Robert Estrin - piano expert

What Makes Great Music "Great"?

Interesting thoughts about what contributes to make great music

In this video, Robert tackles a deep subject with a simple concept that will help you understand what makes music "great."

Released on July 6, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert Estrom here,, asking the loaded question, what makes music great? There is so much to this that we could talk about the inventiveness and the melody, rhythm, orchestration.

There's countless aspects of music that together somehow makes things great. And you know what's really interesting? You take a composer like Mozart.

Now, when Mozart was alive, what other great composers were around? Well, Haydn was around, Beethoven a little bit later, and Schubert a little bit later.

Were those the only composers? No, of course there were hundreds of composers. But what is it about Mozart and Beethoven? What is it about these great composers? What makes music great? And even in the 20th and 21st centuries, what is it that separates the Beatles from hundreds of other bands that were composing or producing similar music, just like Mozart had many contemporaries, whether it was Hummel or Salieri or countless others? And somehow you listen to their music and if you analyze it, you can't really say what's so different about their music from their contemporaries.

Same thing with the Beatles. There are lots and lots of bands.

And I'm going to give you in a nutshell what I think separates like Brahms from countless other romantic period composers, as well as the Beatles and Beethoven.

And that is that every single composition is a unique statement.

Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas. There are no two that are really alike.

They're all unique compositions.

Take a look at the Beatles. You may love the Beatles. They might not be your favorite band. But you've got to admit that every single album was different from every other album. And every song in every album was different from every other song on every album.

This is a really hard thing to achieve. Typically in pop music, for example, you might have a one hit wonder. Somebody hits a great song and the rest of the album not so great. Or less common.

There's one great album and that's the end of it. And you never hear from the band again. But the Beatles kept coming up with great albums. And they're not the only band, by the way. I'm just using them as the quintessential band of all time that just kept churning out great music.

Look at Brahms' four symphonies. And they are completely unique musical statements, every one of them. Now you might say that Mozart is more similar in his works than other composers or Haydn. But each one has its own character, its own motifs, and its own structure. And breaking the rules, the rules of form, slightly altered here and there, keeping the interest.

So that's really what separates great music is the fact that the originality from composition to composition is just astounding in the people who are really remembered over generations and over centuries. I'm interested in your opinion of this. And if you think there are other aspects of great music that deserve to be mentioned, do it here in the comments at and YouTube. Again, Robert Estrin here for you. Thanks again for being with me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2016 @3:42 am PST
Hi Mr Estrin, I'm actually surprised there's no debate at all. First of course, I like Hummel's music, and of course it's not boring at all, but I can see your point, in general it's much closer to the classical conventions of his time.
Yet you're right, I don't play any Hummel pieces on a regular basis, while I do try to play Mozart's piano sonatas, and its fun to do. Sometimes I put the book away for a year, but I'll always come back. All of this pieces have something that make you come back, even nr 16 sonata facile, very different from nr 8 where very deep feelings are being expressed, and nearly gets romantic in style.
I think your definition is quite right, the notion of "surprise me" makes the difference between an ordinary daily object or painting or music, and something that makes you stop and look or listen. Innovation, lateral thinking, call it what you like, but there's always the notion of "oh I'd never thought of doing it this way". Satie, Cesar Franck, Philipp Glass all came up with ideas that make in fact quite easy and readable scores (not always easy to play well though, just like Bach or Mozart) but are full of new and personal ways to assemble notes into a coherent music with a lot of mood and spirit. Discovery and rediscovery is what's it all about, feeling you're lead off the beaten tracks, and still can find your way around when the piece ends.
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