I keep talking about the positive effects of music on the physiology of our bodies – now some more scientific proof! Mamma Mia! Listening to Mozart lowers blood pressure…but ABBA has no impact!
Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G Minor Lowered Blood Pressure
Relaxing to a soothing Mozart symphony can lower the blood pressure as much as cutting salt from the diet or exercising, a new study has shown. But for people concerned about their heart, it might be wise to stay clear of ABBA, which has no impact at all. Scientists in Germany played Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in g minor, dances by Johann Strauss, and songs by ABBA to 60 volunteers, monitoring their blood pressure before and after the experiment.
“The music of ABBA did not show any or only very small effects on blood pressure and heart rate.”~ Hans-Joachim Trappe
They found that Mozart lowered systolic blood pressure (the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats) by 4.7 mm Hg, Strauss 3.7 mm Hg, but the Swedish pop group made no significant difference. Diastolic blood pressure (when the heart rests between beats) also fell by 2.1 mm Hg for Mozart and 2.9 mm Hg for Strauss. Previous studies have found that aerobic exercise such as cycling, running or brisk walking had a similar impact on lowering blood pressure. Reducing salt by 6 grams per day brings systolic blood pressure down by between 7 and 4 mm Hg.
ABBA Live At Wembley Arena Press Image
The lyrics in ABBA songs may have prevented the calming effect of music, say researchers. “It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In antiquity, music was used to improve performance in athletes during the Olympic Games,” said lead author Hans-Joachim Trappe, of Ruhr University, Germany. “In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss. “The music of ABBA did not show any or only very small effects on blood pressure and heart rate. This may be due to emotional factors, but on the other hand, the use of spoken words may have a negative role.” The researchers concluded that to be of benefit, music must be: in a pleasant key, of skillful composition, have a consistent volume and rhythm, devoid of rousing sequences, have no lyrics, and have achieved a certain degree of fame and popularity.
Source: The research was published in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International.
I would like to share part of an article that was shared with me. It speaks about the individual song that is formed within the heart of each individual and finds unique expression through that one. So many times we think that our lives are wasted exercises, yet if we can gain the correct perspective, we can see these experiences as the orchestral parts to be played in our personal symphony. Each one is different and each one is sublime. Read and meditate!
Life’s difficult challenges aren’t interruptions. They’re what we need to compose our unique song.
Through it all he remained our hero, fought and won many battles on behalf of Israel and had his son Solomon build the Temple of Jerusalem. But the depth and heart of David remains most revealed in his poetry-turned-prayers called Psalms.
In the Psalms, King David moves me because of the intensity of his experience of life, because of his honesty, candidness, rawness, and courage to expose his frailties and fears. Because of his humility and yearning to be closer to His maker in the light and in the dark times, He was not embarrassed to be him. He was not shy about his feelings. He exposed himself and then gave it all back to God. Nothing he felt or experienced was wasted. All was used to connect back. All was sanctified through his actions.
I also love that he was a singer. It is written that the highest gate of prophecy is through song, sung with pure intentions.
Each one of us has a unique song that lies deep in our soul. It is the most pure type of music that stems from who we truly are, in all of our splendor and beauty, the one that reveals us completely, imperfections and all.
When we have a difficult challenge in life and experience some suffering, some of us view it as an interruption to life, a blip. But those troubles aren’t distractions – they’re precisely what create us. The pains and the uncomfortable parts of our story help craft our unique personality and character. The moments of distress create the peaks, dips, and special viewpoints we have; they create the flats, the sharps and the octaves of our song. Every experience of anguish is a note that we weave together to make a song that no one else can sing. And when we sing that song back to God through prayer, just as King David did, we fulfill the spiritual purpose for the suffering we were given.
This was part of King David’s greatness and the lesson he teaches to every one of us.
Suffering, pain, and turmoil are not intermission times in our lives; they create our intricacies, depletions, accents, and twists for a reason. When we are honest with our pain and lacks, and allow ourselves to laugh or cry or scream as a vehicle to come closer to our Maker, that’s part of our chorus. That’s part of our song that no one can sing but us. We can transform the darkness into sparks of light. When we turn pain into a vehicle for connection with the Almighty, we invest meaning into the suffering and make it holy. God doesn’t do that; that choice is in our domain.
