It’s a hit! People can tell in less than 5 seconds if they’ll like a new song

NEW YORK — Music lovers know when something is a hit! A new study finds it takes less than five seconds for people know if they really enjoy a new song. Scientists from New York University say people’s opinions of a new tune didn’t change, depending on whether they listened to a small snippet or the entire track.

The NYU team also discovered that listeners liked the song more if they listened to the complete song before the excerpt, compared to after hearing the short clip. People strongly preferred listening to the whole song, rather than a snippet, such as the teasers on Apple Music and Amazon.

The research team concludes that reactions to clips could predict how people would feel about the entire song. They say their findings, published in the journal Music Perception, indicate that humans respond more to the “general vibe” of a track, rather than its musical notes.

The senior authors note that the findings could widen our understanding of how songs evoke certain emotions in listeners.

“Over the course of any given song, the acoustic properties change dramatically, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to the listeners,” says senior author Pascal Wallisch, a clinical associate professor at NYU’s Center for Data Science, in a university release.

“We can determine within five seconds or less whether or not we will like it.”

“This finding might have wide-ranging implications for our understanding of what properties of songs evoke certain emotions in listeners,” Wallisch continues. “The fact that a small excerpt is enough to tell us if we like it or hate it, suggests that we respond more to the general vibe that a song brings to us rather than its musical notes per se.”

Joined by four NYU undergraduates, Prof. Wallisch studied 650 undergraduate students and New York City residents. Participants listened to 250 complete songs and excerpts from these songs lasting five, 10, or 15 seconds.

Researchers varied the segment of the songs in the snippet, including the intro, outro, chorus, and versus. Songs included popular tracks on Billboard’s charts over the past 80 years, alongside classical, country, jazz, hip-hop, rock, electronic, soul, and R&B.

The volunteers rated how much they liked each song or clip, whether they: hate it, strongly dislike it, slightly dislike it, are indifferent, slightly like it, strongly like it, or love it. They also ranked how familiar they were with the song, on a scale of never heard it, listened to it once, more than once, multiple times, or too many to count.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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