Set #5 (Lectures 12 & 13)
GOOD LUCK ON YOUR MIDTERMS! Lecture 12
February 16 , 2010
SUPPLEMENTARY READING: WHAT IS MUSIC?
*The reason the reading is not from the textbook is because music cognition does not generally
make it into textbooks. Its from a more popular book and gives you a good idea of the
fundamentals. It was written by a professor at McGill. Its a fairly new field; a lot of the research
has been done in the last 20 years. The very first textbook about music cognition was published this
First of all, we will look at why people study music in the first place.
The first thing is that music is really old! Some of the oldest found instruments are bone and
wooden flutes. The ones on the left are 7000-8000 years old, found at a site in China. The one
on the right, this is disputed, it is said to be between 43,000 and 82,000 years old. Just to give
you an idea, Homo sapiens were thought to have evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years
ago. This wooden flute is putting music pretty far back in human evolution. Some researchers
have put that farther, and said that perhaps we had simpler instruments before then, since
bone flutes are fairly complex, like drums. Perhaps before instruments, we used our voices.
There is evidence to support the fact that music is in fact rather old; weve had it for a long
time. This has led people to wonder why we have music in the first place.
One of the other cool things about music is that its everywhere! According to the
anthropological cultures, there are no known cultures that did not use music. Here are some
examples of music from other places. The first piece is from an instrument called the cora,
usually played in West Africa. Its fairly similar to the music were used to. The cora is a like
a cross between a harp and a lute. Then of course youve heard of Tibetan monks, and this is some of their throat singing. That is a cultivated sound that they really worked on, to get that
deep baritone in their chanting. This next one is water chanting produced by forest people
who live in a forest in rainforest. Its literally drumming on water. Theyre standing in the
There are some similarities across cultures. Just like you had universal language
characteristics, you get musical things that are also universal like a sense of rhythm, pitches,
The last thing about music is that its bigger than Elvis. To illustrate, in North America, people
spend more money on music than on pharmaceuticals. You have people spending money on
recorded music but also on radio and music lessons and elevator music and all that stuff.
People devote a lot of time and energy to music. Universities usually all have music
departments, whereas they dont have a home economics or a nutrition department.
There is a group of Indians in the Amazon rain forest and the women spend 1-2 hours every
morning and night singing. The men spend 1-2 hours in the early morning and evening. They
get up around 4:30 or even 1:30 and they spend a couple of hours singing; they are devoted to
this, that if the men dont get up to sing their parts, often the music will incorporate taunts to
the lazy people. We spend a lot of time and resources on music. This is time and resources
that we could spend on things like feeding ourselves or reproduction. This universalness of
music and how much time we spend on music led people to wonder why do we have music in
the first place?
There are a few theories for the evolutionary theories of music:
These are accounts that hypothesize that music evolved because it benefited survival or reproduction in some way. People who had musical abilities passed on their genes rather than the
people who didnt.
There are two different accounts:
1. The reproduction based account, that music is for mating. The idea here is that humans make
their music to attract their mates, just like the peacock has a beautiful tail to attract female
peacocks. Some evidence cited in favor of this is that popular male songwriters produce a lot
more music that popular female singers. Usually when you have a trait that is selected its
because of its reproductive benefits, its usually sexually dimorphic. It is usually present
more so in one sex than in the other. Just like in the peacock where only the male has the
feathers. If men are producing more music, that would be evidence that music is sexually
dimorphic. Also, male music productivity peaks around age 30, around the same time when
reproductive effort and mating energy peaks. There are things that are wrong with this
evidence. The main thing that people raise when they are questioning this theory of the
evolutionary origins of music is the first one. The idea here is that perhaps the productivity of
male song writers has to do with the way the music industry is shaped. This is based on a
survey of 7,000 randomly selected pieces of jazz, rock and classical music; its all Western
also. You would be hard pressed to find evidence that men are better at music than women.
Answering the question who is better, Bryan Adams or Celine Dion is difficult. The point
here is that is the argument is that music is sexually selective then it should be sexually
dimorphic, but there is evidence that it is not. This account is not the favored one. There is
inconclusive evidence. People favor the other account:
2. Music benefited survival in some way. People with musical abilities could survive long
enough to pass on their genes to the next generation better than the people that didnt have