The science and culture of musical taste

In Why You Like It, Nolan Gasser gives and expansive overview of the drivers of musical taste covering a wide spectrum of topics from philosophy to psychology to biology. The author is a composer and was chief musicologist at Pandora and a key driver of the Music Genome Project.

This is a comprehensive (probably too comprehensive for some) discussion of why we like music and why we like particular types of music and even specific songs and musical pieces. The examples and analyses range from “Old MacDonald” to Star Wars, West Side Story to Gregorian chant, Leonard Cohen to Snoop Dogg, and Ed Sheeran to Mozart (and that’s just one chapter of the book).

The discussions cover most possible styles and traditions of music, with extended discussions of pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music, and classical music. The analysis of styles and pieces covers the sound, harmony, melody, rhythm, and form of the music, as well as any text.

For someone who loves music, like myself, this is a fascinating read although I recommend giving yourself time to absorb each chapter. For those with an interest in music who prefer to listen rather than read 600+ pages, let me recommend the podcast “Strong Songs” ( with each episode taking one song and providing an in-depth analysis.

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