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Back to Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why

Learner Reviews & Feedback for Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why by Duke University

678 ratings

About the Course

The course will explore the tone combinations that humans consider consonant or dissonant, the scales we use, and the emotions music elicits, all of which provide a rich set of data for exploring music and auditory aesthetics in a biological framework. Analyses of speech and musical databases are consistent with the idea that the chromatic scale (the set of tones used by humans to create music), consonance and dissonance, worldwide preferences for a few dozen scales from the billions that are possible, and the emotions elicited by music in different cultures all stem from the relative similarity of musical tonalities and the characteristics of voiced (tonal) speech. Like the phenomenology of visual perception, these aspects of auditory perception appear to have arisen from the need to contend with sensory stimuli that are inherently unable to specify their physical sources, leading to the evolution of a common strategy to deal with this fundamental challenge....

Top reviews


May 16, 2020

This course helped me to see music from a different angle i.e through history and biology. Prof. Dales is a wonderful human being and has a beautiful gift of explaining things in a much simpler way.


Sep 21, 2016

This course has helped me to understand biological psychology of humans towards music. Based on this knowledge i am confident to create music which will seem good to the ears of humans.

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1 - 25 of 170 Reviews for Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why

By Ronald L

Apr 16, 2018

The content of the course is absolute gold. The course provides some answers (or at least partial answers) to very intriguing questions in music: Why these notes and not others? Why is a minor scale "sad" ? and other related questions. The only real issue is the that the quiz questions are just garbage, so be prepared to be frustrated that after learning some new material and having some real "aha!" moments you will fail the quiz because the questions don't really seem to reflect the important points.

By Jerson S L L

Feb 12, 2021

This course is an amazing interdisciplinary approach of the phenomenology of music including mathematical, physical, historical and biological explanations abour why we humans develop and enjoy music, it gives refreshing views about the role of music in human society, aesthetics and variations of musical traditions among cultures. It introduces the student to the very basics of music theory in a way that gives solid foundations for further studies related to music theory and its relationships with neurosciences. Taking this course was an amazing experience which I highly recommend to everyone interested in the subject. Dale Purves and Ruby Froom are excellent teachers.

By Wong C K C

Mar 28, 2020

Highly recommended especially to musicians. Very interesting indeed. Before I enrolled, I read the one star reviews and read how 'bad' this course is. I might be wrong but I think if you are not a musician, you might not find this course as interesting/useful as musicians. I found that Duke University/Professor Purves/coursera are very generous in giving out such a high quality teaching for free. They could have charged some money and they deserve it. I feel so thankful to them. The second week test was the most difficult, I had to do it 6 times to get the pass rate! Anyway, I enjoyed this course a great deal. Thank you again!

By lisa B

May 10, 2016

It is odd that a course that concentrates so vehemently on speech tone, as a segue to music would be taught by a monotone and mostly unenthused professor. Often verbose, but never succinct, I had to listen to his drone twice to glean anything of value.

His tests were wrought with "gotcha" questions, having nothing to do with the important material of the course. As a physicist, I was very disappointed in his treatment of the important equations associated with the mathematics of music (mentioned as "too hard" to understand).

There was nearly no mention of rhythm and its importance in music, as relates to biology and/or emotion, and no mention of how those rhythms relate to heartbeat.

I am deeply disappointed, but I do hope this critique is seen as an opportunity to create a better course.

By Oleksandr Z

Apr 4, 2022

Well, a very interesting material. Especially, on those that deals with emotions and imitation. Nevertheless, there are some questions in general. One of them concerns evolution: there are other biological approaches that argue with the

idea of macroevolution.

The second one is more methodological. According to the Fourier analysis it is possible a wide variety of the sound signals represent as harmonic series. Can this almost mathematical fact be signifacant in logics? Well, it is.

And there are no attention to it completely.

Nevertheless, a very interesting and cognitive material.

Thank you very much.

By Vincent A

May 10, 2016

Note: I am coming in from the perspective of a dude wanting to create and compose music. I especially love module Week 6. It gave me a new insight on how to create newer types of sounds (I can't get enough). SPOILER ALERT: I would have never thought there would be a correlation between speech and music. I think Dr. Purves makes an excellent case for this connection. I'm sold! Very well organized course; and if you are a music junky like me, I'm sure you'll find tremendous value in it.

By Armando F V

Mar 8, 2020

It was just what I have been trying to lear about the relationship on music, speech and human evolution. I learned a lot from those topics and that I am already applying to my music compositions, and music phylosophy. Looking forward for more courses and books on this.

