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The re-emergence of an evolutionary perspective on the human mind over the last decade has resulted in the production of a range of different theories about music's evolutionary origins. Some writers have suggested that music has its evolutionary roots in animal "song", while others have proposed that music is a uniquely human behaviour. Some have argued that music is an evolutionary "by-product", an accident of nature that is inessential to human survival, while others envisage music as central in the evolution of the modem human mind. This paper briefly surveys these competing views and suggests that a proper consideration of the relation between music and evolution can only emerge from an understanding of music's identity in cultural context and its manifestations in early childhood and development; it concludes by reflecting on the nature of evidence for musical behaviours in the archaeological record. © 2001 by the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education.
Music, mind and evolution.
Ian Cross
Faculty of Music
University of Cambridge
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DP
tel: 01223 335185
fax: 01223 335067
(Psychology of Music, 2001, 29(1), pp95-102)
The re-emergence of an evolutionary perspective on the human mind over the
last decade has resulted in the production of a range of different theories
about music's evolutionary origins. Some writers have suggested that music
has its evolutionary roots in animal 'song', while others have proposed that
music is a uniquely human behaviour. Some have argued that music is an
evolutionary 'by-product', an accident of nature that is inessential to human
survival, while others envisage music as central in the evolution of the
modern human mind. This paper briefly surveys these competing views and
suggests that a proper consideration of the relation between music and
evolution can only emerge from an understanding of music's identity in
cultural context and its manifestations in early childhood and development; it
concludes by reflecting on the nature of evidence for musical behaviours in
the archaeological record.
Key words: Evolution, development, ethnomusicology, archaeology.
Music as human behaviour
Music is a complex and universal social behaviour. Every society that we
know of has something we can recognise as "music" (Blacking, 1995, p224),
and every member of those societies is musical. Granted, in contemporary
western culture there is a sharp distinction between those few who "produce"
music and the majority who "consume" it; but the fact that the majority can
"consume" music – listen to it, dance to it, and develop very strong
preferences about it – suggests that even the silent majority are musical in
having the capacity to understand music.
Research in cognitive science has revealed just how complex and special are
the mental processes involved even in an act as simple as listening to music,
and the discipline of ethnomusicology has shown just how diverse but how
central music is in the different cultures of the world. Yet music, for many
people, seems to be no more than a pleasing pastime, something enjoyable yet
However, the emergence of evolutionary psychology over the last decade has
prompted an increasing number of researchers to consider why it is that
humans have come to be musical. Some have proposed that music is just a
contingent by-product of evolution, something enjoyable but unimportant.
Others have come to the conclusion that music could have played a major role
in human evolution.
Behind human behaviours lie human minds, and behind human minds lie
embodied human brains. Accepting a materialist basis for human
behaviours, consideration of evolution's role in those behaviours seems
inescapable. But how just how much explanatory power has evolution in
respect of such a complex human behaviour as music?
It is generally agreed (outside Kansas) that our bodies are products of
evolutionary processes; humans share common – and quite recent, at around
5 million years – ancestry with the African great apes, and modern humans
stand at the end of a twig on the bush of primate evolution. We have come
about through the operation of the evolutionary processes of (i) random
variation, (ii) natural selection and (iii) differential reproduction. Random
variation leads to the emergence of organisms with a range of different
capacities; natural selection, operating through ecological pressures, leads to
the preferred survival of those types of organisms whose capacities are best
adapted to prevailing sets of circumstances, as these organisms that are best
adapted have a better chance of reproducing and passing on their genes than
do less well adapted organisms. These processes have left us as the only
species of human being presently to inhabit the earth.
Most people would accept that our brains, being part of our bodies, are also
understandable as products of evolution. However, many take exception to
the idea that our minds – even accepting that they have a material basis in our
brains – should be understood in terms of evolution, preferring to think of the
mind as being formed on the basis of our individual experiences within our
culture of origin. They reject the idea that our minds and our behaviours are
selected in and determined by our genes. In some ways this is not surprising.
