Why do we like music?

Everybody listens to some form of music. It doesn’t matter what genre of music it is. Whether you listen to classical, rap, rock music, heavy metal, the newest pop songs, or even just the main theme song from your favorite online casino.

While the style and sound and feel of the music are so widely different, with also an absolutely massive range of instruments being used across the different songs and genres, (there are thousands if not more different types of instruments out there) the effect of the music stays almost exactly the same.

It connects with you, for really a lack of a better term. When you listen to music it has an effect on you that’s very different from almost anything else out there.

It forces you to feel emotions, to want to move, or to hype you up. It’s such a bizarre thing that it can do that almost all of us take for granted in the world. Some people out there though want to know why music does this.

You’d think with top psychologists and scientists studying this problem for literal decades we’d have a solution. But really we still have almost no clue why music does what it does to us. It is unique and strange and incredibly hard to figure out.

Unlike most other functions of our bodies, you can’t really trace reacting to music to a direct biological advantage that would cause evolution to give us the ability to us. We have the ability to hear so that we can detect things that our field of vision can’t warn us of, yet why would we need our hearing to be able to react so strongly to rhythmic sounds and noises that make up music?

Liking music isn’t even something that we are taught to do. Infants and small children react just as strongly to music as adults do, if not more. They react negatively to music out of tune that doesn’t form a rhythm.

This makes the music seem like an instinctual biological trait. Which just makes it even stranger. Why is it so important that we need to recognize and react to it from birth?

There doesn’t seem to be any reason why a set of sounds laid out in a specific order (but not certain orders) induces pleasure in us. But there has to be a reason, otherwise, we wouldn’t do it.

Lots of people have tried to figure that reason out, but with our current technology we just simply can’t prove one theory over another. What I can do is tell you some of the bigger theories and you can decide for yourself which one you think is most correct.

That’s the best we can do really.

Some theories and stuff

There are some great guesses and theories backed up by some evidence for why we like music.

They diverge a lot more whether you ask a psychologist or if you ask a neuroscientist or even a musicologist.

You might think that a musicologist would be the best person to ask this question to since their entire field is the study of music and everything about it. Yet even they aren’t completely sure why we like music.

We’ll start with the neuroscience way of answering this question. That would have to start with how we hear sounds.

At the most, the basic level sound is just molecules vibrating in the air. That’s it. Then they enter your ear and hit into your eardrum, which transfers those vibrations into signals and into your brain.

Your brain has this cool place called the auditory cortex. Named because it deals with audio. Neat right? The brain stem and thalamus (which are really just things that shoot signals around the brain and stuff. The auditory cortex is the dedicated audio-based thing.) also are important because it’s where the molecule vibrations get sent from the ear and from there into the auditory cortex.

So I’m not personally a neuroscientist in any way, and I’m also not a regular scientist in any way, so I only have the information that I’ve gotten from online. This is very possibly incorrect or misleading. I wouldn’t know, the places I got it from cited sources so maybe.

But for the most part, sounds go into your brain and then get guessed at by your brain. The part of your brain that is all about finding patterns works with your auditory cortex. It starts trying to find patterns in the sounds coming in, presumably this helps with identifying speech and understanding that.

But when it finds a pattern it gives your brain a little reward. During the music, it finds a pattern all of the time, since the music is a rhythm that has loads of discoverable patterns in it. This means it gives loads of rewards to your brain so you then get pleasure from the music.

Obviously, this is a very basic understanding of the theory. And it still has holes in it if you poke it hard enough.

But, why?

Why do we want to dance and move to the music? Why do we want to sing along? Etc etc.

The field of understanding has much deeper theories but they require actual knowledge of biology and big words that make up the brain and human mind. I suggest if you want a longer answer than what I’ve provided you go take a look at the scientific papers themselves.

Google Scholar is a great program for searching the internet for only scientific papers or things published by universities or professionals. Really an amazing resource if you’re researching anything in depth through the internet. Of course, it doesn’t even compete with getting a degree in neuroscience and learning the actual field and information about it, but I doubt anyone here has the time, money, or motivation for that just so you can understand why we like music more.

Some other theories exist out there too. One of them is about old tribes. It theorizes that very early humans could use music and sounds, like drums and banging, to form better tribe connections.

The closer those tribe connections were the more likely we were to survive, presumably, therefore we evolve to like the sound of music.

This one still kind of works with the previous theory that was put forth but it still too has flaws in it.

Those include in-depth looks at why music would bring tribes together. And how old music might be compared to how long such a thing in people would’ve taken to evolve.

We can’t really know the true answer sadly, but at least we have some ideas.