Previous theories about how people appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound and the ability of the ear itself to hear harmony, they said.
However, the new study found love of musical harmony is not nature but nurture, University of Melbourne researchers reported Thursday.
"Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds," psychological science Professor Neil McLachlan said.
"So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it's simply because you haven't learnt to listen by their rules."
In the study, 66 volunteers with a range of musical training were tested on their ability to hear combinations of notes to determine if they found the combinations familiar or pleasing.
"What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes," McLachlan said. "If they couldn't find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant."
"This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing," he said. "We have shown in this study that for music, beauty is in the brain of the beholder."