The idea that our behaviours are "in" our genes appears to remove the notion
of free will, and it also seems very unlikely that we could ever account for the
complexity of all the interactions and shared ways of understanding that
make up human cultures in terms of genetic predispositions. However, the
idea that we can understand mind as a product of evolution does not force us
to accept an all-embracing "genetic determinism". Nevertheless, over the last
couple of decades many researchers have proposed a genetic basis for
complex behaviours such as music. Some have proposed that music is of
ancient evolutionary provenance: musicality is a capacity we share, in part,
with our primate relatives or even with birds.
The "ancient provenance" of music
Marler (2000), for example, uses the idea of "phonocoding" - the capacity to
"create new sound patterns by recombination simply to generate signal
diversity" – to argue that human music and birdsong share significant general
features that signal an evolutionary linkage. But though there is complex
sound pattern in birdsong and in human music, in traversing the
evolutionary space that separates birds and humans the incidence of the use
of complexly patterned sound diminishes vastly. When we reach our closest
evolutionary neighbours, the primates, we find a very limited stock of
complex sound patterns being produced and employed. Most researchers
into birdsong acknowledge that the relation between human music and
birdsong is one of analogy, not homology, a surface resemblance.
However, origins for aspects of music in the primate use of sound can be
envisaged; Merker (2000) suggests that a behaviour like chimpanzee fruit-
carnivalling, where chimps appear to signal the presence of abundant fruit
resources by loud but unsynchronised hooting, might have become modified
by the imposition of synchrony on the cries; by increasing the intensity of the
signal this would be an effective means of flagging the presence of rich food
supplies to exogamous females in the vicinity. Such a behaviour, Merker
suggests, might have been pursued in the hominid lineage, leading to the
establishment of synchronised sound-making as an evolutionarily adaptive
behaviour that could have been the basis for human music. Alternatively,
Miller (1997, 2001) has proposed that the musical behaviours involved in
performing are simply human manifestations of a capacity inherited from our
(male) primate ancestors for displays of "protean" – unpredictable –
behaviour, intended to attract mates; for Miller, music is operational in
evolutionary processes of sexual selection. Here musicality is a genetically
conditioned behaviour, and degrees of musicality are expressions of different
genetic endowments for protean behaviour.
In both these theories music is seen as an adaptive behaviour, one that has
played a significant role in human evolution. Others, such as Pinker (1997),
suggest that music is a pleasant but unnecessary by-product of evolution, an
activity that exploits human capacities – such as sensitivity to patterns in
pitch – which have arisen for adaptive reasons. However, Miller's and
Pinker's views – though not Merker's - can both be criticised for their
ethnocentricity; they treat "music" solely as patterned sound, or as the
perception of patterned sound, by mature individuals within western culture
over the last century. This type of "music" - commodified, technologised, and
alienated from the body - is not at all representative of what music is and has
been at other times and in other cultures, as we shall see.
Other researchers – including myself – prefer to interpret mature adult
behaviours as shaped by both biology and culture. The interactions with
other human beings, and with the products of those others, that we are
involved in throughout our infancy, childhood and adolescence, constitute a
major component of the ecology of the human mind, and while the types of
interactions might be constrained by evolutionary forces they are not solely
determined by them. Interaction with other humans leads to shared ways of
understanding, and those shared ways of understanding – those cultures –
play a significant role in shaping mature perceptions and cognitions.
The development of musical behaviour
In fact, the clearest traces of the impact of evolutionary processes on the mind
are evident not in encultured adult behaviours but in the capacities of the
infant mind. There is a vast amount of evidence (see, e.g., Keil, 1994; Spelke,
1999) that very young infants develop certain competences too quickly to be
explained as the outcome of learning processes that involve interaction with
the environment. Very young infants quickly cue in to behaviour that can be
interpreted as "goal-directed"; they react with surprise to events that they
experience as violating the laws of physics; and they respond appropriately to
different facial expressions. All this suggests that they are primed for a sort of
intuitive biology, physics, and psychology. And all human infants acquire
language quickly and expertly; they seem to come into the world "primed"
for language, though they require continuous linguistic interaction with other
humans in order for their language capacity to be fully expressed (see Pinker,
So evolution can be thought of as acting on the mind in terms of shaping
infant predispositions; infants and children are primed to deal with certain
types of information rapidly and expertly without being taught to do so.
