Can Classical Music Heighten Men’s Attractiveness? A Scientific Experiment

A couple a of weeks ago, this news came out:

Does classical music make you seem more attractive?

And it immediately drew my attention. I was particularly intrigued by this statement in the article:

“High-arousing (i.e., more complex) music affects the perception of male facial attractiveness.”

In other words, complex music is like alcohol: it will make you seem prettier than you actually are.

The researchers came to this conclusion after an experiment involving photographs and surveys. In the name of science, I decided to test this in a real-life environment. And I’m happy to share my findings with you.

Testing conditions

For this test, I first invited three blind dates over for dinner (never you mind where I got them from). As background music, I chose the most complex classical music I could find: a piano piece by Brian Ferneyhough. Mister Ferneyhough’s music is categorized as New Complexity, because – I guess – the old complexity wasn’t nearly complex enough. It looks and sounds like this:

Scientifically speaking, if this doesn’t put the ladies in the mood, I don’t know what will.

Of course, no experiment is reliable without a control group. So the next evening I invited three other blind dates (never you mind where I got them from). And his time I played piano music which is significantly less complex, by Ludovico Einaudi. It looks and sounds like this:

Good to know: to rule out any fluctuations in attractiveness, I wore the same outfit on both evenings.

Nerdy classical music T-shirt

I think it says: ‘nerdy, yet confident’.

The results

Are you ready to be surprised? The women whom I treated to my tofu-tournedos Rossini with Ferneyhough playing in the background, did not seem impressed by my attractiveness. The reactions I recorded were:

  • What the hell is that noise?
  • Maybe we could listen to some music?
  • Oh my God, you’re a serial killer, aren’t you?

The Einaudi control group, on the other hand, made encouraging comments such as:

  • Maybe we could listen to some music?
  • What the hell am I eating?
  • I think you and I could be great friends.

Still got it


Best stick with alcohol.

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Table music by Thierry De Mey: music as movement

One of my many unproven theories is that there are two kinds of people, depending on the way they respond to music:

  1. by dancing
  2. by playing an air instrument

Me, I belong to the second group. Through the years, I’ve mastered the air guitar, air piano, air drums, all the instruments of the air string quartet, … even the air marimba on occasion.

A 5-octave concert model, no less

Either way, music and movement are intimately connected. And there’s one man who devoted his life’s work to that idea: Thierry De Mey, composer of the fabulous Musique de table or Table music.

“One of the main reasons we make music is the simple pleasure of using or bodies to make sounds.”

Table music for three

Table music is a composition for six hands on three tables. Performing it looks like immense fun:

As you probably guessed, none of this is improvised. De Mey developed a special notation system to prescribe exactly what each hand should be doing at any moment.

Thierry De Mey Table music score
No longer seems so much fun, does it?

Table dance

Would I enjoy this music as much if I just listened to it, without watching the performance? No. But that seems to be the point. De Mey is not interested in making ‘absolute music’. In fact, he is best known for his collaborations with dance choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Wim Vandekeybus.

“Music is just as much art as handicraft.”

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of modern dance – or classical ballet for that matter. Maybe that’s because I’m one of those air instrument people. But Table music does speak to me. It reminds me that one of the main reasons we make music is the simple pleasure of using or bodies to make sounds. Just look at the moment when the middle guy can no longer hide how much fun he’s having.

Performance of Thierry De Mey's Table music
“Stay cool, stay cool, … Oh, forget it.”

The take-away from Table music

In the end, there’s no such thing as absolute music. Most of the fun of attending a live concert is watching the players work their magic and sharing in their enjoyment. Even when I’m listening to a pure stream of sound through my headphones, I can’t help imagining the movements that produced it. Until I start making those moves myself, in endlessly ridiculous ways.

Maybe that’s why the dance people were the first to really appreciate electronic music. And yet, even DJ’s feel the need to visibly but – as many suspect – pointlessly fidget with buttons and sliders. As De Mey’s Table music literally illustrates, music is just as much art as handicraft.

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