Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Story of Music is the Story of Humans #Science #Music

When did our ancestors begin making music?

Credit: © whiteshadow18 / Fotolia

As we saw briefly in another article, even cockatoos understand a beat so the Rockhouse is guessing there's never been a time when humans did not make music.  (Ithaka:  #Photography on the Blog 7/1 | Because We Want the Beautiful)

Note:  scroll to the third picture with Palm Cockatoos and one of them is holding a 'drum stick.'

How did music begin? Did our early ancestors first start by beating things together to create rhythm, or use their voices to sing? What types of instruments did they use? Has music always been important in human society, and if so, why? These are some of the questions explored in a recent Hypothesis and Theory article published in Frontiers in Sociology. The answers reveal that the story of music is, in many ways, the story of humans. 

Science Daily:  The story of music is the story of humans

We see them getting a bit poetic and that may be a warning.

So, what is music? This is difficult to answer, as everyone has their own idea. "Sound that conveys emotion," is what Jeremy Montagu, of the University of Oxford and author of the article, describes as his. A mother humming or crooning to calm her baby would probably count as music, using this definition, and this simple music probably predated speech.

But where do we draw the line between music and speech? You might think that rhythm, pattern and controlling pitch are important in music, but these things can also apply when someone recites a sonnet or speaks with heightened emotion. Montagu concludes that "each of us in our own way can say 'Yes, this is music', and 'No, that is speech'."

- SD

Uh oh, we see simple music as lesser music and we're getting a bad feeling about this, mates.  The above context is singing but that's already made a large jump over rhythmic music which, likely many of you agree, is probably the most primal form of it.

Another important component of music is rhythm. Our early ancestors may have created rhythmic music by clapping their hands. This may be linked to the earliest musical instruments, when somebody realized that smacking stones or sticks together doesn't hurt your hands as much. Many of these instruments are likely to have been made from soft materials like wood or reeds, and so haven't survived. What have survived are bone pipes. Some of the earliest ever found are made from swan and vulture wing bones and are between 39,000 and 43,000 years old. Other ancient instruments have been found in surprising places. For example, there is evidence that people struck stalactites or "rock gongs" in caves dating from 12,000 years ago, with the caves themselves acting as resonators for the sound.

- SD

Arrgghhhh ... we were right there with the rhythm but then danced away from it.  Construction of a pipe or any type of wind instrument shows a level of musical sophistication which goes well past the early bang a gong phase.  Don't read a hint of derogatory intention in that since we want that primal bang a gong beat today as much as did Caveman.

So, we know that music is old, and may have been with us from when humans first evolved. But why did it arise and why has it persisted? There are many possible functions for music. One is dancing. It is unknown if the first dancers created a musical accompaniment, or if music led to people moving rhythmically. Another obvious reason for music is entertainment, which can be personal or communal. Music can also be used for communication, often over large distances, using instruments such as drums or horns. Yet another reason for music is ritual, and virtually every religion uses music.

- SD

We're a little frustrated, mates, since we see a focus in this piece on the utilitarian aspect of music insofar as it has to be good for something; it has to serve a purpose.

The Rockhouse suggests maybe we just like it and we're disappointed this has not gone far toward review of why we like it.

The article concludes still with a general view of the function of music.

However, the major reason that music arose and persists may be that it brings people together. "Music leads to bonding, such as bonding between mother and child or bonding between groups," explains Montagu. "Music keeps workers happy when doing repetitive and otherwise boring work, and helps everyone to move together, increasing the force of their work. Dancing or singing together before a hunt or warfare binds participants into a cohesive group." He concludes: "It has even been suggested that music, in causing such bonding, created not only the family but society itself, bringing individuals together who might otherwise have led solitary lives."

- SD

Sorry but that got too far into TV psychology so let's have a bit of counterpoint.

If music is not innate to our souls, how do you explain the prevalence of perfect pitch.  (  Ability to perceive perfect pitch is more common than previously thought)

New research finds that perception of absolute pitch in music is far more common that previously thought, challenging conventional wisdom that the ability to detect perfect pitch is rare.
U of A music professor Elizabeth Margulis and two colleagues at Tel Aviv University in Israel published their findings this month in the journal Music Perception.

A classic study in music psychology established that most people make sense of music in terms of relative pitch, or where notes are placed in relation to a central note. The corollary notion has been that only a few people – one in 10,000 – can access absolute pitch.

Margulis and her team, however, found that absolute pitch perception is far more common than previously believed, particularly in people without formal musical training. A secondary finding points to the possibility that this cognitive capacity to track absolute pitch and key impacts the emotional experience of listening to music.

The paper, "Implicit Absolute Pitch Representation Affects Basic Tonal Perception," draws on research conducted by Margulis and Zohar Eitan in 2014, when Eitan spent a semester at the U of A as a visiting scholar. Moshe Shay Ben-Haim in Tel Aviv also worked on the paper.

- PO

The interested student is invited to pursue the additional content in both articles but you're cautioned about getting too scientific with this.  Leonard Bernstein wrote a book, "The Infinite Variety of Music," but that only covered one realm of musical expression.

Maybe to really understand how music came to be so vital to humans, we need to understand more about what a Palm Cockatoo could possibly derive from being able to sense the beat of something.

Ed:  or just shut up and play?

Still the best advice you can give any musician.

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