Monday, April 29, 2019

In search of the origins of musicality?

This week, George Miller in the Hedgehog and the Fox investigates the origins of human musicality by looking for musical ability and perception in other animals, including rhesus macaques, zebra finches, a cockatoo named Snowball, and Ronan, a headbanging California sea lion. Miller's guide to the Evolving Animal Orchestra, is Henkjan Honing, professor of music cognition at the University of Amsterdam.

Honing’s book is not about the origins of music, but the structure of musicality, that collection of attributes that enable us to make and appreciate music, such as perception of a regular beat or the ability to imitate a melody. If such traits are based on our cognitive abilities and biological predispositions, it makes sense to look for them in other animals. All sorts of fascinating hypotheses then open up: if musicality is a sensitivity that humans share with many non-human species, it may have preceded the development of music and of language, but enabled both.

Interested in the biological basis of music and musicality?

Lecture room at KNAW.

Get inspired during a masterclass on Musicality and Genetics that will be held at the KNAW - Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen on Wednesday 19 June 2019 in Amsterdam.

Register soon, and submit your abstract here, before May 15, 2019.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Is beat perception special?

Fleur Bouwer wonders. Behaviorally, temporal expectations seem to facilitate processing of events at expected time points, such as sounds that coincide with the beat in musical rhythm. Yet, temporal expectations can develop based on different forms of structure in the environment, not just the regularity afforded by a musical beat. Because still little is known about how different types of temporal expectations are neurally implemented and affect performance, she orthogonally manipulated the periodicity and predictability of rhythmic sequences to examine the mechanisms underlying beat-based and memory-based temporal expectations. The results are now accessible via BioRxiv.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Since when is music a topic for biologists?

Below the opening of a recent book review of The Evolving Animal Orchestra in Current Biology by Andrea Ravignani:
"Music is traditionally regarded as ‘intellectual property’ of the arts, humanities, and perhaps social sciences. Since when is music a topic for biologists? While Darwin and other naturalists had noticed crossspecies similarities to human musical behaviors, realizing the importance of musicality has contributed enormously to linking music and biology. In fact, while music is more of a cultural product, musicality denotes the neurobiological predispositions an organism uses to produce and process music. Henkjan Honing’s new book The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical is not about animals listening to human music or the like. It is a journey through cross-species musicality — that is, the neurobiology underlying musical behaviors in humans and other animals"
See the full review here.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Can all animals keep the beat?

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Darwin believed in the musicality of animals. The truth may be more interesting, says Simon Ings in the NewScientist of 3 April 2019:
"THE perception, if not the enjoyment, of musical cadences and of rhythm," wrote Darwin in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, "is probably common to all animals."
Henkjan Honing has tested this eminently reasonable idea, and in his book, The Evolving Animal Orchestra, he reports back. He details his disappointment, frustration and downright failure with such wit, humility and a love of the chase that any young person reading it will surely want to run away to become a cognitive scientist.
No culture has yet been found that doesn't have music, and all music shares certain universal characteristics: melodies composed of seven or fewer discrete pitches; a regular beat; a limited sequence of rhythmic patterns. All this would suggest a biological basis for musicality.
A bird flies with regular beats of its wings. Animals walk with a particular rhythm. So you might expect beat perception to be present in everything that doesn't want to falter when moving. But it isn't. Honing describes experiments that demonstrate conclusively that we are the only primates with a sense of rhythm, possibly deriving from advanced beat perception.
Only strongly social animals, he writes, from songbirds and parrots to elephants and humans, have beat perception. What if musicality was acquired by all prosocial species through a process of convergent evolution? Like some other cognitive scientists, Honing now wonders whether language might derive from music, in a similar way to how reading uses much older neural structures that recognise contrast and sharp corners.
Honing must now test this exciting hypothesis. And if The Evolving Animal Orchestra is how he responds to disappointment, I can't wait to see what he makes of success." – Simon Ings (NewScientist).