King David became King David not despite his difficult life, but because of it. Can you imagine if he had a normal, steady, and balanced life full of everything he wanted and no struggles? He would not have become King David. He would not have written the Psalms to open up the Heavenly gates. He would not have become the spiritual hero that we aspire to be.
The world is our classroom. We face the tests that are given to us, to overcome a weakness and write new stanzas to our life’s song. And we can rely on God for His help and guidance. My kids recently lost their father. At the shiva I continuously heard from friends who lost parents at an early age that a hole remained with them for life. But they also gained a special connection to God that none of their friends seemingly felt. A double dose of God’s help and closeness in place of that parent, just as King David writes in his Psalms.
Would my kids have chosen that combination if asked? I don’t think so. But who chooses anything? When we stop fighting against why we have a certain life circumstance and accept the Divine plan, embracing what we do have and are here to do. That’s when we can finally make use of all the beautiful, awkward-like and seemingly off key notes we possess to compose the special song only our soul can sing.
Easier said than done. Trust me, I know. But time is so precious, and so are you.
I have been asked frequently about the other five frequencies that accompany the 528Hz frequency in the total Solfeggio Frequency array. Just last week I was asked by one of my listeners in a comment they made so I promised them I would write a post on that subject to explain in more detail how things come together.
There are six frequencies that have been designated by many as the Solfeggio Frequencies. They are as follows: 396Hz – 417Hz – 528Hz – 639Hz – 741Hz – 852Hz. I will take each one separately to explain in more detail how to work with each one.
Each frequency is the “anchoring” frequency around which a harmonic scale is built. All of the harmonic scales that accompany these frequencies are corresponding to tuning your instrument to the A = 444Hz rather than the 440Hz. You cannot play any music that we would appreciate by just playing the six Solfeggio Frequency together – it would not sound harmonious. You could play something, but it would be very discordant – at least in my opinion.
So lets look at the 396Hz frequency first. The harmonic scale around which you play in this frequency would be tuned as follows: A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G This gives you the key of B flat. Your major chords would be Bb – F – and Eb and your minor chords would be C minor – D minor – and G minor. If you were to play the 396Hz frequency as a droning note throughout a piece you were playing with this key, the note would always be in harmony with whatever chords you were playing.
Next comes the 417Hz frequency. The harmonic scale would be tuned as follows: A# – B – C# – D# – E – F# – G#, which would place you in the key of B natural which would give you the major chords of B – E – and F# and the minor chords would be C# minor – D# minor – and G# minor. Once again, the 417Hz frequency droned would harmonize with all the music played in this key.
The next frequency is the main healing frequency in which I record most of my music. It is the 528Hz frequency and it is tuned in to the F major key which is tuned as follows: A – Bb – C – D – E – F – G. An interesting aspect about this frequency is that you can also tune in the Bb to a B natural giving you the C major key and I find that some of the Psalms sound better in C major and some sound better in F major. In F major, you have the major chords of F – Bb – and C and the minor chords of G minor – A minor – and D minor. In the key of C major you have the major chords of C – F – and G and the minor chords of D minor – E minor – and A minor.
The frequency of 639Hz brings us back to the key of B natural with the tuning of : A# – B – C# – D# – E – F# – G#. The chords are also the same as we noted above.
The 741Hz frequency gives us a new key for the harmonic scale. It is the key of A natural. It is tuned as follows: A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G# and it has the major chords of A – E – and D and the minor chords of B minor – C minor – and F minor.
The final frequency of 852Hz brings us back to the harmonic scale tuned as follows: A# – b – C# – D# – E – F# – G#, which brings us back to the key of B natural with the same chords once again as noted above.
I have recorded a CD titled Tabernacle Prayer which has music recorded in each of these frequencies. I recommend that you purchase the book that is suggested to be included with the CD so that you can read for more understanding about where these frequencies come from and how I believe they were designed to impact our lives.
