It’s important to first recognize that music is a form of art and therefore the same definitions apply. The produced work is a cemented expression of ideas or feelings that can be interpreted by an audience. Music is exclusively auditory stimulus. The reason we separate music from the larger category of art is because of the possible ambiguity that accompanies music. Let’s go into that a little further.
If you hear the word “bear,” you might think of a large mammal, a lack of covering or any of its other meanings in any other language. If you heard “bear” again in a higher pitch, the meaning does not change since we’ve synapsed that sound to a particular meaning. While the specificity of the sound “bear” allows for easy communication of ideas, it is limited to the meanings that have already been established.
Let’s say a piano key is played. Now your mind triggers a memory that has been synapsed with that sound. You are no longer bound to the few meanings of a word, you aren’t even forced to access your language center to interpret the sound. This is what it means to be ambiguous: the stimulus has the potential to activate nearly any neural path.
Music is a huge part of many people’s lives and that makes sense because it causes global synapses when we listen to music, especially our favorite songs. Remember, a global synapse is one that activates multiple parts of the brain at once. A song that gets you dancing and thinking about your life simultaneously will stimulate a large amount of your brain.
Let’s start with your anticipation. If you hear the ABC’s melody, your memory, as well as your inherent sense of organization will force you to anticipate part of the song without even hearing it. Your sense of organization allows you to determine and anticipate patterns in songs.
The tendency of musicians to use similar patterns, like the 4-chord songs everyone loves, makes us expect and enjoy more songs that follow the same pattern. They always have a simple opening and closing pattern to them that our sense of completion craves once we’ve heard it. To prove this point, listen to half of a familiar rhythm. It’s annoying when it doesn’t finish, isn’t it? Sometimes that completion keeps a part of a song playing in your memory for an entire day, it just won’t go away until you listen to it again.
Music often has a beat that stays constant throughout an entire song, making it very easy to anticipate. A beat might inspire you to move around as well, keeping time with the beat by moving a part of your body in either a scripted or improvised way called dancing. Whether you hit the dance floor or just nod your head, you’re allocating resources toward muscle movement to keep up with the beat of the song.
Songs with easily recognizable beats can also break the pattern to grab the attention of the listener. Just like we notice differences in temperature or when something moves in our field of vision, our consciousness is directed toward a breaking of expectations. Sometimes the silent beat is the best part, or when an musician knows exactly when to break the pattern.
Let’s move on to music with lyrics. The first part of lyrical music that comes to mind is rhyming: making the words into a part of the sound. Again, rhyming activates your anticipation since an artist ending a line with the word “though” stimulates you to anticipate a word that both rhymes and makes sense in the telling of the story. If you guessed the next line would end in “go” and it does, you are now solidifying your own neural path to release pleasure. If you guessed wrong, you are still synapsing a new neural path and still releasing pleasure. All that’s happening with each rhyming word, I mentioned this was global didn’t I?
On top of all that organization and anticipation lies the art of the music. Songs are just a form of poetry that is set to the rhythm of music. They can be interpreted and synapsed to your own memories just like any other art. A musician can use words to represent their ideas or solely rely on the sounds to elicit emotions from the listeners.
Emotions are stimulated because of the prior synapsing of similar sound to the emotion. For example, a soft and slow sound has likely been synapsed with a sad or calm feeling. A fast and loud song might be an angry or happy feeling. Musicians use their audience’s prior exposure to other music to portray feelings that would otherwise be difficult to portray. It’s an incredible group effort to create such an interconnected artform. It’s also a unique artform that allows listeners to synapse songs to specific moments in their lives.
We often choose to listen to music that reflects our current emotions as a desire to solidify our active neural paths. Music speaks to you so well because it can relate to your emotions and then you can place your own memories onto the perspective of the singer. Listening to how artists confront life problems and applying their learned lessons to your own life is similar to asking for advice from them. In a way, you are friends with the characters you’ve created for every artist you’ve listened to and you have the ability to learn from each of them.
Music is something that almost everyone loves and therefore is a very good source of income, especially as the world focus shifts more toward entertainment since the beginning of the Information Age. With the ability to monetize music, businesses worked to provide the common themes that would sell the best. That’s why so many pop songs sound the same: the audience knows what to expect and can learn the simple repeated lyrics quickly. The basic pattern and easily understood lyrics make the music prime to get into your memory and stay within your consciousness, making it a “catchy tune.”
If you enjoy pop music that’s perfectly fine, I can jam to some radio hits too. However, it’s important to recognize the intention behind the music. Was this song made to gather as much money as possible or was it made to express a feeling that the audience can share? Keep thinking about your music, keep listening, and keep sharing your art!