Published on February 4, 2014
Why do humans like music? A study of a strange phenomenon
What is music? Music is an arrangement of sounds which produce continuous rhythmic patterns, often containing melodies, harmonies and other structures, which make the sounds into a unified composition. Music often provokes emotional responses, but how it does this is more complex than simply combining melodies and harmonies.
Distinguishing between Music and Noise The first sounds which most people consider to be music would be lullabies sung by mothers to their sleeping children. The thing which distinguishes this from birdsong is that it is not simply a biologically imprinted pattern which the mother sings over and over, it's an independently composed series of sounds, each of which was picked by the mother and sung at a specific tempo in a specific order.
On the Origins of Music Music is thought to have emerged in human culture with art, around 30 000 to 60 000 years ago in a sudden development of human culture, or as through an evolutionary process over thousands of generations. There is conflict between these theories as 30 000 years is too short a period to significantly alter human biology, however, music doesn't seem to be the solution to any specific problem which may have been faced prehistoric humans, although there have been some suggestions, such as the high “evolutionary cost” of music bringing people together.
The Maths behind Music Music, as in the actual notes, chords and melodies, is based on mathematical patterns, for example, notes an octave apart follow a specific pattern. The higher note has double the frequency of the lower, for example, Middle C (261.63 Hz) and High C (523.25 Hz):
Other patterns based on frequency Middle C (261.63 Hz) + Middle G (392.00 Hz): Middle C +Middle E (329.63 Hz)+ Middle G:
Patterns which don't... Middle C (261.63 Hz) and Middle F# (369.99 Hz):
The Frequency Patterns These frequency patterns are how the various keys are formed. By taking Middle C (261.63 Hz) and multiplying it by 3/2, we get 392.45 Hz, which is roughly the frequency of G. Repeating this gives 588.67 (D), 883.00 (A), 1324.50 (E), 1986.75 (B), 2980.13 (F#), 4470.19 (C#), 6705.29 (G#), 10057.94 (D#), 15086.90 (A#), 22930.36 (F). By this exercise we find the 12 note pattern which most western musical instrument use. Note: frequencies are inaccurate due to rounding errors.
The Appeal in Frequency Patterns These patterns are relevant as all of music is based on this idea of sounds which form patterns. The appeal of these patterns is that they cause anticipation, because we recognise and try to predict (sometimes without realising it) how it will come out in the end. This anticipation causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with the pleasure centres of the brain.
To bring it back round... As we have seen, music is a cultural phenomenon based on mathematical principles, and both of these things allow us to at least shed some light on the reason why humans like music: Coinciding frequencies sound nice because they make the ear drum resonate regularly. These patterns could be recognised and easily picked up by early humans, leading to social bonds growing through shared tastes of music Music acts as a “social glue” leading towards the formation of society as we know it
… Why do Humans like Music? No-one really knows.
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