Our Perceptions of Music: Why Does the Theme From Jaws Sound Like a Big, Scary Shark?
The perception of music is a remarkable phenomenon that enriches our lives nearly every day. Deeply imbedded in our own culture, music is a part of all known human societies. Yet, questions about the nature of musical expression—its biological basis, its evolutionary history, its effects on human physiology and emotion—remain topics of interest in the disciplines that investigate the human experience. Music requires production, transmission, reception, processing, and interpretation of organized sounds. Although the physical components of this process are well understood, the cognitive components are less clearly characterized. Ever since Darwin wrote that human faculties for music "must be ranked among the most mysterious with which [man] is endowed," scientists have sought to explain this resplendently diverse and powerful medium of human communication. In this lecture, which comprises a brief tour of the physics, physiology, and psychology of music, we review some of the basic elements of music in relation to human perception, and we include examples of music repertoire from a variety of idioms.