Appreciation of musical harmony is nurture, not nature, say Aussie scientists

Our love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is learnt and not based on natural ability, say researchers at the University of Melbourne (Australia). Their study, appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, directly challenges long-held theories about how humans appreciate music.

Study author Neil McLachlan said that traditional analyses of musical harmony that invoked the physical properties of sound, the ear itself, and an innate ability to hear harmony, were of little relevance. “Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds,” McLachlan said. “So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture sounded like the wailing of cats, it’s simply because you haven’t learnt to listen by their rules.”

For the study, the researchers worked with 66 volunteers with a range of musical training, testing their ability to hear combinations of notes to determine if they found the combinations familiar or pleasing.

“What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes. If they couldn’t find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant,” McLachlan said. “This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing.”

Study co-author Sarah Wilson said the experiments showed that trained musicians were much more sensitive to dissonance than non-musicians. “When they couldn’t find the note, the musicians reported that the sounds were unpleasant, whereas non-musicians were much less sensitive,” she explained. “This highlights the importance of training the brain to like particular variations of combinations of sounds, like those found in jazz or rock.”

According to Wilson, depending on the participant’s training, a strange chord or a gong sound was accurately pitched and pleasant to some musicians, but impossible to pitch and very unpleasant to others. “This showed us that even the ability to hear a musical pitch or note is learnt,” she said.

To confirm this finding, McLachlan and Wilson trained 19 non-musicians to find the pitches of a random selection of Western chords. Not only did the participants ability to hear notes improve rapidly over ten short sessions, afterward they reported that the chords they had learnt sounded more pleasant – regardless of how the chords were tuned.

The question of why some combinations of musical notes are heard as pleasant or unpleasant has long been debated, but according to McLachlan; “for music, beauty is in the brain of the beholder.”

Related:
Discuss this article in our forum
Pop music created using natural selection and crowdsourcing
Study identifies key aspects of music that evoke emotions in brain
Software maps evolution of musical taste to predict hits
MRI scans predict pop music success

Source: University of Melbourne

, ,

Comments are closed.

Sound Of Music Guns Morale Patch / Military Badge ARMY Tactical Hook & Loop 71 picture

Sound Of Music Guns Morale Patch / Military Badge ARMY Tactical Hook & Loop 71

$8.49



Toys for Girls Carousel Music Box Merry-Go-Round 3 LED Light Kids Baby Xmas Gift picture

Toys for Girls Carousel Music Box Merry-Go-Round 3 LED Light Kids Baby Xmas Gift

$15.79



The San Francisco Music Box Company Ballerina Jewelry Box picture

The San Francisco Music Box Company Ballerina Jewelry Box

$29.99



Beauty and the Beast music box + acrylic  Beauty and the Beast keychain picture

Beauty and the Beast music box + acrylic Beauty and the Beast keychain

$12.00



Music Box Parts Mechanism Gold Wind up Sankyo Musical Movement (60 Tunes Option) picture

Music Box Parts Mechanism Gold Wind up Sankyo Musical Movement (60 Tunes Option)

$11.98



Wooden Music Box Hand Crank Engraved Musical Toys Kids Xmas Birthday Gift  US picture

Wooden Music Box Hand Crank Engraved Musical Toys Kids Xmas Birthday Gift US

$11.49



Harry Potter Music Box Engraved Hand Cranked Wooden Music Box Toys Xmas Gifts picture

Harry Potter Music Box Engraved Hand Cranked Wooden Music Box Toys Xmas Gifts

$7.69



Birthday Gifts Music Box Harry Potter Engraved Hand Crank Christmas Wooden Box picture

Birthday Gifts Music Box Harry Potter Engraved Hand Crank Christmas Wooden Box

$7.99



Clipper Music Themed Lighters Lot of 50 Multicolor Refillable  picture

Clipper Music Themed Lighters Lot of 50 Multicolor Refillable

$29.95



Music Box Play You Are My Sunshine Melody Hand Carved Wooden Small Music Box picture

Music Box Play You Are My Sunshine Melody Hand Carved Wooden Small Music Box

$7.68



Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes