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Doglas, Y. (2006). A Biological Explanation on the Declining Popularity of Classical Music. PHILICA.COM Observation number 19.

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A Biological Explanation on the Declining Popularity of Classical Music

Yeo Doglasunconfirmed user (Singapore, Independent Researcher)

Published in musi.philica.com

I will first make 3 assumptions:

Assumption 1) Music is “heard” by both the ear and the brain.

This is supported by the fact that deaf people can sometimes “hear” music in their heads, and hence there must be an organ other than the ear that is responsible for hearing music. (eg. Beethoven could still compose music in his head when deaf)

Assumption 2) Classical Music is more appealing to the brain, while Pop music is more appealing to the ear.

Classical music has a layered, and almost mathematical structure, consisting of melody and harmony. Pop music has a simpler structure, consisting of less complex melodies, to accomodate the human voice.

Assumption 3) People nowadays are using too much of their brain, due to stress, to the extent of brain fatigue.

From this 3 observations, one can deduce why classical music is less popular: it is because people nowadays have to rest their brains, and would not want to tax their brains further by listening to classical music.

There are some relaxing classical music too, and perhaps this explains why they are more popular than their non-relaxing counterparts.

Information about this Observation
Peer-review ratings (from 4 reviews, where a score of 100 represents the ‘average’ level):
Originality = 116.30, importance = 83.42, overall quality = 56.84
This Observation was published on 28th July, 2006 at 08:15:43 and has been viewed 9284 times.

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The full citation for this Observation is:
Doglas, Y. (2006). A Biological Explanation on the Declining Popularity of Classical Music. PHILICA.COM Observation number 19.

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1 Peer review [reviewer #187confirmed user] added 28th July, 2006 at 14:40:36

I am not convinced by this claim. First, there is no reference to data showing that the relative popularity of the various music genres has changed, and so the whole premise lacks support. Second, it is vastly over-simplistic to say that classical music is complex and pop music is not: compare the spare simplicity of Part’s music to the complexity of, say, prog rock. Third, what does “using too much of their brain” mean? What evidence is there for this? As far as I am aware (and I am a neuroscientist), people use all their brains. Surely the author meant people are using more of their attention, rather than their brain? And is everybody really stressed?

This observation also fails to take into account different varieties of classical and pop music, which vary wildly, nor the relative lengths of classical pieces and pop songs: assuming the basic premises are true, it could simply be that people prefer short pieces of music.

Originality: 4, Importance: 3, Overall quality: 2

2 Peer review [reviewer #296confirmed user] added 13th August, 2006 at 17:11:35

The comments here are based on assumptions which seem to have no basis in fact or research at all. To say that classical music is more complex than pop music rather suggests that a definition of complexity has been arrived at. Lets just assume that complexity is to do with ‘changeability’ or the amount of change in a sound. If thats the case then something like Mozart’s Toy Symphony is vastly less changeable and complex than the majority of ‘pop’ music currently available. Also, who says we are ‘using too much of our brains’? what does this mean, and why is this to do with stress? the comparison between something being pleasing to he ear and the brain is also extremely odd. Similarly, there is MUCH more to the auditory apparatus than the outer middle and inner components of the ear, the brain is actively involved, but I’m not at all convinced that the brain ‘hears’, rather it is part of (the end part of) the hearing process. What evidence is there that ‘relaxing’ classical music is more popular than ‘stimulating’ classical music?

Originality: 5, Importance: 2, Overall quality: 1

3 Peer review [reviewer #9922confirmed user] added 19th August, 2006 at 16:05:27

I disagree with assumption 3. “Classical” music has always been of greater interest to the intellectually more-sophisticated segment of the population. Today’s “pop” music is less sophisticated than during any recent period, depending almost solely on fast and intense rythm and yelling instead of melody. This makes its appeal more directed toward the “primitive” brain.

It would be interesting to compare the number of composers of classical music whose works are being recorded today with the those recorded in previous years.

Originality: 6, Importance: 7, Overall quality: 4

4 Peer review [reviewer #66096confirmed user] added 12th October, 2006 at 02:29:22

I share the first three reviewers’ skepticism of this claim. Nevertheless, I would point out that this observation has the merit of being cast in the mold of a genuine hypothesis that is testable (or could be made testable), at least in principle. This is a claim that all too often cannot be made! (For example: to the author’s credit, he does not attempt to explain behaviour in terms of “free will!”) Whether the conclusion is right or wrong, it is at least interesting, and is perhaps a point of departure for asking more sophisticated questions about brain and behaviour.

Regarding assumption 1: I think the author probably intended the “ear” to be a “simple area of the brain.” So I would modify this assumption by stating that different types of music are “heard” (processed) by different areas of the brain. Or more generally, the distribution over space of “brain-usage” (as well as the type of brain usage) differs from one type of music to the next. I would hazard a guess that this is almost certainly true. The interesting question to me is how music might be classified by the brain; it may not be along the lines of classical vs pop, or complex versus simple.

Regarding assumption 2: I translate this into the assumption that the region of the brain responsible for processing classical music requires “more” of something — more energy? more time? larger brain volume? greater number of neurons? — than is required to process pop music.

Regarding assumption 3: I translate this into the assumption that the “something” mentioned above is a more scarce commodity now than it used to be.

I would agree with reviewer #1 that the “something” should be linked in some way to the maintenance of attention. Perhaps we could postulate some sort of “law of conservation of attention,” and demonstrate that if someone is distracted (eg by modern-day stressors), then there is less attention leftover for other purposes like classical music.

This makes me wonder whether anyone has performed functional brain imaging of people as they listen to different types of music. I would wager that it has certainly been done, although I have not looked into the literature to verify this.

So my overall impression is that this observation may be a simplistic “first stab” attempt at thinking about brain and behaviour, and therefore easy to criticise. But the fundamental approach taken is a VALID one!

Originality: 4, Importance: 4, Overall quality: 4

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