Jump to content


Please note: You can easily log in to MPN using your Facebook account!

Whats harder - composing a classical piece of music or a top 40 pop song?


alby

Recommended Posts

I have had this discussion with a few people, including a friend who is a classical pianist. I think the majority view would be that it would be more difficult to write a Symphony than a top 40 pop song. Personally I think that it is very hard to write a top 40 pop song, probably more difficult than writing a symphony. Any thoughts?
Link to comment
Share on other sites



  • Replies 42
  • Created
  • Last Reply

I think there's two sides to this. If you look at it from the composition point of few, i think it's much harder to do classical. In pop, you have a formula. You can weave in and out of that formula, but there's still a formula. Plus you have lyrics to (hopefully) tell some sort of story. You just need a vehicle to transport the story from start to finish. With classical, there's no formula, and there's no lyrics. The instruments have to be the words, and they have to interact in a way that you feel a progression of time, a mood, events, etc...

Now from an acceptance point of view. To Joe-listener, a classical piece is exactly that. A piece of music, and if he/she has some taste, will recognize it as a good piece of music, but won't really know what to make of it....but a pop song, that has to be catchy. My guess is that to the masses, a classical piece will be easier to accept, but a pop song is up for heavy scrutiny by a large listening crowd. Mind you, from the time i spent at the Conservatory of Music, i can certainly feel justified in saying that the hardcore classical listeners are a VERY opinionated and critical bunch.

Very thought provoking question. I'm still standing on the opinion that good classical would be more difficult than good pop.....(probably why i spend more time doing pop than classical!)

Shiver

Rule #2: Don't sweat the petty stuff, and don't pet the sweaty stuff.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I bet that any good contemporary classical music composer can write a good pop song (some already did). Would a pop song writer with not enough musical background be able to compose a symphony, a fugue, or whatever?. Nothing wrong with pop (can be very complex if you want). I even love the blues, which is an absolute basic form. But the question was: Whats harder?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

hmmm ..another "apples/oranges " question:

 

classical composition requires many years of mastering a whole range of disciplines not necessarily nedded to compose pop material ..( i.e. advanced harmonic practices, counterpoint , orchestration, music history ..the list is endless)

 

pop music seems to require ( at it's best), an excellent melodic sense, an ability to create a "hook", a facile lyrical mind .. or a good cowriter of lyric material ..

 

 

but most of all..

 

it requires marketing, connections, exposure, and the ability to repeat what "made something work" without merely copying it .. or course, that never seemed to hurt Neil Diamond for 30 years .. jab! )

 

 

classical music is a calling ..usually supported these daysby acquiring a college gig to pay the bills.

 

my .02 worth ... :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow. I'm surprised at how reserved most people are on this topic. I won't even pretend I'm giving pop any credit. Of course it's much harder to write a symphony than a top 40 hit (especially today's top 40).

 

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Even though I'm 15, in a time where I should like pop more than anything else, I would feel really stupid and idiotic if I said that pop is harder to compose than a classical symphony. With pop, it's all about the words and how high-pitched the guys can sing. With classical, it's more like playing with a person's psyche.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Composing a good piece of music in either category is equally hard.

To compose a pop song that is good enough to be still recognized as good 300 or 400 years after it is written would be incredibly hard. But Mozart, Beethoven, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney, Smokey Robinson, etc. (I know I'm leaving out many others) possessed a genius that was of their time. To say composing a classical piece is more difficult is being a snobbish. The question doesn't account for quality. Just because something is "classical" in style doesn't make is better or more difficult to write. All classical music is not Beethoven's 5th, and all pop music isn't "Yesterday", or "Rhapsody in Blue".

 

John Lennon couldn't compose the score to Star Wars and John Williams couldn't write "Imagine". The best of both categories deserve the same respect.

 

steadyb

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Composing a classic piece requier skills.

Composing a pop-song also requier skills.

 

But what differs is that to make the pop-song into top 40 you need public acceptance and backup from record company.

 

I think I would have more luck doing a classical piece than a top 40 pop-song even if I had to try my whole life.

A classical piece could be done in a year or two for me.

I doubt that I would have a top 40 during that time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting question but it seems biased toward the pop song. Why not even it up:

 

What would be more difficult, writing one of the top 40 favorite classical 'classics' or a top forty pop song?