Culture, in the form of human interactions that are shaped by common ways
of understanding, particularises the developmental trajectory of those
predispositions; so, for example, in the case of language, human interactions
lead to the acquisition of mature competence in a particular language with a
specific syntactic structure, lexicon, etc. If evolution has shaped the human
mind, it has probably selected at the level of infant predispositions, and
culture can be thought of as particularising – shaping into specific and
distinct forms - the expression of those predispositions.
Interestingly, infants appear to be primed for music. Sandra Trehub and her
collaborators (see, e.g., Trehub, Schellenberg & Hill, 1997) have demonstrated
that at six months infants are "rather capable listeners"; for example, they are
sensitive to melodic contoural constancy, experiencing as "the same" melodies
that share the same contour or pattern of ups-and-downs, even though the
pitches might have changed. Even younger infants show a capacity for
music; Colwyn Trevarthen (1999), and Hanus and Mechthild Papousek
(1996), have shown that infants display a range of "proto-musical behaviours"
in their interactions with their caregivers, using rhythm and pitch in a musical
way. These proto-musical behaviours consist not only of listening to sounds
but also of producing them and actively moving while doing so; as
Mechthild Papousek puts it (1996, p100), "regular synchronization of vocal
and kinaesthetic patterns provides the infant with multimodal sensory
information including tactile, kinaesthetic and visual information".
So it would appear more appropriate to understand the human
predisposition to be musical, rather than the expressions of that musicality
shown by mature individuals in particular cultures, as being a product of
evolutionary forces. And that predisposition to be musical is more than just a
tendency to be a competent listener; infant proto-musicality, as we have seen,
involves not just listening to but also producing patterns of sound in time,
and incorporates not just sound but action.
Music beyond the west
The fact that music is more than just patterned sound becomes obvious when
we look at and listen to musics that are beyond the bounds of contemporary
western culture; it seems that for most of the times and cultures that we know
of, their mature musics overtly involve not just sound, but action (Blacking,
1995, p241). Any attempt to find universal features in music must
acknowledge the embodied nature of music, the indivisibility of movement
and sound in characterising music across histories and societies.
But a cross-cultural perspective on music reveals that it also involves
multiplicity of reference and meaning; a piece or performance is
simultaneously capable of bearing many different meanings. Music can
function as a medium for communication with the dead for the Kaluli of
Papua New Guinea (Feld, 1982), binding birds, souls, places and people at a
time of transformation; music can be a mechanism for restructuring social
relations, as in the domba initiation of the Venda (Blacking, 1976); and music
binds the complex social, ritual and sexual dialogues that make up the "flower
songs" – hua'er – of northwest China (Yang, 1994; Tuohy, 1999). In all these
very different circumstances, music's meaning is rarely if ever explicit. Music
is about something, but its aboutness can vary from context to context, within
a context, and from individual to individual.
And music appears to have no immediate specifiable effects. Music neither
ploughs, sows, weaves nor feeds; in itself, music does not seem capable of
being a material cause of anything other than a transient hedonic encounter.
It seems to be inefficacious.
Music, then, has some "universal" characteristics - roots in sound and
movement, heterogeneity of meaning, a grounding in social interaction and a
personalised significance, together with an apparent inefficacy. So for present
purposes we can define "music" as follows:
Musics are those temporally patterned human activities, individual and social,
that involve the production and perception of sound and have no evident and
immediate efficacy or fixed consensual reference.
Why musicality ?
