The Biology of Music

By Noa

Te55 via Flickr

Everyone loves listening to music and it’s important in our daily lives, but nobody really understands how it affects us. Many researchers do experiments to see how music affects people, and it all has to do with our brains.

A group of researchers from Duke Medical School, led by a professor named Dale Purves, did research that showed different types of music has different affects on people. Dissonance (a minor type of sound) leads to unpleasant emotion while consonant music (major, happy music) leads to pleasure. A minor chord would be the same thing as dissonance, but dissonance can also be harmonies and intervals, not just chords, and the same thing goes for consonance. It’s also been said music copies the way emotions are used in speech, so a minor chord would be sad and a major chord would be happy. An example of a minor song would be Alicia Key’s song “Fallin’”, and a major song would be Jackson 5’s song “ABC”. If you listen to these two songs you could see a difference where “ABC” is much happier and is very upbeat, while “Fallin’” is a bit sadder and is less upbeat. Speech is even said in minor and major ways, so it translates to music. Dale Purves even said “Humans prefer tone combinations that are similar to those found in speech”.

The music tones are all related to how we pronounce words. The harmonies of music are related to vowels, because the harmonic structure of a vowel’s tone is the base of the musical scales. Researches have said that the scales that most appeal to us are the ones that are most alike our series of tones that we speak. All of the notes in the musical scale can be found in all languages one way or another, which connects music and speech together. This proves how music can affect our emotions and why we like which music we do like.

There was also another study that showed most songs whether Western or Classical use the same five to seven scales in most songs, but just in different ways. And these are used because humans use the information provided from them, and one of the first things you do when you’re a baby is cry, and then taught to speak. This helps humans develop an ear for tone and in music we use our abilities and that lies in how we speak. It is much easier to use what you know and those certain scales are familiar to all of us because they are used in our daily life, not just in music.

What are the scales that are most commonly used in music? How do these scales affect us, and why do they affect us?

  • Deirdre

    Cool post Noa! I researched a common scale in music and found the Pentatonic scale. This scale is used in a wide range of music including: celtic folk music, hungarian folk music, west african music, african american spiritual songs, american folk music, jazz, blues, rock and many more. This scale plays an important role in elementary education. It is proven to stunt the creativity part of the brain, and teachers use it so their students are more attentive and absorb the information given.

  • Joeybronzz

    Great post Noa! I love to listen to music so your post was quite interesting. I researched how music affects people. I found that playing or singing music helps develop reasoning skills that are equivalent to the reasoning involved in chess, math, and engineering. The understanding, the reading, contemplating: pitch and sound, as well as thinking of whats next and how to repair  are a few of the skills obtained from music lessons. I just thought it was an interesting way music effects people.

  • Alexandra71194

    Awesome post Noa! I never knew the music was such an essential part of our being. Well I did some research and I found a ted talk about how music effects people. This ted talk proved that humans have an internal scale, check it out!

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