 

After all whats the good of doing ANY piece if no one likes it? ;)

 

Regards,

 

Jerry

 

[ 01-03-2002: Message edited by: Tusker ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think Steadyb laid down the law on this one, but it is an interesting if flawed question. First answer: it is damn difficult to write anything good.

 

Answer 2: we associate classical music with difficulty, structural complexity, and virtousity. We associate a good pop song with a kind of magical simplicity, i.e., anyone could have written it but no one else did--a new arrangement of cliches that somehow transcends the cliched. It's true that a great pop song could occur to farmer brown while he's plowing his fields, but I think it's also true that a symphony could flash through the mind of farmer Brown's son after he takes a couple bong hits and closes his eyes, though both father and son lack the means to realize or even really remember their revelation. What was my point here?

 

Answer 3: What about Phillip Glass? Sounds easy enough, right? Is the clock going tick tock or tock tick?

Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with those who said that it's very hard to write something good, be it a pop song or a symphony. I hardly would write a top 40 song because... I'm not that interested in creating (or listening to) those "precious" hooks. (Hey, all in all, I am not a fish!). But also I know that I can't write a killer symphony either because... I'm not skilled enough for that. (Though, would you believe, I've composed some chamber music :rolleyes: ). So, here I am. Making my own weird stuff

for nobody... :( Oh well. Anyway, better tell me what would be more impossible: to write a symphony which would end up in a pop-top 40, or to write a pop song which would be a hit among the classical music's aficionados? ;)

I am back.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think definitely orchestral music is much more challenging...

 

I do all styles of arranging, playing and writing, for a living, and have found that the orchestral genre is the most involved...

 

Orchestrating symphonic instruments for pop tunes is, however, not that difficult, as the band carries the majority of the weight...

 

This is not to diminish the challenge involved in writing a good pop tune, with a fresh sound and common thread to speak to the masses...still a challenge...

 

Here's a movement from a String Quartet of mine, an homage to Ravel, recorded during performance back in 1999:

 

String Quartet in F -STREAMING

 

Here's one of many songs I've written, engineered and produced with my co-witer Mindy Howell: (I'm the guitarist and programmer also)

 

Get It Together -STREAMING

 

Get It Together -MP3

 

Peace,

 

Scott Jones

 

www.scottjonesmusic.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Alejandro:

I bet that any good contemporary classical music composer can write a good pop song (some already did).

 

Really??? ...ANY???

 

Would a pop song writer with not enough musical background be able to compose a symphony, a fugue, or whatever?

 

Brian Wilson, Elton John, etc.

 

 

Nothing wrong with pop (can be very complex if you want). But the question was: What?s harder?

 

 

I would challenge you (or any graduate of Julliard for that matter) to write something on par with "Good Vibrations", "God Only Knows", "Tears of a Clown", "My Girl", "In My Life", "September", "Something", "Ain't to Proud to Beg", "Night and Day", "As Time Goes By", etc.

 

Don't forget, what we call "Classical" was the "Pop" music of it's time. Every composer of that time was writing "classical" music. Do you have any idea how much shitty "classical" music was written way back when??? No, because it sucked or was at least mediocre, and didn't stand the test of time.

 

What's harder? - QUALITY. Quality will always be more difficult than crap, because it requires more than just effort, it requires talent, and a certain intangible something that can't be learned or taught.

 

Paul McCartney or Mozart could teach a writing course but unless there was a budding Billy Joel or Gershwin in the audience no one would just be able to do what they do, even after being told "how". There's more to it than that.

 

My point is that neither style is more difficult, but great is much more difficult than mediocre.

 

steadyb

 

[ 01-03-2002: Message edited by: steadyb ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

(nothing personal...)

 

I think this is a DUMB question because:

 

Which is "harder" is simply a function of what you know how to do, and anyone can learn how do either, at least poorly.

 

Being able to do either WELL is the issue, and it's a matter of technique and talent. A person may have it for classical but not pop, or vice versa. Being able to do one does not mean you know how to do the other well (I know lots of "classical" composers who suck at pop, BTW).

 

Apples and Oranges.

 

Of course, I'm great at everything.

 

-BrittanyLips

:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anyone who has spent time listening to Top 40 (whatever that is at the time) can write a Top 40 pop hit. Just look at Madonna...are all of her hits "Like A Virgin"? no, but everything she wanted to be a hit was/is a hit.

 

SteadyB,

 

You're clouding the debate with comparisons of greatness, etc. You don't have to write "The Long and Winding Road" to have a Top40 Pop Hit...you don't have to write Beethoven's 5th or 9th to have a good symphony either.

