For Charles Darwin it was clear: neither the perception nor the production of music were “faculties of the least use to man." At the same occasion he also wrote that “[these faculties] must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.” (Darwin, 1871). Darwin's hunch was that music could be seen as a product of sexual selection, comparable to a male bird’s display of seductive feathers.
This week two of my favorite YouTube videos. They ilustrate - anecdotally - Darwin’s idea of music as a result of sexual selection (At least that is how you could interpret the behavior of these two great performers/musicians and their admiring audience ;-)
However, despite the attractiveness of Darwin’s idea (more recently elaborated by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey F. Miller in his book The Mating Mind) there are more arguments against than in favor of this line of thought. One being the fact that major differences could then be expected in the anatomy and behavior of men and women, as is the case where sexual selection in songbirds is concerned. Unlike with songbirds, whales, frogs, and other “song”-producing creatures, there is no substantial difference in the way men or women perceive or produce music nor in their physiology related to music processing (cf. Honing, 2011). The search for the origins of music continues...
Blute, M. (2003). [Book Review: The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature] The Quarterly Review of Biology, 78 (1), 129-130 DOI: 10.1086/377917
Honing, H. (in press, 2011) Musical Cognition. A Science of Listening. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.
Darwin, G. (1871) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.London: Murray (p. 878).