Just a couple of thoughts about this. First, as far as anyone can tell music enjoyment is a remarkably multifaceted phenomenon (and "music" itself is a term that describes a pretty giant range of human behaviors). There's no single reason, or even manageably short list of reasons, why people like it. It seems to be wrapped up in many different physical, neurological, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural systems, any of which (in any combinations) could be responsible for a certain person's reaction to a certain kind of music. Some of the aspects of that seem to be relatively innate, like finding certain sonic timbres inherently pleasurable, while others are highly learned, like the kind of pleasurable "understanding" that comes from knowing how a classical sonata movement is ordinarily structured.

In your case, I'd guess that you have an atypically low physiological/neurological enjoyment of things like instrumental timbres, which makes the more cognitively demanding aspects of music-listening no more than a chore. For comparison, this is why we don't generally listen to spoken words (e.g., audiobooks) as background listening: there's nothing to be gained from it outside the semantic content, which is distracting unless you can tune it out, in which case why bother.

(Merely finding music distracting is not at all rare. In fact, the various professional musicians and music scholars I know listen to less music than most other people do, because our training makes it hard for us to listen as other than a "foreground" mental activity. I myself almost never listen to background music. Unlike you, though, I do like music a lot.)

We seem to have a tendency, when discussing music as when discussing other things, to assume that other people are more like us than we have any good reason to think they are. For example, I find the timbres and general sound world of noise music to be extremely unpleasant. So when I imagine someone who likes noise music a lot, my first impulse is to think they must in some sense "enjoy unpleasant things" (an obvious category error), or at least that they must find something in noise music that's rewarding enough to get past how clearly unpleasant the sounds are. And yet when I actually talk to a fan of noise music, they often tell me they find the timbres and sounds of noise music (exactly the aspects of it I can't even imagine liking) to be very pleasant or arousing in some way. The enjoyment of these basic aspects of a kind of music (what kinds of sounds it's made up of) seems to be sufficiently physiologically/neurologically determined for a lot of people that it is almost impossible to imagine liking a kind of music you don't "naturally" like.

In other words, and I do not mean this even slightly pejoratively, I would expect it to be very difficult for you to imagine why other people find, say, the sound of an orchestra playing a single major triad (NB, a purely sonic event with no syntactic or semantic content) pleasant. Much as it is for me to imagine finding noise music pleasant—it's just not what my brain is built to enjoy.

Relatedly, the history of the questions "why do people like music?" and "what kind of music is best?" feature some truly aggravating episodes that seem to stem from the idea that music is (or should be) a single kind of thing to all people, and that we just have to figure out what. (To be clear, I'm in no way suggesting that you're taking that point of view.) The idea that music is just a really, really complicated phenomenon with which everyone interacts a bit differently—and the corresponding aesthetic pluralism that follows from that fact—has been amazingly slow to spread, no less so in professional music circles than elsewhere.

I don't think many people are born enjoying noise music - I imagine they mostly ease into via other genres.

3MrMind7yThe same things happen to me in reverse: I find industrial music (pop or metal) quite pleasing, but the whole point of industrial is to add factory noise (for example those typical of a sawmill) to otherwise plain music, so I at least can understand why as a genre it doesn't have a wide community of supporters.

More "Stupid" Questions

by NancyLebovitz 1 min read31st Jul 2013498 comments


This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.