 

I'd say you have to have a bit of training and a really good ear to write a good symphony...some people will never have the ability to do this...ANYONE can write a Top40 hit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having written music in most styles known to man, including a symphony, a bunch of "contemporary" (ha) pieces and a whole basket of popsongs, I was about to say something about this... but I think I'll go writing some music instead :rolleyes::D
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Steve LeBlanc:

Anyone who has spent time listening to Top 40 (whatever that is at the time) can write a Top 40 pop hit.

SteadyB,

ANYONE can write a Top40 hit.

 

Not a chance.

 

Steve, have you ever written a top 40 pop hit? I haven't (yet).

 

If anyone who regularly visits this forum has written a top 40 hit, please speak up. We've already had a few who claim to have written a symphony. Where and when were they performed??? In front of who???

A top 40 hit is tangible because if it didn't make the top 40 it's not a top 40 hit.

A symphony must have some measuring stick of quality to compare it to or the question is pointless. Quality must be factored into the question.

 

A classical piece of music for a symphony can wander aimlessly, painfully plodding along in one direction or another with no rhyme or reason and still qualify as a symphony...a bad one.

 

A pop song on the other hand, must be concise, and catchy or it won't be...popular.

 

Again, what is the criteria here for a piece qualifying as a symphony??? 20 instruments? ...30?? ...50??? ...200???

 

The nature of this question is slanted because a "symphony" as descibed here needs only to be completed, where a top 40 pop hit has top be just that...popular. Recognized by a large group of people as being accepted as good. Whether that group is a large group of teenage girls, yuppies, seniors, etc.

 

'Is it harder to compose a symphony that is recognized among the leaders in the classical music community?', would be more accurate.

Just because someone is a classical music major doesn't make them talented, it means they completed all the assignments. They may think that they can compose a symphony, but in all likelihood it will probably suck.

 

Just as there are many songwriters out there, writing bad songs while chasing their dream of writing a "hit", there are "composers" out there working on symphonies that would put a room full of people to sleep faster than a traquilizer machine gun.

 

Not anyone can write a pop hit. If ANYONE could, then all of us here at this forum would write just one (as distasteful as we may find it), make a million, quit our day gig, put together our dream studio, and work on that symphony that no one will ever hear.

 

A symphony that world famous conductors would choose to perform year after year...that would be difficult, 'cause it'd have to be good.

 

steadyb

 

p.s. Don't get me wrong, I love classical music. I saw the 1812 Overture performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973, real cannons and all, and wasn't that moved by a concert again until I saw Paul McCartney at the Forum in 1989 (Flowers in the Dirt tour) and Brian Wilson performing "Pet Sounds" with the L.A. Philharmonic in 2000.

 

But give hit songwriters their due. If it was easy everyone would do it.

 

[ 01-03-2002: Message edited by: steadyb ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not anyone can write a pop hit. If ANYONE could, then all of us here at this forum would write just one (as distasteful as we may find it), make a million, quit our day gig, put together our dream studio, and work on that symphony that no one will ever hear.

 

This is always the comeback line :)

 

I don't really want to get deep into this discussion because it's impossible to argue.

 

Making a million and having a song on a chart is not the same as writing a viable pop song. I tried to illustrate that point with my Madonna reference...I guess you didn't understand.

 

Let me just say this and bail out of the discussion...

 

There are Millions upon Millions of quality pop songs out there...any one of them could be a hit with the right artist (image) and financial backing (advertising/radio). There are REAL concrete reasons why a few are hugely popular while the millions are unknown, in most of the cases (not ALL I'll grant you) it has more to do with timing/money/tits and ass than it does how well the song was written.

 

You can't just write a perfect pop song and make millions...it takes a lifetime for most to build the kind of relationships necessary to get your song pushed enough to make money. In my experience the ones who put this kind of time and energy into it aren't the best writers.

 

[ 01-03-2002: Message edited by: Steve LeBlanc ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry, I didnt want to offend anybody (I mean Steadyb) with my comments (third incursion in this thread). Maybe I didnt explain myself correctly (I was lazy to write at the moment). Steadyb, the question was not about talent, it was about difficulty (e.g. what is harder, to dig a hole one meter in depth or five meters? Same soil and shovel of course).

