July 25, 2021

The Music Generation Gap

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The other day a headline “Why do Old People Hate New Music?” for a story in Psychology Today caught my eye. With a headline like that, the story had to be read.

The premise of the story was that older people often turn up their noses at new music because they think it is nothing but noise or it all sounds the same. The article went on to present evidence that our brains lose the ability to accept new music because as we age the part of the brain than enables us to make the subtle distinctions between different chords, rhythms and melodies starts to fail. This gives us the impression that all new music sounds alike.

The article related some examples of why they concluded all this to be true; but didn’t have any real conclusive evidence to prove their theory. It would seem somewhat odd that a person who was well versed in the differences in music that they have studied, played or even just listened to for years, would lose that ability. It is so much a part of your mental make up that it would seem unlikely.

While citing one example is hardly a clear rebuttal, it does serve as some counter evidence. There was an acquaintance of mine who had serve memory problems. She had been concert pianist in her earlier life. While she couldn’t tell you who the president was or even the day of the week, she could play Chopin flawlessly. Play anything and she could tell you all the chords, the key, or anything else you wanted to know about the music.

What is a more likely case in the aging of the brain is the ability to create new music. Even the most talented songwriters did their best work when they were young. How often does an “older” performer have a hit record? Most, like Billy Joel, give up even trying. That is what made Bob Dylan having a number one record when he was almost 80 so remarkable.

There has always been a music gap between generations. Most of us that have an interest in music develop our preferences in music in our teen years. While your tastes may change somewhat or become more sophisticated as we get older, it is the music that we loved as a teen that is our yardstick.

For those who grew up in the 30’s and 40’s it was music that sought to bring a little joy and stability to the lives who those who were escaping the depression or were war weary from both World War II and the Korean War. The music was carefree to match the recovery mode. Everyone was interested in escaping and enjoying the new prosperity that was emerging.

Their children saw things differently. In the 50’s teens embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll because it rebellious. It was their own music with lyrics that spoke directly to them. Their parents were often shocked by this awful sounding music. It was so much different than their music.

The 60’s music created an even bigger gap. Teens were protesting a way of life that their parents were living. Led by their music heroes like Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones they were marching to end all war, create equal rights and a better standard of living for all.

In the 70’s Rock music, led by very talented musicians, went to a much higher level than the earlier Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was more than just growth in the music. There was more of a personal revolution and lyrics that reflected that growth.

In the 80’s and beyond computers started to change the music. You no longer had to be a good musician to create music. You could get a machine to do most of the work for you.

At the same time many schools stopped teaching music. We now have a current generation who grew up only hearing sounds, not music. From the computer games to the scratching by DJs to soundtracks in films that were more sounds than music, it understandable that only a few of the current generation really know and understand music.

Each older generation went on with their lives after their teen years. They no longer have the luxury of having time to listen to new music. When they do listen, there is a certain amount of credence in their claim that the music all sounds the same. It is not a function of the brain, but a real lack of creativity on the part of many new performers today.

One thing that has developed over the past few years is the music gap has closed a bit. If you go to a Classic Rock concert today, you will see whole families sitting together. Perhaps because of the lack of a real “spirit” of revolutionary music today, the Classic Rock of the past has brought some families together.

Many teens are getting to know this music from their older siblings, parents, and even grandparents. Still, they do like to have their own music. Some of it IS worthwhile. Can the old and new live side by side?

Most radio station refuse to go outside their format. With some real justification, they feel that if they are a Classic Rock station, their audience will not tolerate anything new. They don’t want to hear anything unfamiliar-even if it is by a superstar like Paul McCartney. The same for a modern Rock station. They would never play the new Paul McCartney record because he’s not a current star.

The complaint by the older music fan that all new music sounds the same, is not only true to some degree, but could be somewhat of a solution to the music gap. Playing music that fits together regardless of when it was created is the answer. Good music is good music. It doesn’t matter when it was created.

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