(Or how to appreciate Birtwistle in ten short sessions)

Our love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is learnt and not based on any innate natural ability according to a new study by researchers at the University of Melbourne.

Associate Professor Neil McLachlan from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said that previous theories about how we appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound, the ear itself and an innate ability to hear harmony. “Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds,” McLachlan said. “So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it’s simply because you haven’t learnt to listen by their rules.”

The report adds further support to arguments in favour of a broad-based, practical musical education ( see Richard Gill’s recent Limelightarticle). The research suggests that even relatively limited exposure to certain combinations of notes helps to develop an understanding of complex harmony. In other words, if you struggle the first time with The Rite of Spring, just pop it on repeat and you’ll be...