Evolution of Music in Comparative Perspective

William Tecumseh Sherman Fitch

Research output: Other contribution

77 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this paper, I briefly review some comparative data that provide an empirical basis for research on the evolution of music making in humans. First, a brief comparison of music and language leads to discussion of design features of music, suggesting a deep connection between the biology of music and language. I then selectively review data on animal "music." Examining sound production in animals, we find examples of repeated convergent evolution or analogy (the evolution of vocal learning of complex songs in birds, whales, and seals). A fascinating but overlooked potential homology to instrumental music is provided by manual percussion in African apes. Such comparative behavioral data, combined with neuroscientific and developmental data, provide an important starting point for any hypothesis about how or why human music evolved. Regarding these functional and phylogenetic questions, I discuss some previously proposed functions of music, including Pinker's "cheesecake" hypothesis; Darwin's and others' sexual selection model; Dunbar's group "grooming" hypothesis; and Trehub's caregiving model. I conclude that only the last hypothesis receives strong support from currently available data. I end with a brief synopsis of Darwin's model of a songlike musical "protolanguagel" concluding that Darwin's model is consistent with much of the available evidence concerning the evolution of both music and language. There is a rich future for empirical investigations of the evolution of music, both in investigations of individual differences among humans, and in interspecific investigations of musical abilities in other animals, especially those of our ape cousins, about which we know little.

Original languageEnglish
Volume1060
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Keywords

  • biomusicology
  • evolution of music
  • design features of music
  • comparative data
  • birdsong
  • whalesong
  • ape drumming
  • linguistics
  • communication
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • HUMAN SPEECH
  • LANGUAGE
  • ORIGIN
  • DISCRIMINATIONS
  • NEANDERTHAL
  • ADAPTATION
  • FACULTY
  • HUMANS
  • BRAIN

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