Why Does Music Evoke Emotion?

People love music. The exact type of music might change from person to person, but it seems like the interest in making music and listening to music is baked in to our DNA.

Music can have a powerful effect on people. It can make people laugh, provoke fear, bring them to tears, or make you tap your foot. Hearing a particular song can instantly bring back a memory from long ago.

But why? What is it about music that speaks to us as a species? Why does music make us feel anything at all?

Related questions: How is music like a language? How does learning music change the way we think? How can music be bad or harmful?

3 thoughts on “Why Does Music Evoke Emotion?”

  1. I think music evokes emotion because it speaks to us in a way that mere words cannot. Music is composed and played based on the feelings of the composers and performers of it and, as sentient beings, we can pick up on the written and played emotions.
    We are also corporeal creatures. As stated above, music has the power to recall memories and memories are made chiefly through physical experiences. So, memories associated with music recall to us the physical experiences which trigger the emotional feelings.

  2. I remember going to child birth class when we were expecting our daughter. The instructor shared a lot of examples about how the experience in the womb conditions us for later life. One of the things she pointed out was that we are programmed to respond to rhythm based on the sound of our mother’s heart and that may be why we respond to music so powerfully. It’s an amazing idea. This means, even if we couldn’t understand it, our mother’s heart was our first melody and her voice was our first lyrics. How could music not be a powerful experience for us?

    1. Dave, this may be the most beautiful response to a question yet. (Oops. I hope none of our other commenters reads this.)

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