Human Musicality Essay Sample
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Human Musicality Essay Sample
Music is a universal trait of humankind. Throughout the ages it has played a significant role in the lives of people in every part of the globe. This can be illustrated by imagining an internal soundtrack for each of the following vignettes. Fortaleza, Brazil: Nighttime revelers parade down the street by the light of flickering torches. The movements of the cabocolinhos (the dancers) are accompanied by drums, caracaxa (a scraped gourd), and flutes (Olsen 1980). Bayonne, New Jersey: A lonely, confused teenager sits brooding in his room. The headphones he wears are connected to a jambox (tape player), which is playing his favorite rock tapes. Barotesland, Ghana: Members of the Frafra tribe play on the Dagomba (a onestringed fiddle) and shake rattles to accompany workers who are cutting grass (Nketia 1974). The workers swing their machetes rhythmically in such a way that the cutting sounds are timed to fall on the main beats of the music. Sakaka, Saudi Arabia: As a nervous bride makes last-minute preparations, she can hear the strains of the professional orchestra that has been hired to entertain the wedding guests.
The Nawba, a suite of pieces, is being played on the ud (lute), nay (flute), and duff (tambourine) (Pacholczyk 1980). Madrid, Spain: Thousands of voices roar as the matador strides into the arena, followed by the banderilleros and picadores. Their measured pace is timed to a pasodoble played by the band. Subsequent phases of the bullfight will be introduced or accompanied by the blaring of trumpets. Roulers, Belgium: A nun sits in a corner of the convent garden. She is strumming lightly on a guitar and humming softly to herself. Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan: Mourners gather from all parts of the village at a mass burial for fallen soldiers. Their dirges are accompanied by the sound of a ritchak, a two-string lute whose sound box is made of a discarded, rectangular gasoline can (Malm 1967). Yenyuan, China: Peasant families have been assembled to hear speeches given by visiting political dignitaries. The ceremonies begin with the appropriate, stateapproved music played over loudspeakers. These examples give some indication of the tremendous amount of music there is in the world and the profound and pervasive influences music exerts on human life. But how do we account for the pervasiveness and universality of human musicality?
How did we come to be musical creatures? Is musicality indeed universal, and, if so, is it inherited or acquired? The purpose of this chapter is to explore some of these funadmental questions. Many of the issues raised herein will be visited in more detail in subsequent chapters. For the following discussions, musicality is defined as a responsiveness or sensitivity to musical stimuli. It also includes an appreciation or understanding of music, but does not necessarily include technical proficiency in musical performance (George and Hodges 1980). In this regard, all persons possess some degree of musicality, because everyone responds in some fashion to the music of his or her surrounding culture. Even severely and profoundly retarded individuals respond to music in a rudimentary way. To be totally amusical would require massive, almost total brain damage. The Musical Significance of Human Nature What is it about human beings that makes us unique, and how do our musical behaviors fit into this uniqueness? Is music separate from humanness, or is there evidence to support a view of music as an integral part of human nature? If we attempt to specify the ways in which human beings are unique and different from other animal species, we must quickly conclude that most, if not all, differences are in degree, not in kind.
That is, other animals may possess a particular trait similar to humans, but not to the same extent. For example, if we say that a distinctive characteristic of humankind is language, it is possible to point to communication among dolphins or the sign language learned by chimpanzees in certain experiments as rudimentary forms of the same behavior. Or if we say that social organizations are a human trait, a parallel might be found in the behaviors of bees or ants. We have elaborate rituals connected with death, but elephants have been observed engaging in what might be called a burial ceremony. Music may even have its animal counterpart in whale song—to a degree. However, it is the degree of human involvement in such behaviors as language, social organizations, rituals, and music that separates us from other animals. To say that our humanity arises from the degree of involvement we have in a specific behavior rather than the presence of that behavior implies that, while animals may exhibit rudimentary forms of certain human behaviors, differences between the animal and human versions are so vast as to make us unique.
Returning to language, it is true that chimpanzees may, in certain laboratory experiments, learn to communicate via sign language. But it is important to note that they are learning human sign language with the aid of human tutors. Chimpanzees left alone in their natural environment certainly do communicate with each other. However, after millions of years, they still have not developed advanced linguistic skills, and to compare their communication skills with human language is simply to point out the distinctive differences between humans and chimpanzees.1 “We” study, write, and talk about “them,” but, except in science fiction, “they” don’t put “us” in labs or stalk us in our natural habitats to learn more about us and our actions. (Neither do they hunt us to extinction nor undertake major efforts to preserve us.) The Bible refers to ants as a model for improving human behavior— “Go to the ant, you sluggard, watch her ways and get wisdom” (Proverbs 6:6). Do the ants ever refer to humans to improve their behavior? Those animals that do mating “dances” do not choreograph new steps for the next season; whale “songs,” for all their haunting lovlinesss, do not equate with the tremendous outpouring of music from all the world’s people.
If human beings are different from animals primarily in degree and not necessarily in kind of behaviors, how then can we be described? What is the nature of human nature? Such a question has engaged philosophers, scientists, and artists for centuries and is not likely to be answered completely in these pages. However, in order to set the stage for subsequent discussions, ten ways in which human beings are unique will be introduced. Following the more general discussion, some brief remarks about the relationship of music to each unique trait will be made. The ten topics are: biological differences, adaptability, cultural evolution, symbolic behaviors, love, religion, play, technology, knowledge, and aesthetic sensitivity. Biological Differences As Eagle indicated in chapter 1, we live in a universe, not a diverse, for all living things share certain characteristics. For example, the genetic material for all living things that provides the instructions necessary for reproduction is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Such primates as chimpanzees and apes are our closest relatives, so close that the genetic difference between man and chimpanzees is less than 2 percent and it takes a sophisticated biochemical analysis of our blood and that of a gorilla to tell the difference (Bodmer and McKie 1994).
Yet human beings are clearly recognizable as a species. Anatomically, the human hand is similar to that of a monkey species that lived 25 million years ago. However, even minor differences can have major consequences. For example, a gorilla’s hand is long and slender with a short, stubby thumb; our hands are short with long thumbs. Our longer thumb allows for a precision grip with the index finger and makes possible the manipulation of microelectrodes in neurosurgery and other similar feats of dexterity, such as playing the piano. Another example of an anatomical difference that also has profound consequences is found in the larynx. We have a vocal tract that allows us to speak and sing; no other primate can. Human beings also differ from other animals in the degree to which our behavior is controlled by inborn instructions. In birds, for example, such complex behaviors as nest building, flying south for the winter, and “singing” are largely the product of genetic hardwiring.
In terms of behavior, human beings inherit reflexes such as eye blinking and startle responses, basic expressive responses such as blushing and smiling, and life-sustaining actions such as suckling and swallowing. However, more complex behavior patterns are learned, not instinctive. In comparison to birds, we do not build houses, travel, or sing in a genetically predetermined manner. Anatomical variations and freedom from instincts notwithstanding, the most important difference between humans and other animals is our brain power. Those behaviors that make us distinctively human—language, art, religion, technology, and so on—are all generated from an enormous reservoir of potential. We start life with nearly three-fourths of the brain uncommitted to specific tasks, and there seem to be few limitations on what or how much might be learned (Farb 1978; Springer and Deutsch 1989).
