Play It Again, Sam

Ever wonder why we can listen to our favorite music over and over again, and don’t get bored? The short answer is: “Because we like it”, but why? There’s no end of philosophers who have wondered about this, but most of us will just say “Because I like  it when I hear it!”

Still, perceptions change, and Judgments on music are notoriously malleable. That new song  or  new club tune, may be obnoxious at first, but might become a big hit after a few hearings. The simple act of repetition can make something new and different into a new trend. Remember the Beatles?  When they first came out, critics, and many audiences weren’t that enthusiastic.  It took time for audiences to “get it”.

So Instead of asking: ‘What is music?’ we might have an easier time asking: “What do we consider as being music”?  A large part of the answer appears to be: “know it when I hear it – again.” It’s the “familiarity” of something or someone, that causes acceptance, and its effect is most obvious in music.

Psychologists know that people prefer things they’ve known and experienced before. Mozart’s music was considered “odd” when he debuted, as were the Beatles.  It’s been shown that people tend to accept and like something if repeated the second or third time they see or hear it. Evidence shows that the mere exposure and repetition plays a role in accepting music. In fact, it can transform even non-musical speech into song.  An example is the “speech-to-song illusion”.  The illusion begins with an ordinary spoken sentence of just a few words looped several times; when presented in its entirety, it seems as if the speaker has broken into song. It’s a discussion with sounds and rhythm.

But isn’t that what music and song is?