 

I think that by Classical, Alby was referring to certain structures which people normally associate nowadays with what they usually call Classical Music, as Canon, Fugue, Concerto Grosso, Symphony, etc.. (different form e.g. a 12 bar blues). And if not being this, I thought he might be talking about a classic, which might not necessarily be the same as a top 40 pop song

 

I am not really saying that writing a good Pop song can be done jus by anybody. It might be difficult or not. Somebody might be inspired for a moment or just a natural for melodies and/or rhythm.

The thing is that the discussion that was started, was about the following issue: Whats harder?. Burningbusch, I am with you.

 

Gershwin made catchy song that for the time might have been equivalent to todays pop music (he was a natural for creating melodies). I dont know if for example Hindemith would have been able to write a pop song to reach the Top 40 (I think he would have if he was living today and wanted to do so). I dont think Shoenberg would have bothered (even if you dont like what he did, you have to recognize this man was a genius). All this men (just mentioned to make my point) did know music.

If we could ask Gershwin, do you think he would say it was easer for him to write Fascinating Rhythm or Rhapsody in Blue?.

 

Steadyb, wrong about Paul. I love the Beatles. But Paul (he is a natural) recognized in public that he cant write a music score. How could he then be able to write a symphony if he is not even able to write his own songs?. Do you remember the music from The Yellow Submarine?. Do you know who wrote the main music (not the little songs)?. If you think one of the Beatles did, you are wrong.

 

In the eighties, a theme by Adam Ant reached the Top 40. Do you remember the guy?. Do you think he could write a Concert for piano?.

What about remixes?. They can also reach the Top 40.

 

 

Many serious musicians are writing pop music too. Many might be good at it. But this is not what is at stake here, as the question was: Whats harder?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Alejandro:

Steadyb, the question was not about talent, it was about difficulty (e.g. what is harder, to dig a hole one meter in depth or five meters? Same soil and shovel of course).

 

Not really a valid analogy. What is the same soil and shovel??? The same instruments???, The same arrangement??? The same notes??? The same length??? Are you saying it's more difficult to write a 30 minute piece than a 3 minute one? I'd say it's more difficult to convey your thought in 3 minutes than 30. It requires more focus, more discipline. Again you guys seem bent on ignoring quality. I could write a symphony tonight, but it probably wouldn't be very good. (then again it might).

 

By difficult do you mean the hand fatigue you may experience while writing out all the parts? By that logic carrying a 200 pound rock 5 miles uphill by yourself is more difficult than writing a symphony (or a pop song).

 

 

Gershwin made catchy song that for the time might have been equivalent to today?s pop music (he was a natural for creating melodies). I don?t know if for example Hindemith would have been able to write a pop song to reach the Top 40 (I think he would have if he was living today and wanted to do so). I don?t think Shoenberg would have bothered (even if you don?t like what he did, you have to recognize this man was a genius). All this men (just mentioned to make my point) did know music.

 

You're naming a few famous classical composers. Are you suggesting Elton John, Stevie Wonder, David Foster, Diane Warren, Brian Holland/Eddie Holland/Lamont Dozier, or Burt Bacharach don't know music?

 

If we could ask Gershwin, do you think he would say it was easer for him to write Fascinating Rhythm or Rhapsody in Blue?.

 

Who knows. He could've struggled for months with Fascinating Rhythm and Rhapsody in Blue might of just flowed out of him.

 

 

Steadyb, wrong about Paul. I love the Beatles. But Paul (he is a natural) recognized in public that he can?t write a music score. How could he then be able to write a symphony if he is not even able to write his own songs?.

 

I never said Paul could write a symphony or a music score.(please be accurate) I said John Williams couldn't write "Imagine", nor could he write "Yesterday" or "Let It Be".

 

It would be as difficult for him to write a pop hit as it would for Paul to write a symphony.

 

Do you remember the music from The Yellow Submarine?. Do you know who wrote the main music (not the little songs)?.

 

 

Of course I do. George Martin, who, by the way, was producing comedy albums prior to his opportunity of a lifetime, The Beatles.

By "the little songs" as you put it, are you referring to those songs on the album that people actually remember?

 

In the eighties, a theme by Adam Ant reached the Top 40. Do you remember the guy?.

 

Big deal.

 

 

Do you think he could write a Concert for piano?.

 

Sure. A bad one.

 

 

What about remixes?. They can also reach the Top 40.

 

That's re-arranging, not composing.

