficult, but attaining fluency requires research, practice, and more time than one first imagines. The key to both, however, is immersion. Surrounding yourself with people who are already familiar with the culture is the most efficient way to learn about any musical style.

You can try doing research on your own by reading Pitchfork or Drowned in Sound, surfing Wikipedia’s “list of X-genre artists,” and downloading a bunch of albums that you’ve heard belong in a certain genre, but this is no different from learning a language solely through how-to books and instructional podcasts. In other words, by learning this way, you lose the human aspect — the social nuances that elevate communication beyond simple information transmission into a form of spiritual connection and understanding.

There is another key similarity between learning a new language and broadening your musical taste: There is a critical period of acquisition, and once you pass that period, fluency is much harder to acquire. According to Daniel Levitin, associate professor of psychology at McGill University, it is our music taste during our teenage years that most heavily influence our listening preferences as adults. While that critical period has already passed for most of us, there is still time to listen and learn.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the most diverse universities in the country. Our music program is world renowned, our radio station is one of the final bastions in freeform radio culture, and Pittsburgh is a musical hotspot for most any type of style. So, why are you still reading this? Go find something new to listen to and expand your mind.

(Originally published in The Tartan)