Why do we like music?

OK, I’m an FNG here (f____g new guy), so this may well have been answered long ago. If so, dismiss and ridicule me accordingly. But my question is, why do we like music? (excluding Michael Bolton, of course) Why do certain arrangements of sound waves and rhythms in the form that we consider music appeal to us moreso than other sounds and rhythms? How did we come to determine that the particular musical instruments that we listen to are the commonly accepted ones for music-making? Why do some people like the symphony and others Led Zeppelin?

Why do you like Friends while I like Seinfeld? Why do you like Coke while I like Dr Pepper? Because people are different, and part of that is an result of what they are exposed to. If all I’m exposed to is classical music, then that’s what I’m inclined to. If I’m taught that classical music is for sissies, then I might have a different outlook on the subject. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy listening to Zepp and then listening to a bit of Ludwig Van’s 9th. Afterwards, I find I like to get some droogs together for some fun, but not always. :slight_smile:

“I hear the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” -T.S. Eliot

Well, Coleridge would answer with something about unity in multeity and the pleasure of recognition of similar forms, while also holding Romanticist notions of Kunstwollen. Similarly, Kant would say that the recognition of aesthetic pleasure is a product of the faculty of judgement, the capacity to subsume sense-intuitions under general concepts and bring a manifold of sense to the categories of the Understanding, but in a particularly disinterested sort of satisfaction. In the case of Nine-Inch Nails and similar aesthetic experiences, perhaps we should consider Aristotle’s notion of Katharsis. As he notes, “it is clear too, that the poet’s job is not to tell what has happened but the kind of things that can happen.”
Blah blah blah. Or were you looking for a physiological answer?

Oh how I love John Tess! What music does to my ears, it stirs the soul & brings me greatness, warmth & feelings, why would one question that?

We like it because the entire universe is in one kind of rhythm or the other. Music just tends to emphasize that and it’s also a great form of communication…
and because well…man we dig it…

Of course that’s just my opinion I could be wrong.
Dennis Miller

I think there are really 2 questions here:

  1. What physically causes our brain to enjoy music?

  2. What evolutionary purpose does it serve, if any. ie Why did our brain evolve to enjoy music?

For 1, I don’t think we know enough about the brain to make any decent conclusions, and for 2, well, who knows?


John Tess?!?

You troll!! :wink:

Here’s a WAG as to why we like music for evolutionary reasons.

Ordered (non-random) sounds tend to indicate intelligence and communication. Hearing them effects our moods, and the more ordered they are the better they make us feel. Very young children pick up on the sounds made by people and are comforted by them, much the same way kittens are more tranquil if they can hear their mother purring. Hearing only chaotic sounds is alarming to children, causing them to cry out and attract the attention of adults to come see what the problem is.

Mr. K’s Link of the Month:

The Enchanted World of Rankin-Bass

This has no basis in any research or anything, and can be chalked up to my own rambling brain, but, hey, that’s what this board is for.

Anyway, check it out. Our bodies generate rhythm in our heartbeats, our breathing, the rhythm of our cadences in speaking and walking. Melodies surround us in nature in the form of bird song, elephant’s trumpeting, the percussive barking of a dog. It’s all there, and the mind of man, in an effort to 1)organize his world and 2)imitate nature contrived methods of doing so, via various and sundry instruments, song, dance, etc.

Over the centuries, at least in Western music, repeated patterns and rules were recognized and codified by guys like J. S. Bach and have been subconciously drummed into our heads so that we expect certain things from music and feel uneasy when the dominant does not resolve to the tonic.

This is opening up a whole 'nother “nature vs. nurture” thread, and that’s not my intention, because I know even less about that than I do about the reasons why music makes us feel good. So I’ll just quit right now.

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx

I think what Keith was looking for here was a basic explanation of music theory, with stuff about chords and ratios of tones. I don’t know jack about this, but I’ve wondered about it a lot myself. So come on, you guys! There has to be someone here who majored in music or at least took the right classes. Let’s get the SD on this!

Alan, I am NOT going to try to sum up 4 semesters of music theory, 2 semesters of music lit, and 2 semesters of music history into one post. If that’s what Keith wants, he needs to sign up for the classes.

(Besides, I’m not too sure that I remember very much of it.) :wink:

Mr. K’s Link of the Month:

The Enchanted World of Rankin-Bass

OK, I thought it over and I will say this. Maybe it will help.

The reason some tones sound better together than others is due to the frequency of the sound waves. A real basic example: A low “c” and the “c” above that (one octave) fit together because the waves of the higher “c” come twice as fast as the lower “c”. Ratio - 2:1. Other note intervals have different ratios, but the more basic the ratio, the better the two notes “fit together”.

