3 myths about music

The myths:

  1. People with a better ear for music enjoy music more.
  2. People with experience playing instruments have a better taste in music.
  3. There is good music and bad music and, if you run into someone that likes bad music, someone should tell them because they should know.

The truth is you have a unique music taste hard-wired in your brain and, while it may change over time, everyone understands music and has music taste.

According to Straehley and Loebach (2014), "the connection between music and emotion runs deep." As Robert G. Ingersoll noted “Music expresses feeling and thought, without language. It was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words.” (1891). But if emotions are central to music listening and enjoyment, how come some people think music they like is the only good music and music others listen to that they don't like is simply bad music. Perhaps, they don't understand.

If you noticed there exists more than one type of music genre out there: dare I say a music genre for everyone. Behind every music genre is a set fundamental music principles that are related to the physics of sound, such as music modes. But do these music modes convey consistent emotions to everyone? Yes and no. It is thought that multiple music structure factors contribute to your emotional perception of good music, like mode, tempo, consonance, rhythm, harmony, and pitch register. For example, simple, consonant harmonies may be associated with expressions like happy, relaxed, graceful, serene, dreamy, dignified, serious, and majestic whereas complex dissonant harmonies may be associated with excitement, tension, vigor, anger, sadness, and unpleasantness. Also, some have found that major triads are perceived as happier than minor triads.

Of particular importance, according to Straehley and Loebach (2014), are the factors of music mode and music experience of the listener. In their study of the relationship of music and emotions, they presented musical stimuli with pure tone sequences and asked participants to classify their emotions into eight basic emotions, e.g., Joy, Sadness, Trust, Disgust, Fear, Anger, Surprise, Anticipation, and the level of intensity of each, e.g., High Medium, Low. They also asked each participant what level of musical experience they had in the past. Did the people with no formal music experience have no taste in music or ability to let music move their emotions in a consistent fashion? Not quite.

Straehly and Loebach (2014) found that "it is clear that musically experienced and less experienced individuals generally perceive melodic emotion in similar ways although less experienced participants may perceive emotion more holistically rather than in relation to specific intervals."

Moral of the story: Taste is unique

Everyone has a hard-wired system in their brain that allows them to understand music and emotion. Music taste is exactly what it is: taste. It's unique to every individual. So if someone's taste is different than your own, appreciate the differences in human emotion systems and be happy they are enjoying their music, even if it isn't the sound that tickles your fancy.

See Straehley, I, C. & Loebach, J. L. (2014). The influence of mode and musical experience on the attribution of emotions to melodic sequences. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 24(1), 21-34.