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The Reason Why Modern Music is More Popular than Classical Music

Updated on February 1, 2013

The trend of the music of today is obvious. Genres such as pop, rap, metal, country and the like are on the rise. New songs of the modern generation are composed and released in large numbers every day, whereas for classical pieces, it's a struggle to find a newly composed sonata or symphony. Perhaps now more songs are being composed every decade than there were pieces in the Common Period. Certainly, classical music is still holding its own niche, but it is clearly under great pressure.

And what is the reason for this? Classical music has lasted this long, so why is it losing favor now? The reasons are actually manifold:

1. Classical music is harder to compose than modern music.

Let us first discuss the length of the average length of a song or piece in each genre. I would clarify my definition of song or piece to such that the song or piece in question is musically and symbolically complete. In modern music, a song can last anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, though naturally by creative freedom there are songs breaking past either extreme. However, classical music is longer in general. In classical music, pieces are divided vaguely across multiple categories, such as sonatas, symphonies, concertos and the like, with significant overlaps in various areas. Concertos last in the range of 14 to 20 minutes, all 3 movements considered. If you consider Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons as a single piece (which could be unfair, but allow me to just say this), then that piece would be almost 40 minutes long. That which we call symphonies are generally 10 minutes per movement, with 4 movements in total. Again, there are variations in classical music too, but this is a rough average. Leaving all other things aside, classical music is longer in general than modern music. Length can be a good indicator of how difficult a piece is to compose, so we'll accept for the moment that classical music is harder to compose.

Next, we discuss the idea of musical complexity. I am certain that many have heard of Axis of Awesome's Four Chord Song, which illustrates how many modern songs nowadays utilize a set of chords, that vary only based on the key in which the song is written. For your convenience, these chords are I, IV, V, and vi. Aside from that, there have been other rather sophisticated studies that show how this is true. Within each song, it is often a simple matter to predict where the verses, choruses and bridge of the song are, and therefore structural complexity becomes nearly non-existent. However, in classical music, there is often significant musical complexity; the composers utilized the length of the pieces to develop the themes, and used modulation, variation, polyphony, contrapuntal techniques and complex harmony. The structure governing each symphony, concerto, etc. is often fixed, but within each piece, the ideas and themes are developed and pushed to their limits without restraint. There is no set of common chords that make it a simple matter to conjure up a classical piece.

These are the reasons why classical pieces are far less abundant in number than modern music now, despite being in existence long before modern music.

2. Comprehension of Musical Complexity

I do not want this to turn into an argument about whether classical music listeners are more intelligent, or vice versa. However I will put out the point that most people consider classical music harder to comprehend than modern music, and this is actually linked to the previous section. Music that is longer and contains more elements is doubtlessly harder to comprehend than shorter and less harmonically sophisticated music. In comprehending a section of music, a listener experiences enjoyment, and therein lies the crux of the issue. Due to the heightened difficulty of classical music, fewer people are willing to put in the effort to understand it.

3. Economic Forces

Another very important reason is marketing. Record labels have no reason to sell a product that is not in demand if they are able to create a comparatively more appealing product for less effort. With a great deal of financial clout, they are able to hire songwriters, singers and performers of all kinds in order to promote modern music, and push it out to a massive audience across virtually every medium of communication. Market forces being what they are, classical music is naturally pushed into a corner.

This truly saddens me. Classical music, a complex and beautiful artform, is being shoved aside by modern music that is gradually getting worse in creativity, as record labels push ahead to improve their bottom lines. Will classical music one day vanish and cease to be remembered?


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      james-becker 4 years ago

      Until the last record or manuscript is destroyed, classical music will live forever, like the byzantine works of ancient architecture and the classic literary works, from Homer to Dostoevsky. BECAUSE it is so complex and BECAUSE it is so difficult to write, it is TREASURED by those who appreciate it. There is certainly no modern pop music that is "treasured" by its listeners. Worshiped, perhaps; idolized; but not treasured. A new hit pop song is a dime a dozen and can be easily cranked out in a day. But in a hundred years, when all the Britney Spears and Lady Gaga records are lying at the bottom of garbage lots the world over, there will still be performances of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

    • ilscherzo profile image

      ilscherzo 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you for your optimistic take on things!

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      Musicman 4 years ago

      ... It is entirely possible that there has been a shift as a result of the ability to tell a story through the use of moving pictures (ie: movies). Previously, a piece of music had to tell a greater portion of a tale, evoking emotion, imagery, scenery and in many cases all facets of a story. This is generally achieved these days through a combination of audio AND visual techniques and music has (d)evolved into what it is today as a result. What was once a sensory overload becomes "not enough". What once was a well paced story becomes too long and the modern impatient society wants us to "get to the punch line". What once was intriguing becomes all to hard to understand without the moving pictures to go alongside.

      ....just a thought....

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      Musicman 4 years ago

      Don't be sad !! Consider this:

      It has been a couple hundred years (and then some), yet today I am listening to Beethoven's 7th.

      What "Modern music" was I listening to 20 years ago? I have no idea.

      ...Logic would suggest that "Classical music" can never die.

      It will always have a place - Even modern music lovers who claim to avoid listening to Classical music will continue to experience it whether they like it or not - thanks to tens of thousands of musical scores borrowed by modern movies :)