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Study reveals what makes songs enjoyable

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Washington, 7 Nov 2019 (AFP) – A group of researchers who have statistically analyzed tens of thousands of chord progressions in classic US Billboard hits say they have discovered what makes some songs so enjoyable. According to scientists, the answer lies in the right combination of uncertainty and surprise.

Vincent Cheung of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Science in Germany, which led the study, told AFP that the data may even help composers in their creations.

"It's fascinating that humans can enjoy a piece of music just by the way sounds are ordered over time," he said.

Composers intuitively know that expectation plays an important role in the pleasure we get from music, but the exact relationship remained nebulous.

In an article published by Current Biology magazine this Thursday, Cheung and coauthors selected 745 US Billboard classic pop songs from 1958 to 1991, including Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Red". red wine "by UB40 and" Knowing me, knowing you "by ABBA.

They then used a machine learning model to mathematically quantify the uncertainty and surprise level of 80,000 chord progressions relative to each other and played a small selection for about 80 individuals connected to functional magnetic resonance brain (fMRI) scanners.

The scientists found that when the test subjects were relatively sure which chord to expect next, they found it pleasant when they were surprised instead.

On the other hand, when individuals were unsure of what to expect next, they found it pleasant when subsequent chords were not surprising.

The musical pleasure itself was reflected in the brain's amygdala, hippocampus and auditory cortex – regions associated with emotion processing, learning and memory, and sound processing, respectively.

Contrary to previous research, the team found that the nucleus accumbens – a region that processes reward expectations and was thought to play a role in musical pleasure – reflected only uncertainty.

Cheung explained that he and his colleagues decided to reduce the song to just chords because lyrics and melody could remind listeners of associations associated with the songs and contaminate the experiment.

But, he added, the technique could be applied equally to investigate melodies, and he is also interested in understanding whether the findings remain similar for other genres, such as jazz, and non-Western musical traditions, such as those of China and Africa.

The study fits broadly into the relatively new field of computational musicology, which lies at the intersection of science and art.

So could data help unlock the magic formula for writing songs?

"It's an important feature that can be explored, but it wouldn't be the only thing that can be used to create a pop song," Cheung said.

The team found that the three best-rated chord progressions that played for the study participants appeared in the Invisible Touch of the 1980s English band Genesis in BJ Thomas's 1968 hit Hooked On A Feeling, and in the Beatles classic "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da".

ia / jm

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