Research Topic

The Evolution of Music

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A most fascinating development in cognitive science is research related to evolution of music, language, and culture. Music must have contributed much more to human evolution than what has been recognized. Anthropology, biology, psychology, ethnomusicology, acoustics, and physiology of perception of music - ...

A most fascinating development in cognitive science is research related to evolution of music, language, and culture. Music must have contributed much more to human evolution than what has been recognized. Anthropology, biology, psychology, ethnomusicology, acoustics, and physiology of perception of music - should be unified to investigate music as an evolutionary phenomenon.

This Research Topic questions:
• Is perception of consonance/dissonance a universal that has stayed intact from Homo Heidelbergensis?
• Is perception of diatonic music representative of all music’s varieties? If not, what are its alternatives?
• If consonance/dissonance mechanism is universal, what exactly do children acquire in their harmonic hearing throughout childhood?
• What is the biological explanation for dissonant music in genres associated with pleasure/relaxation (i.e. sutartine)? How can the same listener consider the same interval as “dissonant” in one music style, while “consonant” in another? Is there a typology of implementing consonance/dissonance mechanism in different cultures?
• Are the developmental stages in music acquisition applicable to evolution of music?
• Can music evolution be seen as development of more effective methods of encoding vital information about one’s environment through musical tones, where growing complexity of such encoding promotes sophistication in cognitive skills?
• Does organization of sounds in music reflect the same level of sophistication as tools and their usage in a given culture?
• Is music a biological marker of Homo Sapiens, or is it also of Neanderthals and Denisovans? Did music emerge as a revolution in Upper Paleolithic cultures, or as a gradual evolution? Was its origin vocal or instrumental? Was its bifurcation from language caused by the need to modify the already existing linguistic phonemes, or as an imitation of empirically discovered instrumental sounds? Why has the ability to enjoy sounds evolved?
• What is the evolutionary importance of the fact that verbal functions are centered in the Broca’s area, whereas the musical functions are dispersed throughout the brain?
• Can music systems of different cultures be systematized into families based on principles similar to those employed by comparative linguistics?
• Is there a correspondence between the geographic distribution of certain types of music systems (pentatonic/heptatonic) and distribution of language families and genetic markers?
• Does music have a function in cognition? Is music a form of thinking?
• Are emotions a fundamental part of music? Are they “regular” or “musical”? How many musical emotions exist? Is there an evolutionary development of musical emotions?
• Does effective emotional communication determine a musical work? What constitutes a musical work?

We hope that an open discussion of these matters will enable a much deeper understanding of the role that music plays in our lives. We think that in his famous quote - that musical ability “must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which (man) is endowed” - Darwin meant “mysterious” in the most direct sense: music exercises power over the minds of people, which is not always evident to the listener. Where does this power come from, and how exactly music shapes the man remains to be answered.


Keywords: music evolution, musical emotions, consonance/dissonance, music origin, music neurology, music acquisition, developmental stages, geomusicology


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