Music Science, For People Who Don't Like Music

29 November, 2019
If you are one of the ~4% of people who don't like music, read this article. If you are one of the other ~96%, first pretend that you are one of the 4%, and then read it anyway.

Music Science

Music is that thing that most other people listen to, for some reason.

Music Science is the science of music. It is a science that is in the very early stages of being a science.

It turns out that most people like listening to music, but nobody actually knows why they like listening to music.

The machinery of theoretical biology and neuroscience and acoustic physics have been thrown at the mystery of music, and the results so far of all this investigation are:

Much research has been done, and many papers have been written. But the most fundamental questions that can be asked about music remain completely unanswered:

Do I have to like music to become a music scientist?

Even though you don't like music, you may have considered becoming a music scientist.

In science, generally, it is not necessary for the scientist to be an example of the thing being studied.

For example:

One suspects that most people studying or doing music science do like music, which means that they are themselves part of the phenomenon which they are studying.

About 96% of the general population like music, but the percentage of music scientists who like music is probably greater than 99% (maybe even 100% – but if you know of even one counter-example, please tell me about it).

This is not necessarily a good thing.

Given the general lack of progress so far, what the field needs, possibly, is an outsider's point of view.

That is, music science needs more music scientists who belong to the 4% of people who don't like music.

People like you!

Some Musical Terminology

If you venture into the music science literature, and other academic music-related literature, you may encounter some terminology that seems confusing, and possibly suggestive of things that don't make sense.

Don't worry about this too much. As a non-music-loving music scientist, it will be your job to pierce throught the fuzzy feelings of music-loving music scientists in order to get at the real truth about music.

The following are some of the most common examples.

Music Perception

Music Perception is supposedly the perception of music.

"Perception" usually refers to a process of receiving sensory information about an external entity and using that information to form an internal model of said external entity.

In the case of music, music only exists as a result of its internal effect on the mind of the listener.

The only external entity involved is the sounds of the music, and those sounds are entirely the result of one or more people creating the music so that it can be "perceived" by music listeners.

At most we can say that music listeners are "perceiving" the results of the efforts of the composers and performers of the music to create the music.

This suggests that music might actually be a form of communication, ie that music perception is the perception of information about something else, in the same way that speech perception is the perception of the intended meaning being communicated by a speaker.

If indeed this is the case, then you, as a non-music lover, are being left out of the loop, and information is being "communicated" which you are missing out on.

Further investigation is required.

Music Cognition

"Music Cogition" is like "Cognition" in the same way that "Music Perception" is like "Perception", only more so.

Cognition is the process of "knowing or understanding" something. The phrase "music cognition" suggests that music lovers are getting to know or understand something when they listen to music.

You, as a non-music lover, are missing out on this special knowledge and understanding. Even if you make the effort to listen to some music, your musical cogition is faulty, and so you fill fail to acquire the knowledge and understanding that music lovers are acquiring when they listen to music.

Music Theory

Music Theory is a thing that music school students study. Music theory contains information about how to play music and how to compose music.

Music theory is not really a theory in the scientific sense of making predictions that can be falsified. Also it makes no claim to be part of our general scientific understanding of the universe.

Music theory mostly consists of descriptive theory that describes the patterns and structure which are found in music in practice.

The descriptive theory of music does contain a certain amount of mathematics. This mathematics describes the components of music. However it stops short of providing a formula to calculate the musical quality of music. It also stops short of providing any formulae for composing music. (If you know a bit of mathematics, you will realise that this is just two different ways of asking the same question, but I won't go into that right now.)

If music theory was a full predictive theory, then knowing music theory would be enough to tell you how to compose original music that other people want to listen to.

For example, you, as a non-music lover, would be able to learn and understand music theory, and apply it to create music.

As a non-music lover, the music would have no effect on you. But, because you were using a scientifically valid music theory, your musical creations would have a strong effect on all those other people who do like music.

The final test of anything that claims to be a "music theory" is that someone like yourself could use it to create music.

"Normal" music lovers can learn "music theory", and use their learnings to create music, but, there will always be a lingering suspicion that their musical successes are highly dependent on intuitions formed as a result of their own love of music.

In other words, knowledge of music theory might be necessary for composing quality music, but it falls far short of being sufficient.

Musical Ability

Musical Ability sounds like the ability to play music. However this expression is sometimes used to refer to the ability to like music. So you, as a person who doesn't like music, are effectively musically "disabled".

This may or may not qualify you to get a disabled parking sticker on your car.

The Definition of Music

Not only do music lovers not know why they love music so much, they are not too sure how to absolutely distinguish between which things are music and which things are not music.

This difficulty gives rise to an eternal search for the "definition" of music.

Unfortunately it turns out that different people like different music.

Does this mean that anything can be music, if someone somewhere says that they like it?

This question remains unresolved.