by Kolahal Studio Dec 3 2022

Why teens don’t listen to classical music?

When you see a teenager walking down the street, white earbuds firmly implanted, swaying slightly to their own inner grove, you can be pretty much certain that it’s not classical music they’re listening to. Teenagers I know can enthusiastically rattle off the name of a dozen bands on their current favorite playlist, but ask them if they know who Brahms was and a funny kind of glazed look comes over their eyes. Even my music students, who I’d hope would know better, are astonishingly unknowledgeable about classical music, and if they don’t even know the names of these composers, you’d better believe that they don’t have a recording by them.

First of all, the pace and rhythm of classical music, with its many stops and starts, tempo, dynamic and mood changes, and lengthy moments is the exact opposite of what the turbocharged teenage psyche craves. After all, kids talk fast, play fast, and think fast. They also want their music fast. They also have attention spans of about three minutes (if they’re lucky!), far too short for a four-movement sonata but perfect for that new pop tune. Pop tunes are also structurally much simpler, kind of like an aural billboard, and quite a contrast to the multi-faceted complexity of classical music. A symphony is something that makes a person want to curl up with next to the fire and, like a good novel, sit and savor. How many teens do you know that like to sit still for an hour and bask in the sublime subtlety of anything, let alone music? I don’t know many. 

Finally, the way that teenagers consume music today is vastly different from what generations in the past did. In the nineteenth century, families would gather in the parlor and sing songs together, and the ability to play piano was a treasured thing for a family member to have. The only other opportunity to hear music was an infrequent journey to a concert hall, where one would be dazzled by the novelty of actually hearing many humans making music in tandem. Fast forward many generations and many technological innovations (the record player, radio, electrified instruments, CDs, the Internet) to the present, and music flows across broadband networks with lightening speed, the entire sum recorded music of humanity available just 99 cents and a click away. Also, the musical fabric of a teen’s daily life is not exactly symphonic. How many movies, television shows, and video games prominently feature classical music these days? Not many.

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