There is "tonal recognition," but the term seems to be ambiguous. I'm looking for a better one.

Let me describe the phenomenon:

You hear a tune, any tune. It may be pop music, or jazz, or rock, or opera, or symphonic music, or a theme song. At the same time (or on the same day, anyway) you experience something truly memorable; something pleasant, perhaps.

Days, weeks, months, or years pass.

Suddenly you hear the tune again, and it brings back all those memories.

You may or may not be truly aware that the tune is linked to those memories in your mind. You just like to hear it.

Your liking to hear it (and this is crucial) has nothing at all to do with the tune's actual artistic value. You assume it's a great tune because it makes you feel happy.

Thus, music appreciation per se does not play a part here: the tune may, in fact, be brilliant, or it may be completely worthless: you're bound to like hearing it because of all those memories.

Now, what is this phenomenon called? It's "tonal ..." something ... something ... I can't quite put my finger on it.

  • 3
    I'd say it's reminiscent of good times.
    – vickyace
    Apr 16 '17 at 7:45
  • The tune or riff evokes powerful memories (pleasant, happy, maybe sad) associated with the time when you heard it. It makes you feel the way you felt when you first heard it.
    – Xanne
    Apr 16 '17 at 7:46
  • 1
    Such sounds are evocative. "Use the adjective evocative when you want to describe something that reminds you of something else. If your mom baked a lot when you were a kid, the smell of cookies in the oven is probably evocative of your childhood."
    – NVZ
    Apr 16 '17 at 9:13
  • See also: Objects that make you remember
    – NVZ
    Apr 16 '17 at 9:24