Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
-- William Congreve
Music has been with man since the beginning. Babies react to music in the womb, and are born with musical preferences. Music affects the mind and the body. Music can affect our moods, concentration, and memory. Think of how indispensable music is in setting up tension and suspense in movies. It seems that music is an inherent, integral part of us.
It seems that there is no one music center in the brain - our ability to react and appreciate music involves interaction with both spheres of our brains. It is another way of seeing the world. Think how with our eyes we detect patterns in what we see. We see patterns in the stars and faces in mountain cliffs (or in Martian hills). There is a mathematical side to nature, and it shows up visually, and audibly. Maybe our inherent love of music is connected to our inherent love of art - from doodling (progressive jazz), to pop art (pop music), to classical art (classical music). We use art to communicate with - sometimes literally, other times much more abstractly. Many alphabets or syllabaries started off as pictures. We use music to communicate with as well.
So, does this mean that aliens would have musical abilities as well? Is this a probable result of developing advanced sentience?
Or is it possible that aliens could have no musical abilities? Sure, I suppose there could be alien races that are rather deaf, but what about aliens that have good hearing? If musicality is inherently connected to emotions, it could be argued that aliens that are fairly emotionless (Vulcans?) would have little to do with music. Though Vulcans played lutes. Incongruent? Maybe not. Recognizing patterns is the activity of sentience. Playing around with patterns is one way we investigate our universe and make sense of it. Playing music is playing with patterns of sound. It is audible art.
The question becomes, then, can a sentient race notice and experiments with patterns, and yet have no real emotional connection to musical patterns? Could there be alien races that look at musical patterns purely as interesting mathematical formulas, patterns - looking at the interaction of periodic sound waves as means of conveying information or as tools (echo location, investigating structures via sound waves, using sound to destroy things, etc.) with no real emotional connection other than the pleasure of investigation, of learning, of exploring?
Maybe the real question is can a sentient race be sentient and not have emotions? If natural laws naturally gave rise to universe, and if there is a universal biology (that is, biology naturally arises from physical and natural laws given the right conditions), and sentience the natural result of evolution (if given enough time), then are emotions a universally natural result of sentience (or naturally occurs hand-in-hand with it)?
Cromie, William J. "Music on the Brain." Harvard University Gazette. 22 Mar. 2001. Web. 22 Sept. 2008. <http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/2001/03.22/04-music.html>.