If this is what music is, then why should evolution have endowed us with the
capacity to do it? It seems pleasing, but not exactly essential for survival; in
some ways similar to language in using patterned sound in time, and possibly
sharing origins with language in some early hominid system that used both
sound and gesture for the communication of social information, but unlike
language in being unable to express unambiguous meaning. Nevertheless, a
good case can be made for music, or proto-musical behaviours, as being not
only useful but essential in individual cognitive development and in the
development of capacities for flexible social interaction (for a fuller account
see Cross, 1999 and Cross, in press). Music can be both a consequence-free
means of exploring social interaction and a "play-space" for rehearsing
processes necessary to achieve cognitive flexibility.
Music is specifically suited to the exploration of social interaction because of
its non-efficaciousness and its multiple potential meanings. For example,
each child in a group involved in a co-operative musical activity may
interpret that activity as something different yet the collective musical activity
is not threatened by the existence of potentially conflicting meanings. Music
provides for a child a medium for the gestation of a capacity for social
interaction, a risk-free space for the exploration of social behaviour that can
sustain otherwise potentially risky action and transaction.
The fact that music's significances can shift from situation to situation and
may even be simultaneously manifold also makes it helpful in the
development of a child's individual cognitive capacities. If music is about
anything, it exhibits a "transposable aboutness". And music's "transposable
aboutness" may be exploited in infancy as a means of forming connections
between different domains of infant competence such as the psychological,
the biological and the mechanical. Music, or proto-musical activity, can
sustain the emergence of a metaphorical domain, acting to create and to
maintain the cognitive flexibility that marks off humans from all other
Of course, what music is for infants and children is not necessarily what
music is for mature members of a culture. Culture shapes and particularises
proto-musical behaviours and propensities into specific forms for specific
functions, as Tolbert (this issue) makes clear. The capacity for multiple
meanings that characterises proto-musical activity is likely to underpin the
social functionality of music and to contribute to, but not to determine,
music’s meaning.
Music as evolutionary engine
The mature musics of different cultures may vary widely; but underlying
them are the attributes of infant proto-musicality. And it could be that the
potential of those attributes for individual cognitive development and social
interaction was significant in the very emergence of our species, Homo sapiens
sapiens. The principal feature that seems to mark us out is flexibility in
confronting the problems of survival; as a species, we appear to have been
much more versatile than our predecessors in dealing with habitat selection,
tool manufacture and choice, exploitation of natural resources, and
management of complex social relations.
For cognitive archaeologists such as Steven Mithen (Mithen, 1996) this
suggests that a fundamental change in the nature of the hominid mind
occurred in the transition to Homo sapiens sapiens; while some of our
predecessor species had very highly developed skills in discrete domains of
life (such as tool manufacture), we appear able to transfer expertise between
domains, or to develop expertise that is independent of any particular
domain. In other words, the modern human mind is characterised by
immense cognitive flexibility, and modern cultures can involve extremely
complex social structures. And given that it seems feasible that music plays a
role in the development of cognitive and social flexibility for modern human
infants, it could be that the emergence of proto-musical behaviours and their
cultural actualisation as music were crucial in precipitating the emergence of
the cognitive ands social flexibility that marks the appearance of Homo sapiens
sapiens (for alternative and complementary accounts of music's efficacy in
evolution see H. Papousek, 1996, Brown, 2000; Dissanayake, 2000; Tolbert,
this issue).
This proposal is not a statement of fact; it is a hypothesis, but one that seems
to fit well with the facts as known at present in psychology, biological
anthropology and archaeology. Indeed, archaeology tells us that the earliest
unambiguously musical artefact identified to date is a bone pipe found near
Württemberg in southern Germany; this is dated to around 36,000 BP1, and
was uncovered in a context that associates it with modern Homo sapiens
sapiens. Its date lies at the farther end of what has been called the "cultural
explosion" (Pfeiffer, 1985), the sudden efflorescence of visual art and symbolic
artefacts that marks the undoubted emergence of modern human cognitive
capacities. The archaeological record would suggest that musicality is human
and ancient; it is notable that the pipe predates almost all known visual art,
and in any case, a capacity for musicality (most likely, vocally expressed)
must predate the construction of a musical artefact, most likely by a
considerable period.