4 Thus, it is our human biological potential that makes music possible. We are musical creatures because of our physical and mental makeup. Further exploration of this idea will be undertaken in considerable detail in subsequent chapters. Adaptability Most animals have a physical specialty. Jaguars are capable of blinding speed, eagles have incredible eyesight, bats fly by means of sophisticated echolocation. Human beings, it might be said, are mental specialists and physical generalists. That is, rather than coming to rely on brute strength, fast running, or a keen sense of smell, we opted for no particular physical specialty. In order to survive, we came to rely on quick wits and an ability to gain an advantage through mental means. Tremendous intellectual capabilities (including enormous amounts of uncommitted brain power), combined with a lack of predetermined behavior patterns (instincts) and a lack of reliance on a specific physical trait have given us freedoms that no other animals have. We have a freedom to become or to do nearly anything that we can conceive. Said another way, we are enormously plastic creatures.
We have survived in every possible climate—from deserts to arctic regions, from the depths of oceans to outer space. While other animals are destined to lead a lifestyle appropriate for their species, we have lived as nomads, nuns, and whalers. Another way of describing human adaptability is through a term used by Rene Dubos in his book, Celebrations of Life (1981). The term he used is invariants and he used it to describe how human beings everywhere can be so much the same and yet so very different. As human beings we all have certain invariant needs, but the way in which those needs are satisfied varies tremendously from group to group. The need for food is an invariant, as it is for all animals. But contrast the consistency of diet among members of a particular animal species with the variety in human diets. From vegetables to insects, human beings exhibit an amazing proclivity toward eating nearly anything that is edible. The need for food is an invariant, but particular diets are not.
An interesting time can be had by considering the multitudinous ways we realize other invariants—shelter: from igloo to marble palace; clothing: from Scottish kilt to Japanese kimono, and so on through a long list. All these invariants provide illustrations of human adaptability. Art is another human invariant; people in all times and in all places sing, draw, and dance. Our plasticity has led us to create sand paintings and stained-glass windows, limericks and novels, square dances and grand ballet, the huge stone heads on Easter Island and miniature ivory carvings of the Orient. In music we have the simplicity and immediacy of the African thumb piano as well as the complexity and grandeur of the pipe organ. We have the musical background to 15-second television commercials and four-hour Chinese operas. We are in art, as in all things, highly adaptable creatures. Cultural Evolution Another of the clearly distinguishing marks of humanity is the fact that we are the only species engaged in cultural evolution in addition to biological evolution. The general idea behind biological evolution is that organisms possessing an attribute beneficial to survival generally live longer and are thus more likely to confer the same attribute to their descendents.
Over hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, that attribute may come to be characteristic of all the members of a species— all elephants have trunks, for example. Human beings were originally shaped by biological evolution. However, at some point in our history, we began to override the system. We did this by changing our environment rather than having it change us (Dubos 1974; Pfeiffer 1969). Animals trying to exist in arctic climates developed various protective devices, such as heavy fur coats and thick layers of blubber, to combat the frigid temperatures. Humans caught in the same situation did not grow thick coverings of hair (though they did undergo some minor changes, such as the development of a slightly thicker layer of subcutaneous fat). Rather, they modified the environment; they created parkas and igloos and other means of surviving the bitter cold. Even now we continue to evolve primarily through cultural adaptations. Human culture includes all of our socially transmitted behavior patterns. Thus, our political, social, educational, economic, and religious institutions are a part of culture, as are all other products of human thought.
Also included in every culture are ways of enriching the sensory environment. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures are all manipulated, experimented with, and controlled to a certain degree. This interaction with the sensory environment leads to art, a primary aspect of culture. Culture also allows each generation to benefit from the accomplishments of the parent generation. Lamarck, a nineteenth century French biologist, believed that children inherited the acquired attributes of their parents. While this is clearly not true, it is true that much of human progress has been the result of a patient accumulation of knowledge over many generations. Even the quantam leaps made by such intellectual giants as Newton or Einstein were possible because of the foundations laid by others. Cooperation is a trait that, while observed in other species, has become a hallmark of human cultural evolution. We have often succeeded because of cooperative efforts. Division of labor is a means of allowing individuals time to devote to a task that may benefit the whole group. Contemporary societies continue to depend heavily on cooperation, perhaps even more than ever before.
Cooperation is also a prime requisite for group activities, such as athletic contests and music making. Culture is important in another way. Human beings are automatically biological members of the human race, but we must learn to behave as other humans do. The stored knowledge of a society allows each individual to become acculturated into that society. Learning to control bodily functions, walk, and talk, all require interactions with other human beings. Music can play an important role in the acculturation process. For example, being aware of the latest top 40 tunes is an important way for a teenager to be accepted by a peer group. Art has clearly played a major role in cultural evolution. Different groups of people in different times and places can be identified through their art works. Studying a group’s art provides unique insights into their character. In fact, it is not possible to know a tribe or nation fully without considering its art. Symbolic Behaviors One readily identifiable mark of human uniqueness is our highly developed capacity for symbolic behavior. This is perhaps most evident in our use of language.
Language makes it possible for us to communicate a wealth of ideas—from the functionality of the telephone book to the imagery of poetry. But while language is indispensible to human lifestyles, it is, nonetheless, inadequate for expressing the full range of human thought and feeling. In addition to language, we have developed a broad range of nonverbal symbolic behaviors, including mathematical symbols and computer languages, body language, and art. Symbols such as hair style, body adornments, and mode of dress can communicate an enormous amount of information about an individual or a group of people. Religious tenets are often expressed in a powerful way through symbols—the Star of David or the Crucifix are but two of many familiar examples. Nonverbal forms of communication would be unnecessary if we could express everything with words. However, nonverbal communication not only supplements and extends verbal communication, as in the use of gestures while speaking, but also provides for distinct modes of expression. Art provides a way of knowing and feeling that is not possible through any other means.
What is gained through an art experience can be discussed, analyzed, or shared verbally, but cannot be experienced verbally. Thus, a totem pole, portrait, or national anthem are artistic symbols that give humankind tremendously powerful means of communicating and sharing. Love Perhaps more than any other attribute thus far discussed, love demonstrates the truth of an earlier statement: Differences between humankind and other animals are ones more of degree than of kind. Any animal observer can certainly attest to the fact of loving behaviors among animals. Thus, rather than speculate on whether human beings love more than other animals do, suffice it to say that human beings have a tremendous need to love and to be loved. In fact, love is so important to human beings that without it we suffer severe physical and psychological consequences. Many illnesses might be traced to disabilities in the giving and receiving of love. Because it is so crucial to us, we have developed many ways of sharing and expressing love.
We murmer terms of endearment and struggle to articulate inner feelings in poetic verse. The sense of touch is vitally important in our expressions of love. Music, too, is an often-used vehicle. From the singing of lullabies to the crooning of love ballads, from the use of funeral dirges or wedding songs, music is a powerful means of communicating love from one to another. Alma maters, national anthems, and hymns are examples of ways we use music to express love of school and friends, love of country, and love of God. Play Human beings spend enormous amounts of time engaging in activities that do not seem at first glance to be necessary for biological survival. Even the amount of time we spend daydreaming while supposedly “at work” gives us evidence of that. Beyond daydreaming, there are many other activities we could list under a generic term such as play: athletic contests, reading, watching television, even visiting or gossiping with one another.
Celebrations, a formalized style of play, represent another of the human invariants that were discussed previously. All over the world, human beings find almost any excuse to celebrate. Beside obvious celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and religious holidays, we celebrate the coming of spring, important battles, and the gathering of the harvest. Celebrations are very much a part of human nature; likewise, singing and dancing are integral parts of celebrations. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any celebrations that have no music. That art and celebrations are interrelated is perhaps supportive of a particular viewpoint of the nature of art. In this view, art is a type of creative play (Pfeiffer 1969). Human beings are quite naturally intrigued by the surprise, adventure, and experimentation that come with the manipulation of objects, ideas, and sensory materials. Our very creativity is born of this sense of adventure and it brings us pleasure. In music, manipulating and experimenting with sounds is at the root of compositional activity.
