When we were young, we didn’t care much about the songs we heard. Our music taste begins to develop when we are in our early teens, some later. What makes music so universally loved and how does it have such an impact on us? Why do some people like rock music while others detest it? Musician, composer, pianist, and musicologist Nolan Gasser decided to delve into the science behind our music taste in his book “Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste.”
The Idea Behind the Book
Gasser was a professional pianist since he was 11 years old. His very first gig was playing cover songs at his local mall food court on weekends. He noticed people requesting him to play a rather eclectic repertoire - a mix from Mozart, Scott Joplin, and “Stairway to Heaven” every single day. He recalled thinking about how varied people’s music tastes are and how those of the same age group could gravitate to different styles of music.
The Music Genome Project
After earning his Ph.D., Gasser connected with one of the founders of Pandora music app, Tim Westergren. They came up with The Music Genome Project where Gasser became the head of music operation and architect of the project.
The project aims to break down the musical universe into different species by examining the factors that are somewhat active or potentially active in every single song. Gasser explains, “What are the hundreds of factors of rhythm and harmony, melody and form, rhythm and sound, and lyrics and production? How can we objectively break those down? What is the shape or contour of the melody? What are the kinds of chord progressions used?”
The sociology of music
Everyone in Pandora has been analysed by a human being sitting in front of a computer screen, categorising all of their music into “genes”. Utilising that imprint, they are able to see the connections forged between songs by the same artists as well as different artists, and in turn, connect the listener with new music based on previous choices.
In the research, Gasser acknowledges the tremendous role sociology plays in our music tastes. He used the term, “intraculture” to describe cultures that take place within a culture. He likens them to subgenres of music. He said intraculture gives us access to music because we belong to certain groups that mean something to us.
Musical seeds planted in the brain
As babies, the synapses generated in the brain forge certain sounds and exclude others. In the first six months or so, babies are able to follow the syntax of any musician style - from complex rhythms of Turkey music to major scales from Europe. When you play the same music for the baby and make a slight shift, the baby turns its head at the shift. It recognises the deviation.
As we grow older, our musical tastes shapes our individual identities. Music that people listened to early in their lives become native home comfort music. When they grow up, that music becomes a part of who they are - tied to the memories of their growing up years. All of these powers make music important to us.