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Medical Why do we like music?

  1. Sep 10, 2006 #1
    What is it in our brains that makes us enjoy music?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2006 #2


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    you should repost this in mind & brain sciences. I'm interested myself.
  4. Sep 10, 2006 #3


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    It has been in my brain since I was a little child, and it is a driving force. I love (and have always loved) blues, well-motivated pop, rock&roll, marches and anthems, ragtime, jazz (most, except the most rambling, self-gratifying crap), etc. I cannot warm up to rap (usually smart-mouthed misogynysts with drum machines) or opera, although I'll keep my options open in case anything listenable comes along. I am of primarily French-Indian heritage and grew up listening to Pop, Maritime, Country, and Race Music, etc over 50 years ago. When I was a small child, my great uncle moved into a tiny apartment and gave my mother his console record player and his LPs, so I had access to the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers and others who were never played on radio stations in central Maine. He used to run a taxi service, and in the winter months, he would drive to the top of a local ridge after sunset and tune in his car radio to megawatt AM stations from all over the country to listen to to country and blues. Sometimes, he would stop and pick me up - I still remember sipping on a Coke while he nursed a Pabst or two, listening to the Porter Wagoner Show or the Grand Ole Oprey from Wheeling West Virginia, or blues from Buffalo or Chicago.
  5. Sep 18, 2006 #4
    I vouch for that, music is the epitome of life for me. I dont know what it is, but i love music and cant stop listening to it.

    At home I listen to it 24/7 on the PC, in the bath, when mowing the lawn. Whether its on the PC, iPod car or bath radio. My friends and family even complain at me sometimes because i listen to it so much, if im really tense or stressed, 2 minutes of listening to some music of my choice, and i've cracked it! Whether this sounds weird, daft or just plain stupid i dont know, but music is my life especially at the moment!
  6. Nov 4, 2006 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, what qualities or unique properties can we assign to music?

    For one, there is order. Music is comprised of patterns. There is melody,
    harmony, rhythm, texture, and color. The form is modeled by the use of repetition and contrast.

    One thought that comes to mind is the rhythm of our mother's heartbeat.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2006
  7. Nov 18, 2006 #6
    Very good example. Beethoven was the master of the use of the heartbeat pattern. He used it many times. Examples: Symph. #9, 2nd Mvt; Symph. #7, 1st Mvt (2nd theme) and in many other places. It typifies what some call his rhythmic drive.

  8. Nov 18, 2006 #7
    Another example of the "order" of music comes in the scale of notes employed. The basic 12-note chromatic scale used in the West has its notes separated by twelfth-root of two (binary logarithmic) intervals. Even more to the point, the diatonic scales (the seven note groupings within the chromatic scale) which define the various keys, are based on an approximation to the "overtone series" sequences, in which note frequencies are related as integral multiples of each other. This symmetry seems to, we might say, strike a chord with people.

    All the symmetries, the patterns of order within music, the note relationships, the rhythms, the repetitions, etc. seem to be very pleasing to us. During the Twentieth Century, many within the "academe" decided that it was time to broaden the definition of what music is, and loosen the reins of symmetry. (Probably a way of ensuring employment for musicologists.) After nearly a hundred years it still doesn't seem to have caught on with the people at large.

  9. Nov 18, 2006 #8


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    Good music always induces emotion, whether you play it or your listen to it. Perhaps we just like to feel emotions? We like to watch all kinds of movies: romance, horror, comedy, drama.
  10. Nov 18, 2006 #9


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    Music mimics language - it is recursive, varied, time-oriented, etc. But it doesn't carry explicit meaning. People testify (and I agree) to the mysterious effect it has. I was just listening to one of my favorite musical passages, the long slow movement of Beethoven's piano sonata 109, and it was very much like a conversation in texture, and when we experience that texture I believe we interpret it as a meaningful input, even though there is no perceived "content".
  11. Nov 18, 2006 #10
    I'll try to contribute to this.

    I think that we 'enjoy' musical melodies in whatever genre because it can give out specified messages in its lyrics, types of melodies such as in the romantic period (where it is quite nationalistic as a whole) where our thoughts can relate to, where our thoughts can go back to a distant memory and when put into context of what you experienced in you're mind, the music becomes nostalgic and melancholy, also happiness etc.

    However, Other people, including me, like music for reasons that it DOESN'T include a message; it is absolute music. This is the reason why I like music from baroque and classical era, as (for the majority) it is just pure music with no specified message i.e. I can create the environment in my mind for which the music can fit in like a malleable jigsaw piece. It can fill the 'void' in my mind which makes me feel bad at the time and unable to do work, be happy etc and hence act as the activation energy for my mind to function properly.
  12. Nov 19, 2006 #11


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    On Thanu Padmanabhan's home page is a wonderful story about music.