By Muhammad A M

Sep 21, 2016

This course has helped me to understand biological psychology of humans towards music. Based on this knowledge i am confident to create music which will seem good to the ears of humans.

By marcos s

Nov 11, 2020

This course really helped me to understand how music works. In my opinion this course is an excellent tool if you want to start into sound effects and soundtracks, etc.

By Angelina W

Mar 13, 2017

Natural scientific approach to music; this is definitely a new perspective on music and acoustics in general.

By Dadarkforce

Jun 21, 2018

Great course. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed his previous course "Visual Perception and the Brain".

By James A

Oct 17, 2017

This is an exceptional course, with very intriguing information about why we like the music we like.

By Alicja M

Nov 12, 2016

The course was quite difficult for me. The questions in quizes are sometimes hard to answer. Very often there is no simple solution. Or maybe my command of English was not sufficient to complete the course without several mistakes. Otherwise, topics were covered deeply and were thought-provoking.

By Rafail K

Sep 30, 2016

Great topic, but the course was less interesting and profound than I expected. The professor could be a little more motivating. Worth the time though!

By Ben B

Jan 7, 2017

The course tackles an interesting topic: why do we enjoy music?

But there are two problems with this course:

1) It fails to provide convincing evidence for its claims; the evidence is circumstantial and flimsy.

2) The lecturer is, how shall I say this politely, monotonic. He lacks enthusiasm.

My recommendation: if you are interested in the topic, take this course and make your own mind up. Maybe it will convince you. If not, you will have learnt a bit about human perception a sound perception.

By roma g

Dec 29, 2016

Very dry and uninspired.

The lecturer monotonically reads off some material.

The explanations don't usually make any sense.

The quizzes are a guessing game, arbitrarily connected (or not) to the lecture material.

In retrospect: a waste of my time.

By Beatriz A S

Oct 9, 2018

I'm very grateful of this course because it's help me a lot. I'm an adult beginner and I've tried understanding music theory with poor results. It wasn't enough for me just repeating memorizing techniques or 'cooking recipes' in order to dominate some topics of Music Theory. Even I got frustrated. This course hit the nail and open my mind to new questions and dimensions about the music. And the most important is that it let me see that not everything is said in music. After the third module I could come back to music Theory and get easier concepts. Even I could found some of them by myself. I mean, I was not memorizing anymore but figuring out by myself how it works.

I highly recommend this course. I like the way Professor Dale explains, keeping it easy and organized. Additional material is super useful for music students and Ruby's participation was suitable. I'd like that last module would've been longer.

By Faisal R S

Jun 29, 2020

The takes a biological approach to understand what we like to hear and why along with mathematical and physical approaches. The illustrations give by Professor Purves were in accordance with the topic going on. I want thank Ruby Froom for her excellent playing throughout the course and making me aware of different types of music among which the nursery rhyme 'Twinkle Twink;e lil' Star' by Mozart was very striking.

Lastly I want to thank Professor Purves, Duke University and Coursera!

By Pule S

Apr 4, 2021

Dear Prof Dale Purves,

Thank you for taking your time to compile this course. I loved it from the time I read the Subject line, I knew I had to do it. Amongst other things, I am a dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher, and as such "Musicality" is a subject liner on my teachings. This course has tremendously enhanced my skills in this regard.

Thank you once more!!


Nov 24, 2020

The material was very thought out and out together with much effort. It was made simple to understand with ample examples. It was extremely interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought that I would loathe the discussion prompts but soon, I found myself liking them a lot. The questions drove the point home and helped me understand/remember better. Thank you.

By Sharon V

Jun 10, 2020

Absolutely loved this course! Would recommend to anyone with a musical background wanting to know a bit more about the origins of music. Dale Purves is a fantastic teacher. I had not studied biology prior to this course (only music), but found his lessons informative and easy to follow. Give it a go, it will fascinate you!

By Vinod L G

Sep 13, 2017

I used to believe that the concept of music is purely mathematical and physical.

But this course has made me realize the biological aspect of music perception, and how it has been effected by emotional evolution of humans.

Thanks a lot.

By Tim G

Feb 29, 2020

A window into why music has the appeal that it does, and also into how neuroscientists work. Professor Dale Purves' own interest in music is obviously very genuine as is his respect for the constraints of the scientific process.

By Sandy A K

Mar 25, 2020

As a medical student and a musician this course was a huge interest and gave me a great information in a simple and beautiful way.. I finally can answer people's questions about how music is explained simply

By Taiba S

May 17, 2020

This course helped me to see music from a different angle i.e through history and biology. Prof. Dales is a wonderful human being and has a beautiful gift of explaining things in a much simpler way.