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What draws us to the music we love? A new book breaks it down

"This is What it Sounds Like" cover. (Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company)
"This is What it Sounds Like" cover. (Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company)

A new book explores how sweet spots in our brains steer us to different aspects of music.

With decades of experience mixing music, Berklee College of Music professor Susan Rogers is a multi-platinum record producer who worked on hits such as Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Her new book is titled “This is What it Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You,” which she co-authored with Ogi Ogas.

The book explores the seven dimensions of music that can give listeners a “jolt of pleasure,” Rogers says. Four apply to the music: melody, lyrics, rhythm and timbre, or the sound itself.

The other three esthetic dimensions apply to mediums like operas, movies, TV and novels. Authenticity speaks to “the expressive gestures are coming from,” she says, and novelty versus familiarity depends on whether we prefer groundbreaking art or something more familiar. Finally, there’s realism versus abstraction: preferring works that are grounded in reality or reflective of an imaginary world.

If you want to move your body, you select a song that makes you get up and dance. Or if you want poetry, you gravitate towards lyricists who resonate. And if you want to match or evoke a particular feeling, you select a record with a strong melody.

“Every single time we reach for that computer mouse or that button on our phone in order to play a song, that’s indicative that your brain wants something. It’s craving a certain kind of treat,” Rogers says. “And it knows from past experience the records in your playlist that are going to deliver that particular treat for you.”

Book excerpt: ‘This Is What It Sounds Like’

By Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas

Excerpted from This Is What It Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas. Copyright © 2022 by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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