Think of it: technically speaking, music is just a collection of sounds interspersed by silence.

But every human being knows of pieces of music that really “touch” him or her emotionally. These emotions can be very strong, and transport you to another “place”.

How is it possible that a mere collection of sounds gets associated in our brain with memories, experiences, emotions, stories, images, feelings…? Why can we even cry when hearing a particular piece of music or even a fleeting, short succession of a few notes?

It’s totally bizarre. I don’t understand. It makes no sense, as far as I can see.

Sense? No, because:

-(Apparently) there’s no “utilitarian”/”economic” value to music.
-(Apparently) there’s no biological/evolutionary advantage — we are hunters and gatherers, with some brutally uttered noises we should get by well while hunting mammoths and elephants.
-There seems to be no real social value either (as some music can be too private, and a singular fragment may touch a single person at a strictly single, private moment)
-Maybe there’s a neurological advantage (releasing energy in excessively charged neurons, or something to that extent…)

In any case: how can we ever explain the fact that music “touches” us and generates “feelings” that can touch our entire body and make us shiver?



Suggested reading “This is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J. Levitin. The arguments pertaining to the emergence of music are still going on, but this guy provides a strong case regarding our musical relationship across our evolution.

He argues that music was a precursor to language development and overall a vital role in our evolution. One reason was due to how intact our musical abilities remain even if we lose other similar functions (i.e., people who can’t talk can sing, people who can’t walk can dance, people who can’t use their hands but can play the piano, etc.)

Also, it has been shown that the rhythm promotes movement areas of the brain, which is why we tap our toes and dance. However, music also has a voice and is able to talk to us, which has been seen with neuro-scans of jazz pianists while they were improvising, which lights up the language areas of the brain. I know that guitarists such as Clapton have described that when they solo they are really just singing with their hands instead of their mouths.