I hope this explanation has shed a little more light on how these frequencies are harmonized with the harmonic scales and chord keys so that you can begin to play with some music of your own creation and experiment with finding how the various frequencies can effect your lives and the lives of others.
Thank you for your continued interest and support – Steve
“Music is so naturally united with us that we cannot be free from it even if we so desired” (Boethius cited by Storr)
Music’s interconnection with society can be seen throughout history. Every known culture on the earth has music. Music seems to be one of the basic actions of humans. However, early music was not handed down from generation to generation or recorded. Hence, there is no official record of “prehistoric” music. Even so, there is evidence of prehistoric music from the findings of flutes carved from bones.
The influence of music on society can be clearly seen from modern history. Music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. When he could not figure out the right wording for a certain part, he would play his violin to help him. The music helped him get the words from his brain onto the paper.
Albert Einstein is recognized as one of the smartest men who has ever lived. A little known fact about Einstein is that when he was young he did extremely poor in school. His grade school teachers told his parents to take him out of school because he was “too stupid to learn” and it would be a waste of resources for the school to invest time and energy in his education. The school suggested that his parents get Albert an easy, manual labor job as soon as they could. His mother did not think that Albert was “stupid”. Instead of following the school’s advice, Albert’s parents bought him a violin. Albert became good at the violin. Music was the key that helped Albert Einstein become one of the smartest men who has ever lived. Einstein himself says that the reason he was so smart is because he played the violin. He loved the music of Mozart and Bach the most. A friend of Einstein, G.J. Withrow, said that the way Einstein figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin.
Bodily Responses to Music
In general, responses to music are able to be observed. It has been proven that music influences humans both in good and bad ways. These effects are instant and long lasting. Music is thought to link all of the emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of the universe. Music can also be used to change a person’s mood, and has been found to cause like physical responses in many people simultaneously. Music also has the ability to strengthen or weaken emotions from a particular event such as a funeral.
People perceive and respond to music in different ways. The level of musicianship of the performer and the listener as well as the manner in which a piece is performed affects the “experience” of music. An experienced and accomplished musician might hear and feel a piece of music in a totally different way than a non-musician or beginner. This is why two accounts of the same piece of music can contradict themselves.
Rhythm is also an important aspect of music to study when looking at responses to music. There are two responses to rhythm. These responses are hard to separate because they are related, and one of these responses cannot exist without the other. These responses are: (1) the actual hearing of the rhythm and (2) the physical response to the rhythm. Rhythm organizes physical movements and is very much related to the human body. For example, the body contains rhythms in the heartbeat, while walking, during breathing, etc. Another example of how rhythm orders movement is an autistic boy who could not tie his shoes. He learned how on the second try when the task of tying his shoes was put to a song. The rhythm helped organize his physical movements in time.
It cannot be proven that two people can feel the exact same thing from hearing a piece of music. For example, early missionaries to Africa thought that the nationals had bad rhythm. The missionaries said that when the nationals played on their drums it sounded like they were not beating in time. However, it was later discovered that the nationals were beating out complex polyrhythmic beats such as 2 against 3, 3 against 4, and 2 against 3 and 5, etc. These beats were too advanced for the missionaries to follow.
Responses to music are easy to be detected in the human body. Classical music from the baroque period causes the heart beat and pulse rate to relax to the beat of the music. As the body becomes relaxed and alert, the mind is able to concentrate more easily. Furthermore, baroque music decreases blood pressure and enhances the ability to learn. Music affects the amplitude and frequency of brain waves, which can be measured by an electro-encephalogram. Music also affects breathing rate and electrical resistance of the skin. It has been observed to cause the pupils to dilate, increase blood pressure, and increase the heart rate.
The Power of Music on Memory and Learning
The power of music to affect memory is quite intriguing. Mozart’s music and baroque music, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activate the left and right brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, causes the brain to be more capable of processing information.
