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Not quite physics -- why music sounds musical

  1. Jul 26, 2016 #1
    please delete if not physicsy enough for the PF.

    I have always wondered why music sounds musical. there is general agreement through the music charts that a wide range people all agree on what a good song is evidently.

    generalising above that, nearly everyone agrees regardless of the song/genre/personal taste what qualifies as music and what is just sounds, is there ANY science on this???

    more generally being born in the west I like most everyone that does not even play an instrument can keep time with about every song in our typically 4/4 (regardless of speed/tempo) structure we have been cultured into, evidence by head-banging or foot tapping etc

    listening to eg traditional Chinese or Indian music I can not keep time or figure any of it out to make it sound "musical".

    my search terms did not pick up anything relevant to my query.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2016 #2
    Music Theory. It's a subject. Math. Art. Read and learn about the mathematics behind music. It's an interesting topic.
  4. Jul 27, 2016 #3
    I wouldn't be too sure about that. It's highly subjective. There's no clear consensus about when sounds become music. It doesn't even have a solid definition. What one person perceives as music and melodious might be noise to someone else (think how the ancient civilisations would react to thrash metal). :oldeek:
    That being said, there might be some science to it.
  5. Jul 27, 2016 #4
    If you have listened to sepultra's roots album you would know the ancients were into thrash.

    Sepultura - Roots Bloody Roots [OFFICIAL VIDEO]:
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2016
  6. Jul 27, 2016 #5
    All of them??
  7. Jul 27, 2016 #6
    and why does a man recognize some things as beautiful? What is the esthetical feeling inside us? Why are the mathematical theorems beautiful? Why are views of nature beautiful?
    sure but white noise is also a mathematical subject
  8. Jul 27, 2016 #7
    Clearly no expert - but IMO the cultural differences / preferances are likely developed during the formative years in the brain, as exposure to "normal" sounds occurred though the early years. Perhaps - look into some of the studies on feral children that had little to no exposure to music - if this was even checked in these few cases I have no idea.

    There have been some interesting studied done with surgeons ( as to why they experiment whit surgeons IDK) - but their peromance ( quality of work) improves when music is played in the operating room, if I recall, even if it is music they do not necessarily like....
  9. Aug 5, 2016 #8
    But take my case. My parents played or listened to polka's maybe Frank Sinatra and his contemporaries. My only exposure to other music until the mid fifties was in church. My father played the accordion and banjo. My parents could not figure out why I liked classical music as a teenager. I play no instruments.

    It is said that there is no accounting for taste.
  10. Aug 8, 2016 #9
    Western music is much more similar than you realize - all based on the same 12 notes / Octave in different scales - typically using a subset of these. When you look at truly different music African, Asian they may have a 5 / Octave division - and will sound completely different - to a true musician this strangeness may actually be very intriguing ( like a painter finding a new color- a color that the average person may not "like" due to being unfamiliar) .

    In terms of physics or Elec. Engineering - I would speculate that much of this octave scaling came from the first instruments created and the harmonics they produce - these harmonics then produce various dissonance (unstable / typically little harmonic matching) to Consonance (stable, a lot of harmonics matching) when matching one not to another.
  11. Aug 8, 2016 #10

    Jonathan Scott

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    Western music is based on simple ratios of frequencies (as found for example in the harmonic series of a natural trumpet) sounding good combined with the fact that most of those simple ratios are very close to powers of the 12th root of 2. The western chromatic scale is made possible by the fact that 219 is very close to 312.
  12. Aug 8, 2016 #11


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    Do not ignore the attractiveness of Rhythm.
  13. Aug 21, 2016 #12
    Like any other cultural field that evolves over time, music is in a constant process of self-actualization.

    In ancient times, 'noise' wouldn't be considered a musical element like it is today in many genres. Pretty much any sound, no matter how 'cacophonic' it is can be employ in a musical object. Typical Western structural elements like rhythm, harmony, melody, scales, tempo, etc, can be hijacked and subverted into something else entirely new. Heuristics are getting increasingly meta.

    All up to the artists' creative minds since there are no stone-written rules about what or how music (or art for that matter) should be like.
  14. Aug 21, 2016 #13

    jim hardy

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    who could forget this scene ?

  15. Aug 21, 2016 #14


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    One could say they invented the Jam session.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  16. Aug 24, 2016 #15
    Why do we call it "white noise"? Noise has no color.
  17. Aug 24, 2016 #16

    Jonathan Scott

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    It's an analogy with light; it means constant power across all frequencies of the audio spectrum, which for the light spectrum would give white light.
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