Why Do We Like Music?

February 8, 2011

In our inaugural issue of syntax we posited the question: Why do we like music so much?

For years, it has plagued me. While it is a core fact that music moves us, I wanted to know: why? In part, it seems quite bizarre. Is it rhythm? Is it the sense of dance? Is it a sense of language and expression?

Well, we found our first answer in the great German thinker and writer, Friedrich Nietzsche – who was once an aspiring composer. In all, Nietzsche has written some of the most profound words on music. And, he gave us an answer:

Nietzsche’s Answer to the Question Mark Left by Music

And, it appears that science has come to the fore of this articulation. Why do we enjoy music? The answer: The anticipation of the melodic resolution. The ache for the resolution of the pattern, of the root. We know it’s coming and so our brain delivers a healthy dose of dopamine. This, physiologically, is why we enjoy music.

Does this mean that Beethoven and Jeff Buckley have simply been my drug dealers? It appears so:

“We can predict some of the notes, but we can’t predict them all, and that is what keeps us listening, waiting expectantly for our reward, for the errant pattern to be completed. Music is a form whose meaning depends upon its violation.”

Read all about it here, in Wired: The Neuroscience of Music


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