To pick apart how music affects us would be a matter of analysing the notes and our responses to them: in come notes, out tumbles our perception of music.
Thinking about music in this way – as sound, notes and responses to notes, kept separate from the rest of human experience – relegates music to a special, inscrutable sphere accessible only to the initiated.
The vision of an isolated note-calculator in the brain, taking sound as input and producing musical perceptions as output, consigns music to a kind of mental silo.
The past few decades of work in the cognitive sciences of music have demonstrated with increasing persuasiveness that the human capacity for music is not cordoned off from the rest of the mind.
On the contrary, music perception is deeply interwoven with other perceptual systems, making music less a matter of notes, the province of theorists and professional musicians, and more a matter of fundamental human experience.
Beyond just what we hear, what we see, what we expect, how we move, and the sum of our life experiences all contribute to how we experience music.
People show better recognition memory and different emotional responses to new music composed in a culturally familiar style, as compared with new music from an unfamiliar culture.