 

Many serious musicians are writing pop music too. Many might be good at it. But this is not what is at stake here, as the question was: What?s harder?

 

Actually, the topic was: Whats harder - composing a classical piece of music or a top 40 pop song?

 

The question should have been : Whats harder - composing a good classical piece of music or a top 40 pop song?

 

 

steadyb

 

[ 01-03-2002: Message edited by: steadyb ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have worked out how to answer this apples and oranges question. Does anyone know Billy Joel - personally?

 

He has released a CD called BILLY JOEL: FANTASIES & DELUSIONS which reached no 5 Top Classical Album on Billboards 2001 (www.billboard.com/billboard/yearend/2001/classical.jsp)

 

Maybe someone can give him a call and ask him which was more difficult Classical or Pop?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Y'all,

 

Do you think Steve LeBlanc is trying to challenge us folks with his remark: "ANYONE can write a Top40 hit." Just kidding Steve. ;)

 

It all depends on a person's musical background. I feel that classical (orchestral, symphony...whatever) would be a hugh challenge to write for someone who's not classically trained--but even then, it won't be an easy task to do. And, trying to write a hit song PERIOD in whatever genre is hard to do too! But anything is possible with lotsa lotsa lotsa practice, dedication and "who-you-know" in da biz, right?

 

So, for me, it would be hard to write ANYTHING! I'm still learning how to write songs and to sequence a damn decent tune in Cakewalk. I'm not gonna give up though. Y'all -- pray for me!! :o

 

My $.50 was well spent for today. :P:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Magpel:

It's true that a great pop song could occur to farmer brown while he's plowing his fields, but I think it's also true that a symphony could flash through the mind of farmer Brown's son after he takes a couple bong hits and closes his eyes, though both father and son lack the means to realize or even really remember their revelation.

...meanwhile, at the Kid Rock concert, farmer Brown's daughter is doing some revealing of her own.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

a bit unfair because really all you need to know is a couple of chords on the guitar...and you have what you need to write a pop song (not saying it will be good), however to write a classical piece of music (let alone a symphony) requires years and years of training and listening...so is harder to take composition lessons for 15-20 years then do a degree in music than it is to learn 3 chords on the guitar...obviously.

 

The only way you could really get some kind of benchmark of this is asking how many present day classical composers have written HIT songs? i dont really know the answers (but would like to know)...all i can Gorgio Moroder...I know desmond child had a classical composition background..i assume all of these guys must have at least tried to write symphonies...i guess if writing a pop song were that easy thered be more names to think of??

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by sudeep_rao@hotmail.com:

a bit unfair because really all you need to know is a couple of chords on the guitar...and you have what you need to write a pop song (not saying it will be good), however to write a classical piece of music (let alone a symphony) requires years and years of training and listening...so is harder to take composition lessons for 15-20 years then do a degree in music than it is to learn 3 chords on the guitar...obviously.

 

Mozart began composing minuets at the age of 5 and symphonies at 9.

 

Many of Bach's compositions can ultimately be broken down to a I-IV-V chord progression (3 chords), commonly found in pop music.

 

Mozart composed his last three symphonies (E flat, G minor, and the Jupiter in C) in less than 7 weeks (summer 1788).

 

Time spent studying doesn't have as much to do with the ability to compose as talent does.

 

steadyb

Link to comment
Share on other sites

uh oh, I'm back ;)

 

You're not helping your argument much mang:

 

Mozart began composing minuets at the age of 5 and symphonies at 9.

 

Mozart did a whole lot of studying between age 5 and 9...his knowledge of traditional music theory was quite broad by the time he was 9...people were pretty much amazed at how well versed he was.

 

Mozart composed his last three symphonies (E flat, G minor, and the Jupiter in C) in less than 7 weeks (summer 1788).

 

7 weeks is a long time...if it took me 7 weeks to write 3 pop songs I'd shoot myself :D ...besides, his knowledge of music at that stage of his life was pretty insane...I imagine he had another 3 or 4 symphonies sitting in his head, just no time to write them down.

 

Time spent studying doesn't have as much to do with the ability to compose as talent does.

 

Of course not...again we agree but you can't write a symphony unless you spend a bit of time studying. Any monkey can write a pop song that would be easy enough to get on a Top40 chart...some tunes need a bit more help than others...some pop songs border on genius.

 

 

Goodnight ;)

 

[ 01-04-2002: Message edited by: Steve LeBlanc ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...