Humor is a special kind of play. Whether physical comedy as in slapstick, or mental humor as in puns, we take great delight in twists and variations on the expected. There are many pieces of music in which the unexpected is likewise intended to elicit a mirthful response. Mozart’s Musical Joke is but one example. Religion Humankind is clearly marked by its spiritual nature. The need to consider a power beyond our own is so universal that it is deeply ingrained in human nature. While each of us must wrestle with the eternal questions—Who put us here? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?—societies have deemed the issues important enough that certain members of the community are assigned responsibility for such matters. Priest, shaman, rabbi, prophet, monk, muezzin—all are set aside to pursue answers to spiritual questions. Religious practices have been with us for a long time.
The Neanderthals left behind artifacts connected with burial rituals that indicate some sense of concern for the spirits of the dead as long as 60,000 years ago (Constable 1973). Even from the beginnings, as far as we have any knowledge of it, and certainly in all the practices since then, music has been a part of religious worship. This is so because language is inadequate to express fully our spiritual feelings; music can take us beyond the confines of words. Perhaps music and religion are so intertwined because both deal primarily with internal feelings rather than external facts. Whatever the reasons, religious beliefs and the expression of these beliefs through music are a ubiquitous fact of human nature. Technology From the time we learned to control and use fire to the time of computerization, humankind has been most conspicuous by our technological inventions. We are a toolmaking species and we seem always to be seeking ways to do a task easier, faster, better. Tools have extended our capabilities far beyond our physical limitations. It is entirely in keeping with our nature that we extend our toolmaking into other areas of life than work.
Consider athletics, for example; we are constantly improving on athletic “tools” that, within the rules, will give us an edge on the competition. The pole used in pole vaulting has changed in recent years from a rigid bamboo pole to a more pliant steel pole and finally to a highly flexible fiberglass pole. Golf balls that will fly farther, tennis rackets with a larger “sweet spot,” training devices with more and more gadgets, are all examples. Tools are used in music, too. In fact, all instruments are “tools” used to create sounds beyond the scope of the human voice. There is another connection between art and tools. Tools have always been made with an eye to something beyond functional design. Spear points and axe handles are created with attention to shape. Jugs—”tools” for carrying water—are shaped in a manner and with a flair that are not necessary for utilitarian purposes, but seem to be necessary for human pleasure. Some anthropologists even consider that the bow was first a musical instrument before it became a weapon. Other technological advances had their genesis in artistic pursuits. Techniques in metallurgy, welding and ceramics are but three examples.
Farb even states explicity that “the great advances in technology would obviously have been impossible without the human urge to explore new directions in artistic creativity” (Farb 1978, 75). Knowledge One of the unique traits of humankind is a natural propensity for seeking knowledge. Concepts of the human infant as a tabula rasa or as a passive organism reacting only to the environment are wrong. We are active seekers of knowledge. It is basic to human nature to be curious, to wonder, to explore, to discover. Knowledge can be gained through all the sense modalities. We can learn about our world by touch; for the blind this becomes an important avenue of information, a substitute way of “seeing.” Babies, in particular, explore their world through taste; everything goes immediately into the mouth. Smelling may seem like a less important means of gathering knowledge, but we can “know” something about a stranger based on body odor. Because the olfactory lobes are in close proximity to the site of long-term memory storage, remembrances of past events are often triggered by odors. Vision and hearing are primary means of gathering knowledge.
Some of the first things we know are learned through hearing. Our sense of hearing begins to function in the last few months of fetal development and babies recognize the sounds of their mother’s voice within a few days, if not sooner. Notice that what the baby “knows” about mother is not factual information but feelings— feelings associated with security and pleasure. This is an important concept to remember—that knowledge involves far more than facts. Music is an important way of knowing. Think, for a moment, of all the things one can learn or know through nursery songs, religious music, popular and commercial music (including music used in advertising, movies, and television shows), folk music, and art music. On a superficial level, one can learn the alphabet through music. At a deeper level, one can learn about foreign cultures through music. Finally, at perhaps the deepest level, one can learn more about oneself and gain insights into the human condition through music. Aesthetic Sensitivity
In all times and in all places, human beings have sought to create beauty. The variety of ways we have done so is nothing short of staggering. We have decorated our own bodies in nearly every way conceivable (though future generations will find still more ways). We have inserted disks in our lips, scarified and tatooed our arms and trunks, bound our feet, and stretched our necks. No part of our bodies has been immune from this process—we have painted our toenails and twisted, combed, shaped, and colored our hair into innumerable styles. Lest describing it in this way seems more like the behavior of aboriginies than modern, sophisticated Americans, consider that one of the “rages” of recent years has been the tanning parlor. For a sum of money, a person can step into a booth with virtually no clothes on, push some buttons, and toast his skin to just the right shade. What we have done to our bodies we have done to clothes, food, and dwellings. Beyond the decoration of our surroundings, human beings have always and everywhere explored every mode of sensory experience with an aesthetic sensitivity that is supremely characteristic of our species. The manipulation of sound, sight, space, and movement—the arts—have given us tremendous insights into the human condition and brought us much pleasure in the process.
To be human is to have the potential of perceiving and responding to artistic experiences with a depth of feeling. We are as much aesthetic creatures as we are physical, social, intellectual, emotional, and religious beings. Summary Human beings differ from other animals primarily in the extent to which we engage in certain behaviors. An overview of these differences has been presented under the following ten topics. Biological Differences Human beings are biologically unique in several important ways, including our freedom from instinctive behaviors and anatomical differences. However, the biological potential of our brains is what most separates us from the other animals. Adaptability Human beings are unique because of our high degree of adaptability. We have no physical specialty but are mental specialists instead.
The concept of invariants is useful in understanding how human beings express common needs in an infinite variety of behaviors. We are not bound to live our lives in a prescribed manner due to genetic programming, but we are free to adapt to many different lifestyles. Cultural Evolution We are the only animal species engaged in cultural evolution. Culture is the vehicle by which we continually adapt to our environment. It is also the way we share our accomplishments with each new generation. Symbolic Behaviors Verbal language is a very distinctive mark of our humanity. It allows us to communicate and express thought with precision or with imagery. We also have a broad repertoire of nonverbal symbolic behaviors. These are useful not only for supplementing words but also for expressing ourselves in ways that are impossible through words.
10 Love Human beings have a strong need to give and to receive love. The loving process is critical to the development and maintenance of a healthy personality. As is fitting with so important a behavior, we have devised numerous ways of sharing and expressing love. Play Play is not only pleasurable, it is an important and necessary part of human life. Play, in the formalized sense of celebrations, occupies a central place in all human cultures. Creative play comes from the manipulation of the sensory environment and contains elements of surprise and adventure. Play as humor is also found everywhere. Religion The need human beings have to worship seems to be so ingrained as to be a universal trait. As groups of people and as individuals, all human beings have considered questions of a spiritual nature. So important is our spiritual nature, that certain individuals within each group are set aside to handle matters of religious concern. Technology Sometimes we have been called the toolmaker. Our technological achievements have allowed us to make progress in nearly every field of human endeavor. Knowledge Human beings are characterized by their thirst for knowledge.
We are designed to be curious creatures. Our natural inquisitiveness has driven us to create a wide variety of ways of knowing. Aesthetic Sensitivity The human race has always been concerned with the notion of beauty. We are moved by the beauty we experience in our natural world and also by that which we have created. Creating and/or responding to beauty is part and parcel of being human. These, then, are some of the ways we are unique. While this is but a brief introduction, the significant role that music plays in human nature should already be apparent.
