ELI5: When do our brains stop/start perceiving something as music?

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You can search Adam Neely on Youtube. He covers a lot of music stuff and some of it from an academic perspective as well. One of his videos talks about this particular question and the answer he gave (or the research gave) is 33 BPM, if I am not mistaken. So if the “music” is slower than one beat every 2 seconds, approximately, it doesn’t connect together like music anymore and is perceived as individual sounds.


Fun(and slightly unrelated) fact: there’s brain injuries that cause sensory issues known as agnosias, in which we lose the ability to process a certain type of sensory input. For example, there’s an agnosia where the people affected can no longer perceive music. Specifically music. This implies that there is a part of our brains that has specifically evolved to perceive music. Music is that important. More on topic: I think this one depends on the song. If I heard a G sharp, no matter how slow the next note was in coming, i would recognize Welcome To The Black Parade.


The simplest answer is when you perceive enough of a pattern to what you are hearing to make what has happened to be familiar and to be able to have some idea of how it will continue. Another post mentioned a performance of “As Slow as Possible” being done on an organ in Germany. This would fit, not because you can perceive the changes in the melodic line as music, but you will hear the ongoing sounds as a drone. Listening to anything that repeats, with or without some variation, will start to sound like music when the makeup of the repeating pattern becomes clear. RadioLab had an episode where they talked about the premier of “The Rite of Spring” which used chords that didn’t fit in the tonal vocabulary of the day. Most of the audience didn’t enjoy the piece, and legend has it that a duel was fought over whether it could be called music the next day. Polychords are commonly used in music, both classical and popular, today and people don’t have the reaction. They talked about how the unfamiliar sounds caused the tension reaction, but now that it is just another tool, people don’t react the same.


Music major here. Defining something as “music” can be considered subjective based on culture/geography. But for most Westerners, when we begin to hear the ratios of frequencies within a monophonic (only one note at a time) phrase, I believe, our brains tell us “this is music”.


Can I just say sometimes the question is more interesting than the answer. A very thought provoking query.