Calypso Maazel
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The Science of Music

— Calypso Maazel

Music influences everything. It tells us stories, it allows us to reminisce, and it helps us connect with others. We are all influenced by the everlasting—and ever-growing— power of music.

Music is created by vibrations, which create sounds or colors. These vibrations are represented by wavelengths or frequencies. Wavelengths that are wider apart have a lower frequency or a lower pitch. Wavelengths that are shorter have a higher frequency or a higher pitch. 

See bass guitar vs whistle below.

An easy guide to reading your audiogram with pictures and illustrations

These pitches combine to create chords that evoke a sense of feeling. Minor chords tend to sound ominous, while major chords tend to sound happier and lighter. Our cultural understanding of music influences this. In the Western World, we have associated these types of chords with their corresponding feelings for so long that we accept this as our own understanding. Think of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, written in A minor—dark, displeasing sound, isn’t it?

When listening to chords, it is easy to say some notes sound “good” together and some don’t. The terms for this are consonance (pleasing) and dissonance (displeasing). Two notes that sound good together actually have farther apart frequencies compared to two clashing notes. For example, C and G sound good together, since G has a higher frequency while C has a lower frequency in a certain octave. However, a D and a C don’t sound good together because their frequencies are too similar. 

We all have the innate capability to feel and remember music. Every time we listen to music that we like, dopamine is released in our brain. But why can I still remember a tune from my childhood (like Toxic by Britney Spears) but not how to do my physics homework? Why can I hum the melody of a song but forget its lyrics? We seem to remember tunes because of the beat, the rhythm, etc. Music provides an easy cadence that we can remember. Our brain likely stores our memories of music in the auditory complex, which handles information from our ears. But these words don’t really mean much. The true science of music, of associating feeling with arbitrary notes and wavelengths, is something that we have yet to understand. Perhaps we never will.