According to The Center for New Discoveries in Learning, learning potential can be increased a minimum of five times by using this 60 beats per minute music. For example, the ancient Greeks sang their dramas because they understood how music could help them remember more easily. A renowned Bulgarian psychologist, Dr. George Lozanov, designed a way to teach foreign languages in a fraction of the normal learning time. Using his system, students could learn up to one half of the vocabulary and phrases for the whole school term (which amounts to almost 1,000 words or phrases) in one day. Along with this, the average retention rate of his students was 92%. Dr. Lozanov’s system involved using certain classical music pieces from the baroque period which have around a 60 beats per minute pattern. He has proven that foreign languages can be learned with 85-100% efficiency in only thirty days by using these baroque pieces. His students had a recall accuracy rate of almost 100% even after not reviewing the material for four years.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Georg Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In 1982, researchers from the University of North Texas performed a three-way test on postgraduate students to see if music could help in memorizing vocabulary words. The students were divided into three groups. Each group was given three tests – a pretest, a post-test, and a test a week after the first two tests. All of the tests were identical. Group 1 was read the words with Handel’s Water Music in the background. They were also asked to imagine the words. Group two was read the same words also with Handel’s Water Music in the background. Group two was not asked to imagine the words. Group three was only read the words, was not given any background music, and was also not asked to imagine the words. The results from the first two tests showed that groups one and two had much better scores than group three. The results from the third test, a week later, showed that group one performed much better than groups two or three. However, simply using music while learning does not absolutely guarantee recall but can possibly improve it. Background music in itself is not a part of the learning process, but it does enter into memory along with the information learned. Recall is better when the same music used for learning is used during recall. Also, tempo appears to be a key of music’s effect on memory.
Play Handel’s Water Music (Morning Has Broken)
One simple way students can improve test scores is by listening to certain types of music such as Mozart’s Sonata for Two Piano’s in D Major before taking a test. This type of music releases neurons in the brain which help the body to relax. The effectiveness of Mozart’s sonatas can be seen by the results from an IQ test performed on three groups of college students. The first group listened to a Mozart sonata before taking the test. The second group listened to a relaxation tape before their test. The third group did not listen to anything before the test. The first group had the highest score with an average of 119. The second group ended up with an average of 111, and the third group had the lowest score with an average of 110.
William Balach, Kelly Bowman, and Lauri Mohler, all from Pennsylvania State University, studied the effects of music genre and tempo on memory retention. They had four groups learn vocabulary words using one of four instrumental pieces – slow classical, slow jazz, fast classical, and fast jazz. Each of the four groups was divided into smaller groups for the recall test. These sub groups used either the same (i.e. slow classical, slow classical) or different (i.e. slow jazz, fast classical) pieces when taking the recall test. The results did show a dependency on the music. Recall was better when the music was the same during learning and testing. These same researchers did another test which restricted the changes in the music to just tempo (i.e. slow to fast jazz) or just genre (i.e. slow jazz to slow classical). Surprisingly, the results showed that changing the genre had no effect on recall but changing the tempo decreased recall.
Healthy and Not So Healthy Effects
Many revealing scientific experiments, studies, and research projects have been performed to try and discover the extent of the power of music. Up until 1970, most of the research done on music had to do with studying the effects of the beat of the music. It was found that slow music could slow the heartbeat and the breathing rate as well as bring down blood pressure. Faster music was found to speed up these same body measurements.
The key component of music that makes it beneficial is order. The order of the music from the baroque and classical periods causes the brain to respond in special ways. This order includes repetition and changes, certain patterns of rhythm, and pitch and mood contrasts. One key ingredient to the order of music from the baroque and classical periods is math. This is realized by the body and the human mind performs better when listening to this ordered music.
One shining example of the power of order in music is King George I of England. King George had problems with memory loss and stress management. He read from the Bible the story of King Saul and recognized that Saul had experienced the same type of problems that he was experiencing. George recognized that Saul overcame his problems by using special music. With this story in mind King George asked George Frederick Handel to write some special music for him that would help him in the same way that music helped Saul. Handel wrote his Water Music for this purpose.