Music is not a separate, trivial, side issue of being human; rather, musicality is at the core of what it means to be human. As Thomas has stated: I believe fervently in our species and have no patience with the current fashion of running down the human being as a useful part of nature. On the contrary, we are a spectacular, splendid manifestation of life. We have language and can build metaphors as skillfully and precisely as ribosomes make proteins. We have affection. We have genes for usefulness, and usefulness is about as close to a “common goal” for all of nature as I can guess at. And finally, and perhaps best of all, we have music. Any species capable of producing, at this earliest, juvenile stage of its development—almost instantly after emerging on the earth by any evolutionary standard—the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, cannot be all bad. (Thomas 1979, 16– 17) Why Are We Musical? Speculations on the Evolutionary Plausibility of Musical Behavior In considering the nature of human musicality, one might reasonably wonder why we are musical at all and how did we come to be this way? Oddly enough, there are frequent statements in the literature that make it appear as if there is no known reason for music.2 “Musical skills are not essential so far as we know” (Brown 1981, 8).
“Reactions to music are not obviously of direct biological significance” (Dowling and Harwood 1986, 202). One “might ask why evolution should have provided us with such complex innate machinery, for which there is no evident survival value” (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983, 232–33). “Why do we respond emotionally to music, when the messages therein seem to be of no obvious survival value?” (Roederer 1982, 38). “Why do we have music, and let it occupy our lives with no apparent reason?” (Minsky 1982, 12). These statements are all the more puzzling since it is becoming increasingly clear that every human being has “a biologic guarantee of musicianship” (Wilson 1986, 2). This is so because genetic instructions create a brain and body that are predisposed to be musical. Just as we are born to be linguistic, with the specific language to be learned determined by the culture, so we are born with the means to be responsive to the music of our culture. If music does not confer any survival benefits, why would it be provided for in our neurophysiological structures? Why would it have developed to the point where it is a universal trait of our species? A place to begin looking for answers is with the central focus of evolutionary theory. Attributes that confer survival benefits upon members of a species, whether arrived at through genetic mutation or adaptation to the environment, are passed on to offspring.
Stronger members of a species, by virtue of these attributes, are more likely to live longer and to produce more offspring; thus, the attributes they possess are more likely to be promoted until such time as all members of the species possess the same attributes. In this way did the cheetah get its speed and the giraffe its long neck. One way of getting at the evolutionary basis for music is to look at the primary element of all music, rhythm. Before proceeding any further, however, a cautionary note must be put forward. While the following discussion is as based on data as possible, much of it is speculative. Because the earliest examples of musical behavior left no fossilized remains, there are no records, no direct vestiges. There are many secondary sources from which to deduce early musical behaviors.3 But in the final analysis, all one can offer is a best guess based on the scant information available. Rhythm, a Fundamental Life Process One of the tenets of quantum physics is that everything that exists is in a state of vibration. Atoms vibrate at rates of a million billion times per second, while the sun vibrates with a period of five minutes (Chen 1983, 392). Helioseismology is the study of the sun’s oscillations and astronomers tell us that the galaxies and the entire universe are in states of vibration.
Human beings live in what we perceive to be a rhythmic environment, based on observations of periodicities. Seasons of the year, phases of the moon, and periods of daylight and dark follow in regular, timely patterns. Our bodies, too, operate on rhythmic patterns. Heart and breathing rates are two of the more obvious bodily processes that are periodic. Brain waves, hormonal outputs, and sleeping patterns are examples of the more than 100 complex oscillations monitored by the brain (Farb 1978, 293). Chronobiologists, those who study body rhythms, believe that rhythm is such an important part of life that a lack of it can indicate illness. For example, complex forms of dysrhythmia may be a symptom of autism, manic depression, or schizophrenia; dysrhythmia can also indicate dyslexia or other learning disabilities (Bohannan 1983; Condon 1982; Wehr 1982). The impact of rhythmic experiences is widespread. Rhythm is a critical factor in language acquisition. Also, infants who receive stimulation through rocking or other body movements gain weight faster, develop vision and hearing acuity faster, and acquire regularity of sleep cycles at a younger age. Perhaps even more important is the fact that the cerebellum is directly linked to the limbic system, specifically a region of the hypothalamus known as the pleasure center.
The result is that body movement brings pleasure. Infants deprived of movement and closeness will fail to develop brain pathways that mediate pleasure (Restak 1979; see also Eccles and Robinson 1985; McCall 1979; Restak 1983). Integration into environmental rhythms begins at birth with the onset of rhythmic breathing and continues as the baby gradually adapts to the rhythmic cycles of the world into which it has been born. Over the next months, the patterns of family life, particularly the parent’s cycle of activity and rest, will condition and shape the baby’s social rhythms. This is highly important, since nearly all social interactions are rhythmically based. Researchers have discovered that “persons involved in social interactions unconsciously move ‘in space’ with one another through a rhythmic coordination of gestures and movements which exhibit all the characteristics of a dance” (Montagu and Matson 1979, 150). Using sophisticated film equipment that allows projection at very slow or very fast speeds, these researchers have filmed such diverse social interactions as two people in conversation and family gatherings.
Often the synchronous movements of the participants are so rhythmic they can be coordinated with music as if they had been choreographed. In fact, one researcher, Hall (1976), did exactly that. First, he filmed children on a playground. After extensive study of the four and a half minute film, he began to see how synchronized the children’s movements were. When he later found some music to accompany the film clip, the synchronization between the children’s movements and the music was so exact that people could not believe it had not been previously choreographed. The rhythmic aspects of human behavior are so powerful that entrainment is possible (Hall 1976; see also Brown and Graeber 1982; Davis 1982; Evans and Clynes 1986). Entrainment occurs when two or more persons become attuned to the same rhythm. Nonhuman examples of entrainment include a school of fish or a flying V of migrating birds changing directions suddenly. Human entrainment has been demonstrated experimentally when two people in conversation produced brain wave tracings so identical as to appear to have emanated from the same person. Entrainment may also be operating in riots and other large crowd behaviors. Musical entrainment probably occurs at nearly any concert, but is particularly evident in overt audience behaviors such as at rock concerts.
13 In the midst of all these physiological, environmental, and social rhythms, it is important to consider the fact that human beings are much more time independent than other living things. Plants thrive or wither depending on the time of year. Likewise, many animals, especially the cold-blooded ones, are dependent upon time cycles (light/dark, heat/cold) for their existence. Human beings, instead, rely on homeostasis to provide an internal environment that is relatively constant and somewhat independent of external events. Thus, our internal body temperature varies only one or two degrees above or below 98.6ºF, whether it is blazing summer or bone-chilling winter. At the same time, “strategies were acquired by the brain in its fundamental operations of knowing, learning and remembering, which mediate the relationship between the internal environment of mind and the external environment of the world. They supply psychological sameness, as homeostasis provides biological sameness” (Campbell 1986, 55–56).
Hearing is a primary sense through which we create a stable, inner world of time. Millions of years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, mammals, then just small forest creatures, were forced to hunt at night for safety’s sake. Hunting at night requires a keen sense of hearing. Sound events occurring across time must be ordered to become meaningful. A rustling of leaves may indicate a predator approaching or prey retreating. Thus, evolution provided us with a remarkable capacity to interpret sounds that are time ordered. “To hear a sequence of rustling noises in dry leaves as a connected pattern of movements in space is a very primitive version of the ability to hear, say, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony as a piece of music, entire, rather than as momentary sounds which come and then are no more . . .” (Campbell 1986, 263–64). This discussion has suggested some of the reasons we are rhythmic creatures and how our ability to deal with time-ordered behavior may have evolved. It does not yet tell us, however, specifically why musical behaviors were necessary. Some aspects of rhythmic and time-ordered behavior are just as true of speech as they are of music. What advantages did music confer on human beings so that it has become a species-specific trait? Because evolution works too stingily to assign only one function to each trait, there are several possible ways music may have conferred survival benefits on humankind.
