How and why does music sound good?

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How and why does music sound good?

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Short answer: Because you have been programmed with expectations that you enjoy being either fulfilled or subverted.

Long answer: the only universal element in music is the perfect fifth, which is a ratio of frequencies of 3:2. Different cultures have developed different systems of tuning and organization of tones to hang on that foundation, which continue to develop, and borrow from, or spurn each other’s ideas. In the West, you heard nursery rhymes from before you were born, and those simple, boring melodies helped you understand what to expect. New music you hear either fulfills your expectations or surprises you by doing something you might not have expected. Both can make you feel joy, or other emotions. Lyrics lay a whole new layer on top of all this.

Since we live in a world with an atmosphere, sound can be used to sense things about our surroundings. In addition, we have evolved to communicate by it, and transmit complex ideas. Therefore, it is an important aspect of human cognition, and one that we have designed music to interact with and subvert.

When you hear two notes that are in harmony, its because the vibration of one fits into the other in a perfect fraction. Music is just math applied to sound. Nice clean fractions sound better. Your brain likes it because your ears can tell when the math is right even if you don’t understand why.