Another key to the order in music is the music being the same and different. The brain works by looking at different pieces of information and deciding if they are different or the same. This is done in music of the baroque and classical periods by playing a theme and then repeating or changing the theme. The repetition is only done once. More than one repetition causes the music to become displeasing, and also causes a person to either enter a state of sub-conscious thinking or a state of anger. Dr. Ballam goes on to say that, “The human mind shuts down after three or four repetitions of a rhythm, or a melody, or a harmonic progression.” Furthermore, excessive repetition causes people to release control of their thoughts. Rhythmic repetition is used by people who are trying to push certain ethics in their music.
An Australian physician and psychiatrist, Dr. John Diamond, found a direct link between muscle strength/weakness and music. He discovered that all of the muscles in the entire body go weak when subjected to the “stopped anapestic beat” of music from hard rock musicians, including Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Queen, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Bachman – Turner Overdrive, and The Band. Dr. Diamond found another effect of the anapestic beat. He called it a “switching” of the brain. Dr. Diamond said this switching occurs when the actual symmetry between both of the cerebral hemispheres is destroyed causing alarm in the body along with lessened work performance, learning and behavior problems in children, and a “general malaise in adults.” In addition to harmful, irregular beats in rock music, shrill frequencies prove to also be harmful to the body. Bob Larson, a Christian minister and former rock musician, remembers that in the 70’s teens would bring raw eggs to a rock concert and put them on the front of the stage. The eggs would be hard boiled by the music before the end of the concert and could be eaten. Dr. Earl W. Flosdorf and Dr. Leslie A. Chambers showed that proteins in a liquid medium were coagulated when subjected to piercing high-pitched sounds
On Animals and Plants, Too!
Tests on the effects of music on living organisms besides humans have shown that special pieces of music (including The Blue Danube) aid hens in laying more eggs. Music can also help cows to yield more milk. Researchers from Canada and the former Soviet Union found that wheat will grow faster when exposed to special ultrasonic and musical sounds. Rats were tested by psychologists to see how they would react to Bach’s music and rock music. The rats were placed into two different boxes. Rock music was played in one of the boxes while Bach’s music was played in the other box. The rats could choose to switch boxes through a tunnel that connected both boxes. Almost all of the rats chose to go into the box with the Bach music even after the type of music was switched from one box to the other.
Play Bach’s Air on The G String
Play Strauss’ The Blue Danube
Research took a new avenue when in 1968 a college student, Dorthy Retallack, started researching the effects of music on plants. She took her focus off of studying the beat and put in on studying the different sounds of music. Retallack tested the effects of music on plant growth by using music styles including classical, jazz, pop, rock, acid rock, East Indian, and country. She found that the plants grew well for almost every type of music except rock and acid rock. Jazz, classical, and Ravi Shankar turned out to be the most helpful to the plants. However, the plants tested with the rock music withered and died. The acid rock music also had negative effects on the plant growth.
One cannot deny the power of music. High school students who study music have higher grade point averages that those who don’t. These students also develop faster physically. Student listening skills are also improved through music education. The top three schools in America all place a great emphasis on music and the arts. Hungary, Japan, and the Netherlands, the top three academic countries in the world, all place a great emphasis on music education and participation in music. The top engineers from Silicon Valley are all musicians. Napoleon understood the enormous power of music. He summed it up by saying, “Give me control over he who shapes the music of a nation, and I care not who makes the laws”.
To Know More
Ballam, Michael. Music and the Mind (Documentation Related to Message). pp 1-8.
Jourdain, Robert. Music, the Brain and Ecstasy. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.,1997.
Lundin, Robert W. An Objective Psychology of Music. Malabar: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1985.
Laurence O’Donnell III is a musicist (he plays the bassoon) from Perth, Scotland. He has created a site named Music Power. This paper was produced as a result of his senior paper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article explores the possible ways and routes that have brought music into being such a universal and important aspect of our lives. While I don’t agree with the Darwinian explanations, I find it interesting to note the universal recognition of how important music is to our lives and the attempt to discover its development from beginning to present day.
Scripture presents musicians to us in the early record of man close to creation, and I personally believe we were created with a desire to express ourselves in music. It can be a form of worship of our Creator as well as pure enjoyment and recreation. As our Creator presented us with many ways of interacting with and enjoying His creation around us, so I believe He gave us music. Many aspects of the body He created for us enable us to present and enjoy music for many of the reasons noted in the article below as well as others.