These are organized under four headings: motherinfant bonding, the acquisition of language, a unique mode of knowing, and social organization. Mother-Infant Bonding In consideration of the survival benefits music has to offer, the evolutionary advantage of the smile, like music a universally innate human trait, provides a useful analogy. From a more recent, cultural evolutionary standpoint, the smile has taken on many diverse meanings. However, from a biological evolutionary standpoint, the primary survival benefit may have been the bonding of mother and infant (Konner 1987). Likewise, music has many widely diverse cultural meanings today. However, at its roots it may also have had survival benefits in connection with mother-infant bonding. The first step in arriving at this conclusion is to look at the evolutionary history of the brain. Australopithecus africanus, a small, humanlike primate that evolved nearly five million years ago, had a brain of about 500 cc (Cowan 1979; Feldenkrais 1979; Jastrow 1981; Montagu 1979; Sagan 1977).
Today, the average adult human brain is about 1450 cc and weighs about three pounds. In the womb, the brain of the fetus grows at the rate of 250,000 brain cells per minute. At birth, the brain is 12 percent of the total body weight, but even then it is incompletely developed. It takes the next six years for the brain to reach 90 percent of its adult size, when it will represent approximately 2 percent of body weight. This is in contrast to rhesus monkeys, for example, who are born with a brain that is already 75 percent of its eventual adult size. If the human fetus were carried “full term” in terms of brain development, the head would be too large to pass through the birth canal and we would be unable to be delivered. The evolutionary solution to this problem was that we are now born with our brains incompletely developed. At birth, the skull bones are not yet knit together, allowing for increase in brain mass. The result of this postpartum brain development is an increased period of dependency of infants on their parents.
Compared with any other animal species, human infants are more helpless and for a far longer time. The fact that human mothers most often give birth to single babies rather than litters means that more time may be devoted to the individual child. While the baby is in this stage, he or she is growing, developing, and learning at a tremendous rate. Nearly 75 percent of a newborn’s cerebral cortex is uncommitted to specific behaviors (Farb 1978, Springer and Deutsch 1989). This uncommitted gray matter, called association areas, allows for the integration and synthesis of sensory inputs in novel ways. It is in this way that human ingenuity is possible. Human behaviors are not instinctive, but acquired, and it is during this period of extended infant dependency that we acquire many important human behaviors.4 Mothers and newborns confer many important physiological and psychological benefits on each other and perhaps chief among the many behaviors that are first observed at this point are loving behaviors. Babies learn to love almost immediately and in turn are nurtured by love. The importance of these loving interactions cannot be overstated.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, records kept in American and European foundling homes indicated that infants under one year of age who were placed in these homes suffered a death rate of nearly 100 percent. This syndrome was so prevalent that many homes would enter “condition hopeless” into the records when the baby was first received because they knew that the child was destined to perish. The condition was even given a name—marasmus, a Greek word meaning “wasting away” (Farb 1978; Montagu 1977 and 1978; Montagu and Matson 1979). For a long time the authorities were unable to trace the cause of the malady; it seemed not to lie in poor diet nor in lack of clothing or shelter. Eventually, the cause of and cure for the problem was discovered in a German foundling home.
Soon after the hiring of an elderly woman, the babies began to survive. This old lady merely spent time every day loving each infant. They had been dying from lack of love. (Modern nursing literature recognizes “nonorganic failure-to-thrive” infants as those with acute, life-threatening physical symptoms, as well as potential for longterm psychological and emotional problems. See Beck 1993; Colloton 1989.) Love and affection are communicated to a baby through a number of ways. Speaking, singing, and touching are three primary modes of communicating with infants. Some psychologists have coined the term motherese in reference to the particular kind of speech patterns mothers use with their infants (Birdsong 1984).
The musical aspects of motherese are critically important, not only as an aid to language acquisition, but especially in the communication of emotions. Long before youngsters begin to talk, they are adept at deciphering the emotional content of speech, largely due to the musical characteristics of motherese. In motherese speech, it is the pitch, timbral, dynamic, and rhythmic aspects to which the baby responds, certainly not the verbal content. “You are an ugly baby” spoken in a soft, sing-song fashion will elicit a far more positive response than “you are a beautiful baby” shouted in an angry tone. Of course, the communication system is a two-way affair. Babies, too, are learning to give love as well as receive it. Vocalizations are a primary way babies express their feelings (Fridman 1973; Roberts 1987). Even in the first few days, babies begin to establish a relationship with their parents through their cries. In the first few months of life, they develop a wider range of crying styles that form a particular kind of infant language. The development of variations in crying styles is important to emotional development, in providing cues to parents regarding their state, and in practicing for the eventual development of language. Babies learn to cry to gain attention and to express an increasing range of feelings.
Because their vocalizations are nonverbal, it is once again the manipulation of pitch, timbre, rhythm, and dynamics that forms the basis of their communications system. Survival benefits of musical behaviors in terms of mother-infant bonding may be summarized in three steps. (1) As the human brain increased in size over millions of years, it was necessary for birth to occur before the brain reached full development. Likewise, this increased the period of postpartum infant dependency to the point where human infants are totally helpless for an extended length of time. (2) During the period of infant dependency it is critically important for the baby to receive love and affection. Research into the condition identified as marasmus shows that a baby less than one year old will die without enough love. (3) Musical elements are primary means of communicating love and affection to a newborn. These elements include rhythmic behaviors such as rocking, patting, and stroking and the modulation of pitch, timbre, dynamics, and rhythm in both speaking and singing. As the cranial capacity and length of infant dependency increased, there would clearly be survival benefits in building in a responsiveness to nonverbal forms of communication.
Even if the earliest examples of these behaviors were what might be called “premusical,” cultural evolution could easily have taken advantage of the inherent possibilities once the responsiveness was built in. Imagine a small tribe of people living many thousands of years ago. A mother sits cradling a newborn baby in her arms. This baby will be totally dependent upon her for all the basic necessities of life—food, clothing, shelter, protection—for nearly two years and somewhat dependent upon her for many years after that. If the baby did not respond to anything related to musical or premusical behaviors, how would the mother communicate love? And if the mother could not communicate love, how would the baby survive? And if the baby could not survive, how could the species survive? Fortunately, the baby has an inborn capacity to respond to a wide range of premusical expressions. A large part of this inborn response mechanism must deal with some notion of pleasure. Warmth, assurance, security, contentedness, even nascent feelings of happiness are all a part of what is being shared with the baby. If these responses to pre-musical activities were wired into the brain, is it not understandable that music still brings us deep pleasure long after cultural evolution has developed these premusical behaviors into bagpipes, grand opera, or gamelan orchestras?
The Acquisition of Language A second means of conferring survival benefits through music is in the acquisition of language. Acquiring language skills is one of the most important steps to be taken for the survival of the human species and attributes that would assist in this process would thus be selected for their advantages. The musical aspects of language have already been mentioned; melodic contour, timbre variations, and rhythm are of primary importance to speech. One of the outcomes of the mother-infant dyad discussed previously is that the baby becomes motivated to recognize and respond to sound patterns that will later become necessary for speech perception. When parents communicate with their infants, their “baby talk” quite naturally emphasizes the melodic, timbral, and rhythmic aspects used in the native tongue. Two related experiments demonstrated how alert babies are to sounds (Restak 1983). Three-month-old infants were shown two cartoons simultaneously while the sound track of only one played in the background. The babies stared selectively at the cartoon whose sound was being played. In the second experiment, two cartoons were superimposed, again with the sound track of only one played. As the cartoons were gradually separated, the babies followed the one being accompanied by sound.
