A couple of years ago, some researchers conducted a study to determine whether cats reacted more strongly to music by humans and for humans, or to “species-specific music” made to be of interest to cats.
They found that the cats preferred the species-specific music — or at least, they were more curious about it than they were about human music.
One tune they tested, “Cozmo’s Air,” “has a pulse related to purring of 1380 beats per minute … with melodic sliding frequencies covering 44 percent of the sample.” Apparently sliding frequencies are found in a variety of cat noises, but they aren’t found in human speech.
My research (which includes 40-something years of living with cats, but is not scientific at all) indicates that cats do like people music, but they have a strong preference for certain tones and volumes.
For example, if I were to play loud, guitar-heavy music, my cats would run for the hills. Cats’ hearing is very sensitive, so when you play music at a high volume, it might be more than irritating for your cat — it could be physically painful. So, for the sake of my cats’ ears (and my neighbors’ peace of mind), I don’t play full-blast punk rock while I’m cleaning my apartment.
My observations have led me to believe that cats aren’t very fond of shrill sounds. This makes sense because when cats make shrill noises, they’re fighting. Who wants to get that adrenaline rushy, fight-or-flight-y response while your person is listening to music?
On the other hand, the cats I’ve known have been quite enamored of songs that are slow and have a droning sound to them, something along the lines of Krishna Das’s “Om Namah Shivaya” or Dead Can Dance’s “Song of the Stars.” I think the low drone reminds them of a purr, and it just seems to make my cats visibly relax when I play music that has a low drone as part of its melody.
My cats seem to like songs with strong bass. I’m not talking super dubstep-drop MEGA bass, but songs that have a pretty clear bass line. Again, the volume has to be comfortable to kitty ears, or else they’ll flee, no matter how much they like the bass sound.
They also seem to like female voices, especially when they’re in the alto range and they’re singing mellow songs like Faith & the Muse’s “Visions.” And, as if to prove my point, Tara hopped into my lap and sat on my chest while this song was playing, so of course I had to take a cat break.
Of course, cats’ enjoyment of music made for humans could well be because cats are so emotionally connected to their people — and any music that makes their people relax will make them relaxed and happy, too. If that’s the case, then it probably doesn’t matter what genre of music you play, as long as you stay away from shrill noises, harsh brass instruments, and hard-rock guitar riffs. Your kitty won’t appreciate the musical stylings of AC/DC or Nine Inch Nails. Trust me; I know this from experience.
So, do you need to buy yourself a bunch of music that’s composed just for cats? Eh, not necessarily. Just choose your music with care, play it at a low volume, and watch your feline friends enjoy!