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Clash of the ages: Classical vs. electronic

Ben's Boombox

By Ben Meinking
On February 4, 2014

Computer, check. Notebook, check. Pen and highlighter, check. Books, check. Headphones, check.

Many students choose to put the headphones on and press play when doing their schoolwork; it's a way of zoning out at the library or the common room, where there can be distractions lurking around each corner. Take a second and think about what music you choose to listen to. Is it classical? Does the sound of violins and pianos calm your brain and allow you to focus in on the task ahead? Is it electronic dance? Maybe some Daft Punk and Deadmau5 as you try to get hyped for your homework?

In his book, "Pourquoi Mozart?" Alfred A. Tomatis coined the phrase "The Mozart Effect." He explained as the music was being presented by different frequencies, the listener had short-term improvement of performance of certain mental tasks involving mental imagery and temporal ordering. Symphonies have a range of different frequencies depending on the conductor and composer. On average, our human ear can hear a range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. As we grow older, that range becomes smaller and smaller. Most symphonies move throughout that range tiptoeing through the frequencies so that you can feel the movement of the piece. This is why musical scores for movies are a popular choice for students. There is an "epic-ness" to the sound. The composer's job is to match the feeling that is presented on screen while keeping in mind what frequencies can trigger what feelings, such as an uplifting key change or a sudden bass note that sustains and speeds up to match the suspense of an underwater shark the size of a fishing boat.

Electronic dance music (EDM) is a relative to classical music, if not distant cousins. EDM has what many DJs and electronic-enthusiasts call a "drop." It is obvious when it happens, which makes EDM distasteful to lovers of other genres. Even though it is blatant when the "drop" happens, there is still suspense up to that point, which parallels classical music. EDM uses a range of frequencies that is primarily brought upon (wait for the drop) digitally. Speakers try to blast all that lower in the spectrum joy so that you can literally feel the bass. As for the beats per minute (BPM) of EDM, a constant down beat that repeats typically keeps the mold and rhythm of the dance floor. Over in the library, a dance floor is not ready to be improved into starting. The headphones are on and the tasks are being completed at a natural steady pace like the down beat of the song. The "drop" is something to look forward to, making it without words, a better piece to listen to than a new Miley Cyrus song.

Both EDM and orchestral music have a purpose for study habits at school. It keeps our head down and in books, rather than up in the clouds dreaming of where we would rather be. The music we listen to defines us in ways that can only be made similar by endless possibilities. We get the job done. We smile. We dance. We walk. We dream. Sometimes it's nice to take the headphones out and realize that we are all the same.


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