I played drums for a while when I was younger, but I didn’t have time to develop that interest further. Still, I play whenever time and circumstances allow it, and often with a group of friends. Listening to music, like other joyful activities such as exercise, causes the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine, also known as “the feel-good hormone,” is a vital component of the human pleasure system that is released by the brain when you listen to music that moves you.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes no sense that music causes us to feel emotions. Why would our forefathers be interested in music? Contrary to popular belief, it is not required for survival. According to research, listening to music causes our brains to release dopamine, which makes us joyful. In one study led by Zatorre and published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers discovered that dopamine release is highest when a piece of music achieves an emotional peak and the listener experiences “chills” — the spine-tingling sensation of exhilaration and amazement.

That could explain why we enjoy music. However, it does not explain why we evolved this preference in the first place. Normally, our brains release dopamine during survival-related behavior (sex or eating). This makes sense because it is an adaptation that pushes us to engage in more of these behaviors. Music, on the other hand, is not as crucial.

Music is a form of pattern. We’re constantly expecting what melodies, harmonies, and rhythms will come next as we listen. “So if I hear a harmonic sequence — a one chord, a four-chord, and a five chord — I probably know that the next chord will be another one chord since that’s prediction,” Zatorre explains. “It’s based on previous experience.”

That’s why humans tend to dislike unfamiliar musical types. When we are unfamiliar with a musical style, we have no basis for predicting its patterns. (According to Zatorre, jazz is a music form that many people are unfamiliar with.) We become bored when we are unable to foresee musical patterns. Our civilizations teach us what sounds comprise music. The rest is just noise.

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