Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why


The course will explore the tone combinations that humans consider consonant or dissonant, the scales we use, and the emotions music elicits, all of which provide a rich set of data for exploring music and auditory aesthetics in a biological framework. Analyses of speech and musical databases are consistent with the idea that the chromatic scale (the set of tones used by humans to create music), consonance and dissonance, worldwide preferences for a few dozen scales from the billions that are possible, and the emotions elicited by music in different cultures all stem from the relative similarity of musical tonalities and the characteristics of voiced (tonal) speech. Like the phenomenology of visual perception, these aspects of auditory perception appear to have arisen from the need to contend with sensory stimuli that are inherently unable to specify their physical sources, leading to the evolution of a common strategy to deal with this fundamental challenge.

What you will learn

Course Introduction

Introduction to Music as Biology

Sound Signals, Sound Stimuli, and the Human Auditory System

An overview of the organization of the human auditory system, and how sound signals are transformed into sound stimuli.

The Perception of Sound Stimuli

An introduction to the sound qualities we perceive, and how and why these qualities differ from the information in sound signals.

Vocalization and Vocal Tones

A discussion of the nature of vocal sound signals, their biological importance and their role in understanding music.

Defining Music and Exploring Why We Like It

The tonal phenomena that need to be explained in any theory of music, and different approaches that have been take to provide answers.

What’s included