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Music has amazing potential to inspire, motivate and bring people together across cultures.

But new studies from experts in our highly rated Music Department have revealed just how much our cultural background affects our musical tastes.

A liking for ‘sad’ music 

One of our research team members visited a remote village in North-West Pakistan to explore how Western and Pakistani listeners respond to music and sound.

To the Western ear, major chords – which a Western listener would describe as ‘happy’, are pleasing and produce a positive response. However, the Pakistani listeners disliked the same sound – preferring the minor or ‘sad’ chords more common in their own local music.

The Pakistani listeners taking part in the research were part of two isolated tribes, who had little to no knowledge of Western music or its chords system. Their preference towards sad music chords indicates the strong influence of such music in their culture. 

Some common tastes…

The researchers did find some things in common between the two groups of listeners: both disliked the most jarring or dissonant chords played for them. This suggests that dissonant chords are universally unpleasant.

Our experts believe that’s because highly dissonant chords create a jarring sound which our auditory system can’t fully resolve. They describe this as being similar to a flickering of light in the eyes.

What’s your musical taste?

Want to know how you respond to different chords? Our researchers have created a game to test your tastes, and compare your results to the finding of their study.

Our Music Department ranks 3rd in the UK in the 2022 Complete University Guide.

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