    If you're interested in the intersection of gravitation and quantum physics, you would be well-advised to review his papers. Good stuff.
  13. Nov 22, 2006 #12


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    Hmm..I'd say the same thing that makes us enjoy bird song, the sound of waterfalls and so on, i.e, that there is a component in our make-up that makes us enjoy our natural, auditive environment.
  14. Nov 22, 2006 #13
    I don't know but i'd be keen to and also why do some people like music i just can't stand ?

    BTW we make a bit of music as HELL SCIENCE DEPT
  15. Nov 22, 2006 #14


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    I agree, it’s possible to aesthetically appreciate all sorts of sound and absence of sound, not necessarily just man made sound, and to me, there is no difference whether it is called sound or music. Of the schools of thought about why sounds are manipulated or why music as defined as an artificial combination of auditory elements, is made, like, for the expression of the composer’s feelings; hedonism; formalism; knowledge, morally or socially based; or the effect of music on the listener, some of the posts here refer to formalism, and a lot of them mention the effect upon the listener, which was more directly the OP.

    I’m particularly interested in the idea that sound may metaphorically, or however, move us. I’ve come across some articles about neuro/psychological studies of how this may happen. Apparently we are more likely to be aroused by complexity in the things we listen to. I mention this particularly because artificial sounds can be made to be very complex- it can be harder to stumble upon complex, related, combinations of sounds in nature. Although, quite simply, a certain loud volume and a tempo reaching a certain amount of beats per minute, is complexity enough, to be exploited in sales to arouse customers. Also mentioned is along the lines of, that with greater exposure to music the greater ability a brain has to distinguish complexity. Another source of arousal is association, involving memory.

    Other claims made are that harmony and discord are registered in different parts of the brain, that the experience of ‘euphoric chills’ when listening is activated by the same reward systems as induced by food and sex, and that music lowers testosterone.

    One last point I’ve noted, is that when having analysed a piece, it can lose some of it’s effect.

    Some of these points have sources here, some don’t, sorry. I’ve also linked some hopefully appropriate pages, including a couple related to SA’s post about language.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2006
  16. Nov 24, 2006 #15


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    Of the set of sounds, humans seem to agree the most on whether they like/dislike it when it comes to naturally/organically produced sounds.

    Far more discrepancy can be noted by sounds made by humans (i.e, music), whereas we agree again when it comes to the often sharp, jarring, "artificial" sounds produced by technological devices.
  17. Dec 6, 2006 #16


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    That’s interesting. Maybe more of us have similar reactions to nature. I once played a recording of whale songs to a class that weren’t expecting a whale at the start. All laughed at the ‘horrible’ noises until they were told what it was, and listened with greater appreciation and enjoyment. Also interesting is the view that sound made by human is music. My previous post was a bit muddled, as I’m more used to thinking about what is art and why is it, rather than why it is liked (too late to edit now). It may be impossible to have some consensus about what it is, but to determine why we like it, it should be helpful to consider some problems in determining what it is.......

    Is all human made sound music- grunting, hammering...? If not, is music- intended human made sound? What of the beating of the Bata drum- purely for purposes of the religious evocation of gods ( I’m pretty sure)- or the chanting of the Koran, that are not intended as music, but are more musical than other human sounds. And if music need be intentionally musical human sounds, at what stage need the intention exist, or on who’s authority (reminds me, I forgot to mention another theory about why music is enjoyed is the personage of the composer, performer)? Is human activity which inadvertently makes sounds, like the cash registers in Pink Floyd’s Money, or recordings of less intended, less musical sounds, recorded and proclaimed as music? John Cage’s record intended not to be played, but instead for those wanting to listen to music to listen instead to white noise about them, is this intended human sound music?
    And what of computer music?https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=105969&highlight=computer+music

    Then there’s the query about silence, intended or not.

    As said, some natural sounds are musical. If John Cage’s record was listened to with only natural white noise, would it be music? Did the parrot I taught to whistle, who changed some of the notes and tempo, create music, or for a better example, did Mozart’s starling create music when it changed his concerto?

    Because of these questions, I think music is defined by our perception of sound or its absence – aesthetically. Thus not only does the brain determine why we like music, but determines music. Sorry if I've strayed too far from the topic.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2006
  18. Dec 11, 2006 #17
    you know i use to ask myseft alot about how we get so glued to music. I felt we develop the habit for childhood and we continue to appreciate it and so it keep being part of us. but you what folks, i one day said to my self there will be no music for a whole week, and it did work! so guess even as it has become part of us we can still decide wreather to listen now or later
  19. Sep 12, 2011 #18
    A new book on this topic, entitled, appropriately enough, Why We Like Music: Ear, Emotion, Evolution, by Silvia Bencivelli, is published on 21 September 2011 by Music Word Media Group.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 14, 2011
  20. Sep 13, 2011 #19

    Perhaps there are evolutionary reasons. Take a look at this TED talk, it gives some insight on what is "beauty" under an evolutionary perspective, and why humans like all kinds of arts, music included.

  21. Sep 14, 2011 #20


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