Next week: Mozart and “sonata rondo” form

“But my question is, why do we like music?”

Ya know, I once had a dream about that very thing.
…at least I think It was a dream. It might have been one of those deals where you think you’re asleep, dreaming that you’re awake, thinking that you’re asleep, dreaming the whole thing. When you’re totally baked it doesn’t really matter.

…so I emerged in some kind of space-like place.
But it wasn’t very interesting space, not like all a’twinkle with bright shadows and neon glimmerings.
Nor was it all infinite black and wicked mysterious.
It was just nothing.

A white speck appeared in the distance, and as I “zoomed in” on it, I came to a pure white stage with a podium, a chalkboard and a desk. (all white)
Archimedes was writing formulas on the board, but he looked like Merlin the magician, because I didn’t have a clue what he should look like.
He was explaining to Einstein, why he had settled on those particular frequencies for the piano. ( Einstein looked like himself because I’d seen his picture on a tee shirt.)
He said that it was related to emotional frequencies, and that the frequency its-self was not nearly as important as the changes between the frequencies, since emotions are dynamic. He went on to add that tones do not make music, “changes” in tones make music. Einstein replied, “so it’s all relative”.
Archimedes nodded, and started talking about shifts in harmonics as they relate to time, and how changes in those harmonics can be used to manipulate and stimulate moods, depending on the natural frequencies of the listener’s moods. It made sense, but they were losing me in the techno stuf.

That’s when I noticed that Meat Loaf had leaned back in his chair and propped his muddy boots up on the desk.
He was rolling his eyes and pretending to jerk off, and Mrs. Loud was sitting on the desk, giggling at him.
…and she started singing…

“Will you cater to every fantasy I’ve got?
Will you hose me down with holy water,
if I get too hot? …hot!
will you take me places I’ve never been?”

She winked at me and crossed her legs.
When Meat Loaf noticed that I was looking at her thighs, he grinned and said, “now that’s relative”
I dunno… it made sense at the time.
Maybe this should be in the LSD thread.


I think two things work on you to make you “enjoy” music. As Frank Zappa (and a previous poster) pointed out, everything in the universe from orbit patterns of planets down to atomic particles are made of some kind of vibration. Pitch is merely variations of vibration (that’s fun to say).
Zappa went with the idea that you are only “framing” or highlighting existing motion when you create music. It is already in existence, but puting that frame around it makes it art, like painting with colors that already exist.
The other question regards why, for instance, I like Frank Zappa’s work, and my mother likes Mannheim Steamroller and both of us think the other is a steaming pile of Drek. A lot of this has to do with how you’re raised, and what culture has been thrust upon you. Play Eric Dolphy for a bunch of College Non-music Majors and watch the response. It seems like many of us quickly reject what is not already somewhat familiar. A fella raised on Indian ragas and tabla music may listen to Western European music (Bach, Beethoven, Eddie Cochran, etc.) and wince because it sounds so “weird” and “dissonant”.

Sweet Basil

OK, just thought of something else that may relate to the original question (i.e. why do we enjoy music?)

It’s already been established that color affects mood and emotions. That’s why institutions have gray or greenish walls rather than red walls, and being sad is having the “blues” while being angry makes you “see red.”

I read somewhere (sorry, no citation, but I did read it somewhere. Can anyone out there help verify?) that some composers experienced music as sound, Beethoven in particular, who apparently had these sensations quite vividly. The correlation, then, seems obvious. These vibrations in the air (sound waves) affect us in a similar way as those other vibrations (light waves) affect us. But since sound is less tangible, we connect to it in a different way. Those who have a strong affinity for it are no different, then, from an artist working in color to create patterns and combinations that are pleasing to the eye, except they are combining a palette of sound to please the ear.

Music theory, then, is the aural equivalent of color theory or perspective/composition. Picasso and John Cage are soul siblings, as are Michaelangelo and Mozart. Dissonant music is merely an orchestra wearing a striped jacket over a plaid shirt.

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx

I know Edgard Varese was very interested in in the physics and geometry of music. Yet Duke Ellington thought of combinations and families of instruments as ‘colors’. And used these combinations as a painter would mix paints on a pallette. Many of his over 2000 works include color-titles such as “Mood Indigo”, “Black, Brown and Beige” and “Black and Tan Fantasy” of which I’ll concede, the latter may be named for the drink of the same name.

Sweet Basil

Sorry, I meant to say that Beethoven experienced music as colors, not merely sound. Duh! Carry on.

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx