What makes some music so enjoyable, and can science help us engineer the perfect pop song? A group of researchers who statistically analysed tens of thousands of chord progressions in classic US Billboard hits say they have found the answer, and it lies in the right combination of uncertainty and surprise.
Vincent Cheung of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Germany who led the study said the data could even assist songwriters trying to craft the next chart topper. "It is fascinating that humans can derive pleasure from a piece of music just by how sounds are ordered over time," he said.
Composers know intuitively that expectancy plays a big part in how much pleasure we derive from music, but the exact relationship has remained hazy.