Not all of this article is credible by my standards, but I present it in its entirety for your consideration trusting your discernment to pick out the cherries and spit out the pits! I hope it gives you something to think about.
Mounting evidence suggests that human beings are hard-wired to appreciate music. What researchers want to know now is why our distant ancestors evolved music in the first place.
By Drake Bennett | September 3, 2006
IF YOU HAVE SPENT any time near a radio during the past couple months, you’ve probably heard a song called “Crazy”, an oddball R&B ballad about insanity. The track is the result of the collaboration between a singer who goes by the name Cee-Lo and a producer who goes by the name Danger Mouse, and it is absurdly catchy. With Labor Day upon us, it seems safe to call it the song of the summer.
Of course, crooning along or tapping our feet to its loping bass line, it may not occur to most of us to ask why “Crazy” – or any song for that matter – can so easily insinuate itself into our consciousness. It just sounds good, the way our favorite foods taste good.
But a growing number of neuroscientists and psychologists are starting to ask exactly that question. Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute, for example, have scanned musicians’ brains and found that the “chills” that they feel when they hear stirring passages of music result from activity in the same parts of the brain stimulated by food and sex.
As evidence mounts that we’re somehow hard-wired to be musical, some thinkers are turning their attention to the next logical question: How did that come to be? And as the McGill University neuroscientist Daniel Levitin writes in his just-published book, This is Your Brain on Music, “To ask a question about a basic, omnipresent human ability is to implicitly ask questions about evolution.”
The fact that music is universal across cultures and has been part of human life for a very long time-archeologists have found musical instruments dating from 34,000 BC, and some believe that a 50,000-year-old hollowed-out bear bone from a Neanderthal campsite is an early flute-does suggest that it may indeed be an innate human tendency. And yet it’s unclear what purpose it serves.
The evolutionary benefits of our affinity for food (nutrition) and sex (procreation) are easy enough to explain, but music is trickier. It has become one of the great puzzles in the field of evolutionary psychology, a controversial discipline dedicated to determining the adaptive roots of aspects of modern behavior, from child-rearing to religion.
Some evolutionary psychologists suggest that music originated as a way for males to impress and attract females. Others see its roots in the relationship between mother and child. In a third hypothesis, music was a social adhesive, helping to forge common identity in early human communities.
And a few leading evolutionary psychologists argue that music has no adaptive purpose at all, but simply manages, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has written, to “tickle the sensitive spots” in areas of the brain that evolved for other purposes. In his 1997 book How the Mind Works Pinker dubbed music “auditory cheesecake”, a phrase that in the years since has served as a challenge to the musicologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists who believe otherwise.
The first thinker to try to find a place for music in the Darwinian order was Charles Darwin. In his 1871 book The Descent of Man he argued, “musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex.” Darwin’s model was bird song. In many bird species, males sing to impress females. Depending on the species, females will tend toward the males with the broadest repertoire or the most complex or unique songs.
The foremost defender of that model today is Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. Miller argues that in prehistoric communities, singing and dancing might have worked – as they do today in some Native American cultures – as proxies for hunting and warfare. The ability to come up with imaginative melodies and rhythms would connote intelligence and creativity, and the long, arduous dances would be proof of one’s endurance – the sort of traits that a choosy female would like to see in her offspring.
Even today, Miller argues, music retains some of its old procreative roots. Looking at 6,000 recent jazz, rock, and classical albums, Miller found that 90 percent were produced by men, and that those male musicians tended to reach their peak musical production around age 30, which he notes, is also the peak of male sexual activity.
Miller points in particular to the example of Jimi Hendrix. Miller has written that, despite dying at 27, Hendrix had “sexual liaisons with hundreds of groupies, maintained parallel long-term relationships with at least two women, and fathered at least three children in the United States, Germany, and Sweden. Under ancestral conditions before birth control, he would have fathered many more.” To Miller, it was Hendrix’s status as a music-maker rather than his fame or charisma that gave him this sexual allure.
