This is LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin asking, “What do you hear? – Is music subjective?” How much of our listening experience is cultural and how much is innately human? This is such a tough question to answer. I thought I’d elicit your help in this! I’ve got some original music that no one has ever heard before, which is a perfect vehicle for exploring this subject. But first, let’s talk a little bit about how much of the perception of music is just cultural. For example, we’re all used to hearing scary music, like a diminished seventh chord. It’s classic. It reminds us of old silent movies with a woman tied to the railroad tracks as a train is coming. We assume those emotions just from hearing the music. Is that just because we’ve been conditioned? Yes, that is certainly part of it. But there’s more to it than that!
In a way, tonality goes against nature.
What do I mean by that? Tonal music is based upon the naturally occurring overtone series that’s contained in all pitched sounds. That’s why a C-major chord sounds very natural to us, because indeed every single pitched tone you hear contains those basic pitches in it anyway. Whereas when you listen to harmonies that clash, it’s grading. One of the reasons for this is that some intervals are easy to digest because they are based upon simple math. An octave is a two to one relationship. It sounds very soothing, very easy to calculate. You’re essentially calculating intervals in your head. I bet you didn’t even realize that, but that’s exactly what you’re doing! When you’re hearing an interval, you’re counting vibrations per second. And when they double, that’s an octave. It’s easy to hear, it’s easy to calculate. Your mind can figure that one out. A fifth is a one to three relationship which sounds pure. But when you get to dissonances, they’re very distantly related mathematically, and they’re hard to hear as a result. So some of it really is biological, yet some of it is influenced by our cultural upbringing.
Is major or minor inherently happy or sad?
When you hear a major chord it seems cheerful compared to a minor chord. How much of that is innate in our biology and how much is cultural? A major 3rd is more closely related to the fundamental tone in the overtone series than a minor third. So the simpler relationship may have something to do with why a major 3rd in a major chord is more cheerful sounding to us. I’m going to share with you some original music and you’re going to get the opportunity to comment on LivingPianos.com as well as YouTube to get a discussion going to see how this music makes you feel. I hope you enjoy it!
This is music that no one has heard before. You get the chance to comment and get a conversation going! Talk to each other on the blog at LivingPianos.com as well as YouTube, and see what this music makes you feel. Together we can discover how much is innate and how much is cultural in how we hear music. We have people from all around the world hearing this music, people with different cultural biases. We want to hear from all of you. This will be a fun experiment for you to take part in! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
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