From The Atlantic:
Why does the music that to some people is lovely, even transcendent, sound to others like a lot of noise?
Researchers at the University of Melbourne attribute to the amount of pleasure we take in music to how much dissonance we hear — the degree of “perceived roughness, harshness, unpleasantness, or difficulty in listening to the sound.”
The team played both “pure tones” and various chords for participants — a mixed group of trained musicians studying at the school’s conservatory and members of the general public — and had them rate the sounds for perceived dissonance, and for familiarity, on a five-point scale.
Trained musicians, perhaps predictably, were more sensitive to dissonance than lay listeners. But they also found that when listeners hadn’t previously encountered a certain chord, they found it nearly impossible to hear the individual notes that comprised it. Where this ability was lacking, the chords sounded dissonant, and thus, unpleasant.
The ability to identify tones and thus enjoy harmonies was positively correlated with musical training. Said study co-author Sarah Wilson, “This showed us that even the ability to hear a musical pitch (or note) is learned.”
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Atlantic