Clearly, we have inborn mechanisms that orient us toward sound. Rhythm also plays a crucial role in language acquisition. Newborns move their limbs in rhythm to the speech they hear around them (Bohannan 1981). If they hear a different language, their rhythms will change subtly. Rhythmic activities in the acquisition of language are so important that they form the basis for acquiring cognitive expectancies and for interrelating cognition and affect (Stern 1982). According to Campbell 1986, the ability to interpret microtimed intervals exists only for speech and music and nowhere else. Simultaneously with the acquisition of the mechanics of listening to and producing speech, infants are learning other useful information through the musical aspects of communication. They are learning that there are important nonverbal messages to be sent and received. Almost any utterance can be spoken with an infinite variety of shadings and resultant meanings. Through such means as body language, context, and primarily through the musical aspects of speech (prosody), one can express the “real” meaning behind the words.
In terms of biological evolution, equipping the brain with neural systems that have the ability to produce and interpret both verbal and nonverbal messages was a crucial step in our survival. Considerable data (presented in chap. 7) exist to document that language and music are processed by different neural mechanisms. One survival benefit of the musical aspects of the brain may be in the acquisition of language. Infants are predisposed to orient toward sounds. Interchanges with adults who use motherese speech motivate the baby to pay attention to the melodic contours, timbres, and rhythms of speech. The baby is also learning to perceive and emit sound with both emotional and cognitive content. A Unique Mode of Knowing The preceding discussion of music’s role in the acquisition of speech may have seemed to place it in a secondary or supporting role. But remembering that there may be multiple functions for the same attribute, the third survival benefit of music is that it provides a unique mode of knowing: It has immense value in and of itself. In Frames of Mind (1983), Howard Gardner posited his theory of multiple intelligences. In opposition to a single indicator of intelligence, the I.Q. score, Gardner proposed the following seven: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence.
Each of these types of intelligence was included on the basis of eight criteria: potential isolation by brain damage; the existence of prodigies, idiot savants, and other exceptional individuals; an identifiable core operation or set of operations; a distinctive developmental history, along with a definable set of expert “end-state” performances; an evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility; support from experimental psychological tasks; support from psychometric findings; and susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system. Each intelligence, or mode of knowing, is uniquely suited to allow human beings to understand the universe in which we live in a unique way. One is not better than another, they are just different. Thus, as powerful as language is, it is limited in what it can communicate. Some of the most important human concepts, such as truth, beauty, justice, love, and faith, can be learned and understood through nonverbal experiences as well as through the use of words. Moreover, it is possible to “think” artistically. The Mozart Requiem and a Lebanese funeral lament represent musical thinking on the subject of death.
Why is this important to human survival? The ability of the human race to survive in this world was not dependent upon physical prowess in terms of strength, speed, eyesight, or sense of smell. It depended upon what could be learned. Human beings needed to know about themselves and the world in as many different ways as possible in order to compete successfully. Much of musical thinking may be placed under a broader heading of play. While this may seem, once again, like a denigration of music, there are, in actuality, significant evolutionary advantages to play. The importance of play is understood more clearly when seen in the fullest sense of exploring, examining, and problem solving (Brown 1994). Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for human beings it has led to discoveries and inventions that have aided survival. Playing with every aspect of the environment has led both to the “invention” of the spear and to the songs and dances that accompany the hunt and the battle. Which is more important? Are not both necessary for survival? There are indeed significant survival premiums in play, generally, and in musical play, specifically.
What human beings have learned about themselves and the world through music has been of tremendous benefit. Perhaps the most important thing human beings have learned through music is how to deal with feelings. Although certain emotional responses may be inborn as a protective mechanism, by and large we have to learn to recognize and express feelings, as the previous discussion of learning to love indicated. One of the hallmarks of humanness is a sensitivity to feelings that allows for many subtle nuances. Being fully human means to experience the infinite shadings that exist between the polar ends of emotional states.
Our experience of these finely feathered feelings is essentially nonverbal. Notice how limited our vocabulary is in this area and how often we experience difficulty in telling another exactly how we feel. Music may provide a means of conferring survival benefits through the socialization of emotions. When group living is mandatory for survival, as it is for human beings, learning to react to others with sensitivity has clear evolutionary advantages. Lions hunt in groups; however, after a kill has been made each individual fights for his or her share. The biggest and strongest get the most to eat. This display of aggression at feeding time necessitates a subsequent period of licking and rubbing—”making up.” This is necessary to keep the social bonds of the pride in place (Joubart 1994). Listening to the daily news is all one needs to do to realize that human beings still have to deal with many aggressive behaviors in our societies. We need to find ways to separate actions from feelings.
How does one feel anger without acting on it? How does one avoid giving in to loneliness and despair? These are extreme examples, but at all levels of feeling it is important to learn how to feel deeply without always resorting to action. Music is one of the most powerful outlets for expressing emotions. One can learn to cope with grief, frustration, and anger or to express joy and love through musical experiences. Each of the seven types of intelligence proposed by Gardner developed because it provides a unique way of knowing about the world. Each type of intelligence may be better suited for providing information about different apects of the inner and outer worlds of human beings. Music, no better and no worse than other types of intelligence, provides it own type of information. Music is particularly useful in providing a medium for dealing with the complex emotional responses that are primary attributes of humanity. Clearly, developing means of controlling and refining emotions would have evolutionary advantages. Social Organization A fourth avenue of approach to the possibility of survival benefits being conferred by musical behaviors has to do with social organization (Roederer 1984; Stiller 1987).
For prehistoric societies, cooperation was vital for hunting, gathering, protection (from the elements, animals, and enemies), and for the creation of the family unit; a social network was necessary for survival of the human species. Music may have conferred survival benefits in two ways related to social organization: (1) music is a powerful unifying force, and (2) music is a powerful mnemonic device. Consider, once again, a prehistoric tribe. To the extent that members of the tribe are committed to each other as a group, to that extent survival is possible. If the group scatters at the first sign of danger, the individuals will have a much more difficult time of coping. Behaviors that help promote the notion of group identity would be of immense value. One of music’s strongest attributes is that it brings people together for a common purpose. For there to be a feeling of unity, some common ideas, goals, visions, dreams, and beliefs must be shared. What better way to share them than through music and dance?
Members of a tribe are often bonded together by common religious beliefs and these are frequently expressed through music. Members of one tribe must band together to fight off members of another tribe. Music gives courage to those going off to battle and it gives comfort to those who must stay behind. Much of the work of a tribal community requires the coordination of many laborers; music not only provides for synchronous movement but also for relief from tedium. These are but a few of the many ways music may have supplied a unifying force to early communities. Memory is also of crucial importance to the survival of a society. Not only is memory of a technological nature important—when best to plant? where best to find game? how best to start a fire?—but also the things that make the society unique and special. Who are we? Where did we come from? What makes us better than our enemies who live on the other side of the river? Music is one of the most effective mnemonic devices; it enables preliterate societies to retain information, not just facts, but the feelings that accompany the facts as well.
Poems, songs, and dances are primary vehicles for the transmission of a heritage. Summary As this discussion has shown, the evolutionary process provided human beings with an innate capacity for musical responsiveness. Some of the attributes necessary for musical behaviors came as we developed more sophisticated means of adapting to our rhythmic environment. Our sense of hearing conferred advantages as a means of dealing with time-ordered events. More specifically, music may have provided survival benefits by helping to establish mother-infant bonds, by aiding in the acquisition of language, by providing a unique way of knowing, and by playing important roles in social organization. Speaking only of music may have made it seem more important than it is in the overall scheme of human development. The notion that music is the most important attribute necessary for survival is patently absurd. But the opposite notion—that music is nonessential—is no less misleading.
