From love songs to dance tunes to lullabies, music made in disparate cultures around the world displays some universal patterns, according to a research study by researchers suggesting a commonality in how human minds create music.
The research, released on November 21, centred on musical records and ethnographic reports from 60 societies around the world including such diverse cultures as the Highland Scots in Scotland, Nyangatom nomads in Ethiopia, Mentawaiian rainforest inhabitants in Indonesia, Saramaka descendant of African slaves in Suriname and Aranda hunter-gatherers in Australia.
Art became widely associated with activities such as childcare, dancing, romance, childbirth, marriages, funerals, wars, processions, and religious rituals.
According to Samuel Mehr, a psychology research associate at Harvard University and the lead author of the study published in the journal Science, the authors observed strong similarities in musical features across different cultures.
“The study gives credence to the idea that there is some kind of rules governing how music is produced worldwide by human minds. And we couldn’t test that until we had a lot of music data from many different cultures, “Mehr said.
An anthropology professor at the Penn State University, Luke Glowacki, study co-author, said many ethnomusicologists believe that the features in a given piece of music are most strongly influenced by the culture from which the music originates.
“We found a very different thing,” said Glowacki. “Instead of music being influenced solely by the society from which it originates, the piece of music’s social function affects its characteristics much more profoundly.” “Dance songs sound a certain way around the world because they have a specific function. Lullabies around the world, because they have a specific function, sound a certain way.
If music were shaped entirely by culture and not by human psychology, you would not expect these profound similarities to emerge in extremely diverse cultures, “added Glowacki.
Manvir Singh, a graduate student in the human evolutionary biology department of Harvard and another study co-author, noted that lullabies tend to be slow and fluid across communities, while dance songs tended to be fast, lively, melodic and whirling.
Hundreds of recordings from libraries and private collections worldwide were examined by the researchers.
“Remarkably, a lullaby, healing song or dance song from the British Isles or elsewhere in the world has many musical characteristics in common with the same kind of song from Australian hunter-gatherers or African horticulturalists,” Glowacki said.