Can Fish Hear Music? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

can fish hear music

Have you ever tapped on the aquarium tank? If yes, then you would have noticed the fish quickly swimming away from where you tapped on the glass. This is because your little tap is a sonic boom for the fish.

According to a study, fish collect information about their surroundings through sounds. And since sounds travel rapidly and over long distances in water, the fish react quickly to the slightest sounds.

This might raise a question in your mind; can fish hear music? Well, the answer is more complex than a yes or no. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and explore the topic!

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Can Fish Hear Sounds?

Can Fish Hear Sounds?1

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Yes, fish can hear sounds. They don’t have distinctive human-like ears, but they do have multiple auditory organs. These include:

  • Cilia (fine nerve hair)
  • Ossicles
  • Bladders
  • Otoliths
  • Accelerometers
  • Mechanoreceptors

Some fish have all of these organs, while some only have one of them. Regardless of the quantity, fish are more sensitive to sounds underwater than humans.

When we submerge our heads in the water (for example, swimming), the sounds from above and inside the water are unclear. They are a bit muffled and hard-to-make sense of. This is because our ears aren’t adapted to underwater sound waves.

Fish are aquatic animals, so their multiple and highly-sensitive auditory organs allow them to hear perfectly. They rely on the sounds to locate nearby predators, food, and mates.


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Sound travels differently in water than in air. The particles in water are closely packed together, which allows them to transmit vibrations faster and farther. So, when a sound wave enters water or originates inside water, it travels rapidly and over a long distance.

What Affects the Reaction of Fish to Sounds?

What Affects the Reaction of Fish to Sounds?1

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Fish exhibit different reactions to sounds. Researchers have studied these reactions for years, and many have concluded that fish may be scared or attracted to sounds depending on these factors:

1. Loudness

Since fish are sound-sensitive, hearing loud and abrupt sounds can scare them. They will quickly move away from the direction of sound and find a hiding spot in the aquarium tank. If the fish is in the pond, it will swim toward the bottom of the tank.

This is why professional fishermen advise beginners to drop their fishing nets or rods as silently as possible. They also ask not to throw pebbles in the water or stomp their feet on the boat. The intensity of the sound can scare the fish.

2. Type of Sound

Fish don’t have excellent vision. It’s why they are highly dependent on their sound-perception organs to collect information about their surroundings. They can use the sounds to identify what is approaching them and from where.

So, if it’s a dangerous sound (predators, unknown objects, or humans), the fish will panic and swim to safety. However, if the sound is produced by a mate or fellow fish, they will relax and continue swimming calmly.

In some circumstances, the sounds may be foreign to the fish and will bring up a unique reaction. For example, if a person talks to a fish through an aquarium tank, the fish will not respond until it’s the carer.

Of course, the fish won’t understand what you are saying. But if it’s a familiar face (carer), the fish may move closer or even pause and stare at the person. With that said, if the person shouts, the noise will scare the fish away.

3. Fish Size

It is proven that the hearing abilities of a fish increase with its size. A larger fish can hear much better than a smaller fish. However, their reactions to the sounds are very different.

If a large fish hears a loud or dangerous sound, it will prepare for an attack. Meanwhile, a smaller fish will escape the place and hide somewhere.

4. Shallow or Deep?

The depth of the water body also affects how a fish will react to the sounds. If the water is shallow, the sound waves will be amplified, and the smallest of sounds will be too loud for the fish.

However, if there is deep water, fish will remain calm even at the surface. They won’t react very badly to a sound unless it is actually very loud and abrupt.

Can Fish Tell the Difference Between Music and Noise?

Can Fish Tell the Difference Between Music and Noise?1

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Music refers to the combination of pleasing sounds, whereas noise is the unpleasant sounds from our surroundings. Since fish can hear sounds, it is logical to question whether they can differentiate between music and noise.

The short answer is yes!

Several studies have been conducted on this topic, but the most popular is The Goldfish Classical Music Study by Kazutaka Shinozuka. In this study, Japanese researchers (from Keio University) exposed goldfish to different genres of classical music.

They specifically chose Stravinsky, Bach, and Shakuhachi music because most traditional pond keepers insist on playing them for their fish. Whenever the fish recognized the music and differentiated between the genres, the researchers fed them as a reward.

This technique reinforced the behavior of the goldfish. To validate the results, the goldfish were also exposed to loud noise at different intervals. The fish reacted by averting the sounds and finding a hiding spot.

After multiple attempts, it was concluded that goldfish (infamous for their short-term memory) can tell apart different genres of music and whether the sound is music or noise.

What Type of Music Does Fish Like?

What Type of Music Does Fish Like?1

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Fish typically enjoy low-frequency music because it produces lower vibrations in the water. This type of music doesn’t frighten or threaten them. Instead, it calms them down and relaxes their bodies.

So, you can play slow classical songs to your fish, like:

  • The Entertainer by Scott Joplin
  • The Flower Duet by Léo Delibes
  • Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy

Please note fish don’t like loud sounds. So, you shouldn’t play heavy metal, rap, or any kind of loud or high-frequency music. In some cases, it can even kill fish.

Moreover, if you want to attract fish to your location (when fishing), you should use sound levels between 25 to 50 Hertz. This particular low-frequency range is effective for calling the majority of nearby fish species.

It is also recommended to focus on the type and quantity of bait you offer to the fish. You should use as many shrimps, worms, and yabbies as possible. Together, they will make the bait smell powerful and attractive.

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1. Can fish hear music from outside the tank?

Yes, fish can hear music from outside the tank. In fact, it is recommended to play music outside the tank instead of inside. This is because the airborne sounds aren’t as loud as waterborne ones.

When the soundwaves hit the water’s surface, some are reflected, and some enter the water body. This lowers the intensity and keeps your fish comfortable.

2. How loud can fish hear?

The hearing abilities of fish varies from specie to specie. Most fish can hear sounds between 40 Hz to 500 Hz. Some can hear up to 1000 Hz and 3000 Hz.

You should research the frequency range of your particular aquarium fish before installing any music device. Remember, too loud music can disturb the fish and even kill them.

3. Does Betta fish like music?

The Siamese fighting fish (also called Betta) is a freshwater fish that makes an amazing pet. It has a beautiful appearance with long fins and a brightly-colored body. It also has an interactive personality, which helps the owner bond easily.

However, there is no concrete evidence that this fish likes music. It can tolerate slow and low-vibration sounds, so it is safe to assume bettas will like music too. But since there are multiple types of betta fish, it is recommended to test your betta’s reaction to music.

If its behavior remains the same, you can play music for it. Alternatively, if it appears stressed out, don’t expose it to any kind of music ever again.

4. Can fish sleep with sound?

No, fish won’t be able to sleep if the sound’s too loud. Typically, it is quiet and dark at night. This helps the fish sleep without worries. But, if you make a noise near a sleeping fish, it will be startled.

Please note most fish can tolerate the noise of aeration systems. Still, it’s best to invest in a silent air pump or turn it off for the night. You can also wrap a towel or soft material around the air pump to lower the sound intensity.

So, Can Fish Hear Music?

Now that we have discussed everything in detail. Let’s go back to our initial question – can fish hear music? The answer is yes!

Fish have many enhanced sensory organs to detect different frequency sounds easily and quickly. They can also:

  • Differentiate between noise and music
  • Recognize different music genres
  • Be attracted to certain songs

So, if you have a pet fish or want to hunt fish, music can come in handy in both situations. You should look up the hearing range of the particular specie and play low-frequency sounds accordingly. Good luck!

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