Speaking of an outpourng of artistic expression among human beings 30–35,000 years ago, Pfeiffer said: “It represents activity as basic for the survivial of the human species as reproducing, getting food, or keeping predators at bay” (1980, 74). What has been put forward is an attempt to account for the ubiquitous presence of musical behaviors in human beings. Aside from the fact that this discussion might be interesting to some, it carries a vital message for all. The message is that music is no mere fluke; we are not musical because of a quirk of nature. We are musical because music, like language and all the other forms of intelligence we possess, played (and continues to play) an important role in shaping our humanity. If music is a built-in system, put there because of its importance, it must be important for us still to engage in musical behaviors. Musicians (performers, educators, therapists, et al.) know that music is important through direct experience and involvement; additional support now comes in the form of a plausible theory of music’s evolutionary development. Is Musicality Inherited or Acquired?
If, indeed, there is an evolutionary basis for musicality, obviously some aspects are genetically controlled. The discussion has indicated that we are not controlled by instincts, so, just as obviously, certain aspects of musicality are not genetically controlled, but must be learned. The extent to which human musicality is inherited or acquired has been and continues to be a subject of controversy. Various individuals have taken positions at either end of the continuum. Seashore expressed the views of those at one end. On the basis of our experiments in measuring these sensory capacities, we find that the basic capacities, the sense of pitch, the sense of time, the sense of loudness, and the sense of timbre are elemental, by which we mean that they are largely inborn and function from very early childhood (Seashore 1938, 3).
The opposite viewpoint was expressed by Lundin. Although he recognized that certain biological factors are inherited, he stated quite clearly that ”musical behavior is acquired through a long process of individual interaction with musical stimuli” (Lundin 1976, 220). In the next three sections, data supporting each extreme position will be presented, along with a proposed compromise position. Data in Support of the Inheritance of Musical Attributes As noted previously, various writers have theorized the inheritance of musical ability (Bentley 1966; Drake 1957; Kwalwasser 1955; Rowley 1988; Scheinfleld 1956; Schoen 1940; Seashore 1919, 1938, 1947; Shuter-Dyson and Gabriel 1981; Wing 1963), while others have attempted to provide data to support such a theory. The following conclusions have been drawn from the available research. 1. Genealogical studies have been conducted on musicians’ family backgrounds that indicate that the higher the incidence of musical behavior exhibited by the parents, the greater the likelihood the children will be musical (Galton 1869; Mjoen 1926).
2. Correlational studies have yielded data on the degree of relationship existing between standardized test scores (Seashore Measures of Musical Talents, for example) of parents and their children. Most of the correlation coefficients are below .50 (Friend 1939; Kwalwasser 1955; Shuter 1964 and 1966; Smith 1914; Stanton 1922). 3. Studies conducted on twins, both fraternal and identical, occasionally yield higher correlations between pairs, but generally support the data cited previouly (Coon and Cavey 1989; Kwalwasser 1955; Shields 1962; Shuter 1964; Stafford 1955 and 1970; Vandenberg 1962; Yates and Brash 1941). 4. A relationship between anatomical brain structures and musical abilities has been hypothesized (Blinkov and Glezer 1968; Scheid and Eccles 1975; Schlang et al. 1994 and 1995). A number of researchers have applied principles of Mendelian genetics to the study of various families’ musical backgrounds (Ashman 1952; Drinkwater 1916; Hurst 1912; Kalmus 1949 and 1952; Northrup 1931; Reser 1935).
The results are inconclusive and certainly open to subjective interpretation. A brief look at the fundamentals of genetic inheritance may help to explain why this is so. Each normal human cell contains 46 chromosomes arranged into 23 pairs. Information that determines the presence or absence of specific traits in any individual is encoded in some 3 million genes distributed throughout the 23 pairs of chromosomes (Bodmer and McKie 1994, 223). Genetic instructions are stored in chemical compounds known as deoxyribonucleicacid (DNA) that are “read” by messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA) (Watson 1968). The genetic influence on any given trait may be determined by the specific chemical content of a given gene pair, in many instances by the interaction of a number of gene pairs, and by the order of the gene pairs.
If one person’s gene pairs were passed under an electron microscope at the rate of one per second, it would take 200 years to identify the order in which they are lined up for that individual (Fincher 1976, 228). Given even this limited information about genetics, one may quickly see the enormous complexity of a question such as the inheritance of musical attributes. The Human Genome Project, begun in the 1970s, has a goal of mapping out the molecular composition of all the human genes. Although scientists have made rapid progress in genetics, to date few human behaviors or traits have been traced to specific gene pairs. Until specific gene pairs can be linked to specific behavioral traits, any answers to questions such as that posed in this discussion will have to remain, in large part, speculative. Data in Support of thc Acquisition of Musical Attributes Some would argue that most of the data presented in the previous section can be used in support of environmental factors as well as for inheritance: If a musical person is found to have come from a musical family, could this not be due as much to the musical home environment in which he or she grew up as to his or her genetic makeup? The following conclusions have been drawn from the literature in support of the acquisition of musical attributes.
1. A number of researchers have attempted to establish the degree of relationship that exists between home and social environments and musical attributes (Baumann 1960; Burt 1909; Gilbert 1942; Gordon 1967 and 1968; Graves 1947; Holmstrom 1963; Jamieson 1951; Kirkpatrick 1962; Parker 1961; Rainbow 1965; Rogers 1956; Shelton 1965; Shuter 1964 and 1966; Valentine 1962; Vernon 1960; Whellams 1973; Wing 1936 and 1948). While the results are mixed and somewhat inconclusive, a generalized conclusion might be that moderate, positive support has been given to the influence of home musical environments on musical attributes. 2. Strong support for environmental factors, though again there are mixed results, comes from the effects of practice on various musical attributes.
A number of researchers have provided data in support of the hypothesis that pitch discrimination and/or absolute pitch, as an example, can be improved with training (Andrews and Diehl 1970; Baird 1917; Cameron 1917; Capurso 1934; Coffman 1951; Connette 1941; Copp 1916; Henderson 1931; Jersild and Bienstock 1935; Leontiev 1957; Lundin 1963; Lundin and Allen 1962; Mull 1925; Pflederer 1964; Pond and Moorhead 1941–44; Riker 1946; Ross 1914; Seashore 1935; Selzer 1936; Sievers 1931; Skinner 1961; Skornika 1958; Smith, 1914; Vance and Grandprey 1931; Whipple, 1903; Wolner and Pyle 1933; Wright 1928; Wyatt 1945). 3. There are thousands of private and classroom music teachers who believe that performance skills do improve with training. Fortunately, there are data to support such a hypothesis (Culpepper 1961; Fieldhouse 1937; Jersild and Beinstock 1931 and 1935; Kalmus 1952; Lawton 1933; Pollock 1950; Smith, 1963; Updegraff, Heilager, and Learned 1938; Williams, Winter, and Wood 1938).