The origins of music
So music appears early in the prehistory of our species. Given the preceding
arguments for music's likely importance in human evolution, it would be
helpful have a better indication than at present of just when traces of musical
behaviour appear. But consideration of the role of music, or indeed of sound,
in our prehistory is still at an early stage; only lately have archaeologists
begun to explore the sound worlds of prehistory in any great detail (see, e.g.,
Dauvois, 1989; Waller, 1993; Lawson, Cross, Scarre, and Hills, 1998).
Much recent work in the archaeology of music involves experimental
archaeology: examining the processes involved in the production and use of
material artefacts, or the constraints afforded by particular prehistoric
environments (Watson and Keating, 1999) by empirical means in order to
provide a more secure context for the interpretation of human interaction
with artefacts and environments. Along with two archaeologists, Ezra
Zubrow and Frank Cowan, the present author is undertaking a project in the
experimental archaeology of music cognition. Knowing that humans in
Europe from Upper Palaeolithic cultures (from around 40,000 BP until about
14,000 BP) used stalagmitic rock formations in caves to produce "musical"
sounds (Dams, 1985), we reasoned that they might have used those types of
stone with which they were most familiar, flint tools, to make musical sounds.
The project is ongoing but already some intriguing results have been
produced. Upper Palaeolithic-type flint tools can be used almost like chime
bars; some produce extraordinarily clearly pitched and resonant notes, and
using these reconstructed stone-age tools to produce sounds resulted in
unique use-wear patterns2. In other words, if our ancestors were using flint
tools as musical sound-producing objects, we may now have a means of
1 The "Neanderthal flute" from Divje Babe (see Kunej and Turk, 2000) would predate this by
some 9,000 years, having been dated to around 45,000 BP. But the identity of the Divje Babe
bone(s) as musical is debated; it has been proposed by D'Errico and Villa (1997) that the wear
on the bone(s) resulted from carnivore activity rather than human action. Moreover, were
this to be a musical artefact, it would be almost the only evidence from a Neanderthal context
for the production of a "symbolising" artefact; the weight of evidence suggests that it is
unlikely – though possible – that this was a musical instrument.
2 For a preliminary report, see
identifying these. The next stage in the research is to look for 'tools' bearing
these patterns of use-wear in the archaeological record; they have not been
found before, but that may well be because no-one knew what to look for.
The usefulness of having a means of identifying musical use of stone – over
bone, wood etc. – is that stone goes much further back in the archaeological
record; if 'flint tools' were indeed being used to produce musical sound it
might be possible to track such artefacts back into the depths of prehistory in
an attempt to make out just when the production of musical sound might
have begun.
One thing we know for certain is that music leaves few traces – except in the
minds of those who engage with it. It is quite likely that the traces that it left
in our ancestors' minds still resonate in our contemporary, everyday world, in
the agility of our thought and in the complexity of our social interactions.
Without music, it could be that we would never have become human.
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... Music, a common and ancient medium of cultural expression and communication in all countries and cultures (Boer & Fischer, 2012), derives this ubiquity from shared neurological foundations that reflect the evolutionary origins of music (Cross, 2001;Overy & Molnar-Szacks, 2009;Peretz, 2006). A decision to embark on an exploration of whether song could play a role in DRR processes was prompted by evidence that song lyrics represent rich sources of information on people's beliefs, interpretations, motives and actions across a range of areas (Hu, Downie & Ehmann, 2009). ...
... Surprisingly, few studies have put to test the idea that audiovisual integration effects generalize to domains outside verbal behavior. This is particularly surprising considering music, since language and music share many perceptual and cognitive features [32][33][34] and they may have co-evolved during the emergence of human cognition 35,36 . What one hears and sees in both speaking and singing often shares temporal frequency and 37 . ...