Levitin sees some merit in the sexual selection model, but he cautions against seeking support for it in contemporary music. It’s important to keep in mind, he argues, that “we’re not talking about someone on the subway listening to an iPod or even someone in a concert hall listening to Mahler.” The environment in which music would have evolved would have been much more participatory. Even today, he argues, the Western idea of the concert, which separates performer from audience and music from movement, is an anomaly. In many of the world’s languages, Levitin points out, “there’s one word for music and dance.”
Others who study the issue are more skeptical. David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, argues that the Darwin model would lead one to expect a differential in musical abilities between the sexes. Typically, he points out, sexual selection leads to “dimorphism,” a divergence in traits between male and female. “It’s only the peacock, not the peahen, that has the plumage,” he notes.
“There’s no evidence whatsoever that men are more sophisticated than women in terms of the ability to serenade someone from beneath a balcony,” he says. Steven Mithen, an archeologist at England’s Reading University, agrees. In his book The Singing Neanderthals published last spring, he writes that the male dominance that Miller sees in the modern recording industry is hardly proof of a difference in innate ability or proclivity. Sexism would explain it just as well.
Indeed, if an alternate explanation is correct, it is women who were the original music-makers. One of the most universal musical forms is the lullaby. “Mothers everywhere soothe infants by using their voice,” says Sandra Trehub, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, “There isn’t a culture in which that doesn’t happen.”
Trehub has done research showing that mothers tend almost automatically to make their speech more musical when they talk to their babies, even more so in experiments when they are not allowed to touch them. This has led a few thinkers, Trehub included, to speculate that music may have evolved as a baby-calming tool in hunter-gatherer societies. Unlike other primate species, human babies can’t simply cling to their mothers’ backs, and singing may have been a way for mothers to maintain contact with their children when they had to put them down to do other tasks.
Perhaps the most widely touted explanation, though, is that music arose as a way for groups of early humans to create a sense of community. Among other things, this might explain why music-whether it’s singing hymns, school fight songs, or simply “Happy Birthday” – is so often a social experience. The model is neither love song nor lullaby but anthem.
In The Singing Neanderthal Mithen argues that communal music-making does two things. By demanding coordination and basic harmony, it works as a sort of rehearsal for the teamwork required for more high-stakes endeavors like hunting and communal defense. And the mere act of singing and moving in time together helps forge a sense of group identity. As evidence he points to the complex musical rituals of the South African Venda people, but also to the US Army, which sees chanting while marching in unison as a vital part of creating esprit de corps.
There is suggestive research linking music and sociability. Daniel Levitin, for instance, points to the difference between two mental disorders, Williams syndrome and autism. People with Williams are mentally retarded, but at the same time, as Levitin puts it, “highly social, highly verbal, and highly musical.” Autism, on the other hand, while it also often causes mental impairment, tends to make people both less social and less musical.
To Steven Pinker, though, none of this adds up to a convincing case for music’s evolutionary purpose. Pinker is not shy about seeing the traces of evolution in modern man-in How the Mind Works he devoted a chapter to arguing that emotions were adaptations – but he stands by his “auditory cheesecake” description.
“They’re completely bogus explanations, because they assume what they set out to prove: that hearing plinking sounds brings the group together, or that music relieves tension,” he says. “But they don’t explain why. They assume as big a mystery as they solve.” Music may well be innate, he argues, but that could just as easily mean it evolved as a useless byproduct of language, which he sees as an actual adaptation.
And Pinker isn’t the only skeptic. Back in April, as part of an experiment led by Levitin to compare the physiological response of performers and listeners, Boston Pops maestro Keith Lockhart conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra while he, a few musicians, and a portion of the audience were wired with monitors that tracked their heart rate, muscle tension, respiration, and other bodily signals of emotion.
Yet though Lockhart was happy to make himself Levitin’s guinea pig, he confesses to be ultimately uninterested in the origins of music.
“It’s enough for me to know that music does have a distinct emotional reaction in almost everybody that no other art form can boast of,” he says. “I’ve never particularly wanted to know why that happens.”