The Sound of Music!

Music is one of the most mysterious entities in the world of science. Food for your brain, but how does it work really?

I am a conservative when it comes to what kind of music I like listening to and what I presume would make me cringe. Now because I am from India, have lived in UAE and done a wee bit of roaming around the globe, I like to say I have a wide spectrum of sounds I find very pleasant.  But having said that, there are styles of music that I’d rather not venture into, and they do make it to my “no way I can ever listen to this” category.  

But a recent article forced me to listen to some pieces that although are clear candidates of my ‘cringe worthy’ music category, I really loved a few of them, and they, and in extension a few others in the category, have been regulars on my playlist off late. This really got me thinking, about how arbitrary my definition of what I find unpleasant in music really was, which further got me thinking, how arbitrary music really is, how little we know about it.

For starters, there is nothing tangible in it, a series of harmonics put together to make a longer sound. Anthropologists say that music brings together a community, binding people into one culture. Archaeologists have found some of the first musical instruments, dating back to over 57000 years, which were, even back then, fine-tuned to perfection, stating, that even then primitive man head banged at some foot tapping tune. Now that is profound!

It is believed that we like to listen to music that falls in our acoustic and vocal range. We like listening to beats and tempos that are very close to our own heartbeat. So, one may point, that music appeases the primitive side of our nature. So does this apply to other creatures, apart from us?

Well yes, studies show that music is not only restricted to the human race. Animals, too, like to listen to music, but whether theirs is what we term as ‘music’ has scientists divided. While primates like to listen to slow tempo, they are not very enthusiastic about thewhole idea of music. On the other hand however, cats and dogs prove to be at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to music. But contrary to what many pet owners believe they don’t particularly like human music. Cats swing to a song that is in tune with the frequency at which they vocalise.  In fact, a company by the name of ‘Music for cats’, sells these ‘cat tunes' online. Dogs seem to have a keen ear for the right pitch. 

But there are animals that are not just passive listeners, but musicians themselves. Humpback whales produce sounds that are closely related to the music format, we humans listen to. So in essence, a phrase, that is followed by a new one after which the old one is repeated, sounds familiar? Even birds are known to follow similar rhythmic rules when it comes to their songs. In fact, birds are known to produce songs that are in tune with human music with addition of percussion elements as well.

But do animals enjoy what they are listening to, or have any emotional response to music the way we do? Well recent studies prove that they very much have the perception of music being pleasurable, hence being able to enjoy music. In a study, in 2001, scientists in UK, looked at the effect of music on cows, and it was observed that while playing bits that were of a beat rate of 100 or lesser, cows produced up to 3 % more milk as compared to no music at all, and playing anything higher than that would result in a drop of milk production.

While there are growing revelations on whether animals like music or not, there are a few revelation of our own that we are just coming to terms with, like, not every one likes music, or has a pleasurable response to music. Scientists call this, Anhedonia, the inability of an individual to experience pleasure from an otherwise pleasurable activity- like music. And anhedonia seems to be fairly wide spread in the population. These people seems to process other reward based activities normally, music however, does not act as a reward for them. They don’t connect to music the way many people do. So the next time you have someone, saying they don’t get it- musically, don’t blame them.

Below are some links that I thought our readers would find interesting. 

Questionnaire on music


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