Why Does Music Sound Good?

What better way to kick off my blog than with the most important question of all…

Why the hell does music sound good?


Think about it. We know why food tastes good – we need nutrients to live. We know why sex feels good – we have to make babies to procreate. But why does music sound good? It doesn’t seem to contribute to any of nature’s goals whatsoever.

Even other art forms seem to relate closely with nature. For example, visual art often portrays real scenery and objects in our lives. The aggressive stance designed into sports cars derive their appeal from their resemblance to predatory animals. Even with dance, we can see the similarities with schools of fish moving in perfect synchronicity and the flapping wings of a bird through the skies. But nowhere in nature, not even in the singing of the birds and the chirping of insects, can we find the same musical harmonies and melodies that humans have created with music.

Why do the frequencies of the notes in a C minor chord sound hauntingly good when played together? And why, when we follow that chord with a G major, does the feeling of dominance and pending resolution automatically arise? The impact we humans feel from music seems to be universal. And yet, so arbitrary.

Mathematics tells us that the ratio between the notes in a major 5th is exactly 3:2, which is an interesting observation. But is that all music is to the human ear? A mathematical curiosity?

This question is the genesis of my passion for music and the incredible technology that enables it. Much in the same way people wonder why we exist on this planet, I persevere to understand - why does music sound so good?

  • jay

    Very interesting. One idea that I’ve come across is that it all started from the beating of our hearts. The steady beat that never dies (until we die) that will change pace (frequency?) depending on our moods. In addition to our hearts reacting to different emotions, we can use a steady beat to calm our hearts in times of stress, or an upbeat…beat to get us going, pumping energy through us.

    • Anson Kao

      Yes! I’ve thought about the connection between heartbeat and musical tempo. It’s a separate concept from musical harmony, but definitely still relates to music and I agree with you. Could make for a good segue into a new post :)