22 4. Less conclusive are the results of studies in which the effects of training on the scores of standardized music tests were measured. In general, the results from these studies indicate minimal effects of training on test scores (Brennan 1926; Drake 1945 and 1957; Fosha 1960; Gordon 1961 and 1968; Graves 1947; Heller 1962; Holmstrom 1963; Horbulewicz 1963; Kwalwasser 1955; Newton 1959; Seashore and Mount 1918; Shuter 1964; Stanton 1922; Stanton and Koerth 1930; Tarrell 1965; Whittington 1957; Wing 1948; Wyatt 1945). One reason for such a conclusion may be the lack of specific training given between test administrations geared toward the tasks of the test at hand. Another reason may be the relatively brief time between administrations of a given test. Most persons would probably show greater musical gains as a result of training over a period of years than over a period of months. Also, the effects of training will be somewhat different for aptitude than for achievement tests. Resolution of the Inheritance or Acquisition of Musical Attributes A commonly accepted solution to the discrepancy between data in support of inheritance or acquisition of musical attributes is the premise that behavior is a function of the organism and the situation.
Thus, behavioral traits are subject to modification by genetic as well as environmental factors. No less an authority than the former president of the Human Genome Project, Walter Bodmer, has stated that “musical aptitude . . . is inextricably bound up both with environmental influences and a person’s genetic heritage” (Bodmer and McKie 1994, 5). An analogy may help to illustrate the premise: Corn seeds cannot produce wheat plants. However, environmental factors, such as soil acidity, amounts of rainfall and sunlight, or presence of disease, will determine whether a corn seed produces a tall, healthy plant or a weak, spindly one. To take the position that either inheritance or the environment is solely responsible for musical attributes does not seem tenable. It is difficult to imagine that a brilliant performer (composer, therapist, etc.) could simply “emerge” without years of study and practice. Conversely, it is equally difficult to accept the notion that a poor performer (composer, therapist, etc.) needs only more practice to become great. Quite clearly, most, if not all, musical attributes are a result of inherited characteristics that have been realized in a particular set of environmental circumstances.
The Relationship of Musical Attributes to Other Human Attributes Several studies have been conducted for the purpose of determining whether there are any significant and meaningful relationships between musical attributes and other human attributes. Examples of the latter are aural acuity, intelligence, sex, race, and abilities in the other arts. Regardless of the criterion, the results are mixed and, therefore, inconclusive. It should be emphasized that research results are as much a function of the test used as they are of the criterion. Thus, the results may be due to the relative inadequacy of the music tests. Nevertheless, it can probably be assumed, without a specific research base, that persons who are better auditory learners can be successful in learning music, at least as a sophisticated listener. lt is also reasonable to assume that persons who achieve well academically will probably achieve well in music. Any differences found between sexes and among races can probably be attributed to cultural and social phenomena.
Generalized conclusions are as follows. 1. One researcher concluded that aural acuity is related to musical ability (Farnsworth 1941), while five reached the opposite conclusion (Farnsworth 1938; Fieldhouse 1937; Graf 1952; Lamp and Keys 1935; Sherbon 1975). 2. One group of researchers found a relatively high degree of relationship between musical ability and intelligence (Beinstock 1942; Colwell 1963; Cooley 1961; Edmunds 1960; Lehman 1952; Moore 1966; Phillips 1976; Sergeant and Thatcher 1974). Another group found only moderate or low correlations between the same two factors (Drake 1957; Farnsworth 1931; Gordon 1968; Highsmith 1929; Hollingsworth 1926; Kwalwasser 1955; Lundin 1949; Mursell 1939; Whittington 1957; Wing 1948). (See Robinson 1983 for a review.) 3. Those who have studied the problem agree that the major differences between males and females (beyond early childhood developmental differences such as found by Petzold , Shuter-Dyson , and Whellams ) in terms of musical attributes are the result of socio-cultural influences (Abeles and Porter 1978; Bentley 1966; Gilbert 1942).
4. A similar conclusion has been reached in terms of racial differences in musical attributes: while some differences have been identified, they have. for the most part, been ascribed to differences in cultural hackgrounds (Drake 1957; Eels 1933; Farnsworth 1931; Garth and Candor 1937; Garth and Isbell 1929; Gray and Bingham 1929; Johnson 1928; Lenoire 1925; Peacock 1928; Peterson and Lanier 1929; Porter 1931; Robinson and Holmes 1932; Ross 1936; Sanderson 1933; Streep 1931; Sward 1933; Van Alstyne and Osborne 1937; Woods and Martin 1943). 5. Only one researcher found a significant relationship between musical ability and other artistic abilities (Alexander 1954); others found little or no relationship between the two (Carroll 1932; Morrow 1938; Rigg 1937; Strong 1959; Williams, Winter, and Wood 1938). Musicality is at the core of what it means to be human. For, to be human is to be musical and to be musical is to be human. In fact, music is such a ubiquitous aspect of human behavior that Blacking (1973) calls it a species-specific trait.
A species-specific trait has two characteristics. First, all members of the species possess the trait. In this case, anthropologists tell us that all people in all places and in all times have engaged in musical behaviors (see chap. 12). Second, only a particular species possesses the particular trait. Remembering the discussion of differences between human and other animal behaviors (in degree, not kind) at the outset of this chapter, it can also be said that human beings are the only species that engage in musical behaviors. Commonly, in musical research literature, subjects are identified as musicians or nonmusicians. The latter term is a misnomer because there is no such thing as a nonmusician. Certain individuals may suffer from amusia—loss of specific musical skills due to destruction of particular brain tissue (see chap. 7 for more details)—but all human beings are musical by nature.
More accurate terminology, though admittedly more awkward, would be “sophisticated and naive musicians” or “formally and informally trained musicians.” All persons are able to respond to the music of their culture, just as they can to the language and speech of their culture. Music psychology will continue to play an increasingly important role, as more data are gathered to support the significance of music. The accumulation of scientific evidence will document the significance and meaning of music in such a way that society’s views will recognize more clearly its importance and, indeed, necessity.
There is potential for tremendous change in business, religion, education, therapy and medical practice, and all throughout society, and the place of music in these endeavors will become more and more evident. A final point: The scientific study of human musicality will not detract from the wonder, awe, and appreciation we have for music. The beauty of music and the power it has in our lives can only be enhanced, not diminished, by seeking answers to the hows and whys of music. “Music is not mystical; it is mysterious” (Gaston 1968, 10). If it were magical, there would be no accounting for it. The fact that music is mysterious simply implies that there are many things we do not know about it. Because music is a form of human behavior, it is subject to the same laws and principles that govern all human behaviors. The role of music psychology, then, is to explicate the phenomenon of music.
Footnotes 1. It must be clearly stated that this entire discussion is focused on the ways in which we are different, not better, than other animals. For example, to say that we are different because we have superior language skills should not imply a value judgment. One only has to witness the human slaughter of baby seals to realize that the question of “better or worse” is not an easy one to answer. Moreover, it is not a question that will be dealt with in these pages. Part of this chapter is based on an article that previously appeared in the Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education 99 (1989): 7–22, and is used here by permission. 2. In fairness, several of these statements are somewhat misleading when taken out of context and some of the authors do attempt to provide a rationale for the existence of music. 3. Cave paintings are one example of a secondary source from which one might deduce musical behaviors. Some cave paintings as early as 70,000 years ago depict a bow, and many anthropologists believe that the bow may have been as much a musical instrument as it was a weapon (Mumford 1966). (See chap. 12 for more details.)
4. We do inherit reflexes and many predispositions, such as personality traits, that influence our behaviors. However, instincts, if they are defined as relatively complex patterns of behavior that are essentially unmodifiable over time, are not inherited (Lefrancois 1979). 5. Seashore has long been associated with the inheritance viewpoint, but may have been somewhat misinterpreted. Some believe that Seashore, when writing about the innateness of sensory capabilities, was referring to biological limitations of the hearing mechanism that cannot be improved through training. Although he does not specifcally indicate such, the perception of auditory stimuli can be improved. Moreoever, he refers to those basic capabilities as being “elemental” but readily admits that other factors probably contribute to successful achievement as a musician.
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