Medical Mysteries of Music

Does Music Sound Better in a Fast Car? Let’s Ask Science!

There’s nothing like having the windows (or better yet, the top) down in your car on a summer day, tunes blaring on the radio. Chances are you’ve got your favourite driving songs if not a series of driving playlists.

Now the question: Why do some songs sound so much better–or at least seem to sound better–in a car on the open road? Time to ask science via Pitchfork.

We all have our favorite places for listening to music. For some, it might be between a pair of headphones, for casual distraction during the daily routine or to get lost in a quiet corner of the living room. For others, it might be an arena, a bar, or a dance club. In bedrooms, music can infiltrate our dreams as we drift asleep, while audiophiles might prefer sitting down in front of a painstakingly assembled hi-fi system.

Almost everyone, though, has probably had a meaningful experience listening to music in a car. There’s a romance to it, especially on sunny days or starry nights. Whether it’s absorbing a full concept album on a long road trip, or just zoning out to a particular pop hit on a quick jaunt, listening to music in cars has a way of focusing us. It leaves lasting memories. It takes us somewhere.

The transportative quality of blasting Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” from the car stereo on the first summery day of the year may be easy to take for granted. But science tells us our brains have something to do with the extra enjoyment.

To be clear, scientists haven’t studied the aesthetics of hearing Drake’s “Passionfruit” over the car radio versus on the home stereo, at least not directly. “You can’t have a fast car and loud music at an MRI machine, which is extremely loud anyway,” explains Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and author of Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To, not unreasonably. But over Skype from Cardiff, Wales, he cheerfully shares his theories behind the phenomenon.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38529 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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