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Activities such as ballet and other dance and rhythmic and artistic gymnastics are often recommended in childhood and adolescence. Among the many required motor capabilities to perform the activities above is flexibility. However, there is a gap between flexibility in scientific production and the proper use of this knowledge in dance classrooms. One of the reasons might be due to dance culture, which regards its knowledge to empirical learning. Many dancers believe that to improve their flexibility, the longer and the more intense they stretch, the better. The excess in the flexibility training might cause acute or even chronic injuries that may preclude dancers' performance without proper treatment. Although the range of motion represents flexibility, understanding how flexibility improves requires understanding how the muscle-tendon unit behaves to the stretches. This chapter aims to assess the flexibility; improve this capability; and explore differences in training, stretch technique, and some other variables that may affect flexibility performance in dance.
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The physiological alterations due to the variation in female hormones' concentrations, oestrogen and progesterone, will allow pregnancy or the period to occur. However, this hormone fluctuation across the menstrual cycle phases may affect way more than only the ability to get pregnant. Although the female hormones' primary action is related to the ovum's maturation and implantation, their variation causes many physiological and emotional secondary effects. It is expected that this interaction may, in turn, influence exercise performance, including dance performance; therefore, it is essential to understand better what happens in the body during the menstrual cycle. This understanding may allow better awareness and control of the symptoms, bringing a better quality of life and more remarkable dance performance.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider contemporary theoretical, neuroscientific, and pedagogical shifts in thinking about music listening and how these understandings might affect teachers’ pedagogical craft and the processes by which students develop their personal music listening craft. Responsive listening, deep listening, and creative music listening definitions will be explored, along with rationales for using multisensory pedagogical tools that have the potential to increase listeners’ awareness of their perceptual and affective responses to music. The sonic events of music, pedagogical strategies for facilitating music listening, and individuals’ personal attributes are the primary materials with which students and teachers might co-create—craft—deep access into music. Pedagogical craft involves the development and use of observational tools with which teachers learn from students about their prior music listening experiences and with which they subsequently scaffold students’ new music listening experiences. If we understand how, why, and what students are listening to outside of school, then perhaps music teachers can come closer to crafting pedagogical strategies for enhancing music listening skill development in schools. With the assistance of skilled and insightful instructional materials and strategies, then, students can develop their own music listening craft.
List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsPreface to the Second EditionIntroduction1. The Boy Who Became a Muni Bird2. To You They Are Birds, to Me They Are Voices in the Forest3. Weeping That Moves Women to Song4. The Poetics of Loss and Abandonment5. Song That Moves Men to Tears6. In the Form of a Bird: Kaluli AestheticsPostscript, 1989Appendix. Kaluli Folk OrnithologyGlossary of Kaluli TermsReferencesDiscographyIndex
Prehistoric monuments in Britain are often dominant features in the landscape, and archaeological theory has tended to consider the visual and spatial influences of their architecture upon peoples' movement and perception. The articulation of sound within these structures has not been widely discussed, despite evidence which suggests that many monuments provided settings for gatherings of people. This possibility was explored at two contrasting sites in Scotland, a recumbent stone circle and a passage-grave, revealing that the elemental acoustic properties inherent in each may have literally orchestrated encounters with the stones.
L'A. explore les significations du terme min'ge (chanson traditionnelle) dans la seconde moitie du 20 eme siecle en Republique Populaire de Chine. Il examine les systemes de classification de la musique folklorique, en relation avec d'autres categories musicales et des categories fondees sur les systemes de classification sociale, ainsi que les pratiques discursives qui assignent des valeurs sociales aux differents genres musicaux. A partir de la metaphore de la vie sociale des genres, il met en evidence la dynamique et la multiplicite des processus classificatoires des genres, et montre leur importance dans la vie sociale des gens en proposant 3 etudes de cas : l'analyse de la partie musicale d'un film de Chen Kaige (Huangtudi) ; l'etude des classifications publiees par des chercheurs (encyclopedies, anthologies, articles specialises, litterature populaire...) ; l'etude du genre traditionnel hua'er tel qu'il est represente dans les festivals et dans les medias.