January 8, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Music Is a Human Thing

Many animals make sounds; birds and whales can sing; but there’s nothing to compare with the human brain’s capacity for music.

Universality: A couple of news stories reveal interesting things about humans and music.  One study, reported by Medical Xpress, found that the emotional responses to music appear to be universal in humans.  Forty Canadians and forty African pygmies were given chances to evaluate the emotional impact of short musical pieces, some Western and some pygmy.  The pygmy subjects had no electricity, radios or TV, and were most likely unfamiliar with Western music; similarly, the Canadians were not familiar with pygmy songs.  The repertoire ranged from happy to sad, and from anxious to calm.   All showed similar emotional responses using “emoticons” to indicate how the music made them feel.  The scientists concluded that music cuts across cultures, and that certain aspects of music appear universal.

Perfect Pitch: Neuroscientists at the University of Zurich were interested in discovering more about why some people have absolute pitch, sometimes called perfect pitch.  This is the ability to predict the pitch of a named tone, say an A, C# or F, without hearing any note first.  (Many people have relative pitch: they can judge these notes after hearing another note and its name.)  According to Medical Xpress, two separate brain regions join forces in this skill, possessed by only 1% of people, though up to 20% of musicians.  People with this ability have a strong default linkage between the left-hand auditory cortex and the left-hand dorsal frontal cortex.  “This coupling enables an especially efficient exchange of information between the auditory cortex and the dorsal frontal cortex in people with absolute pitch,” Stefan Elmer says, “which means that the perception and memory information can be exchanged quickly and efficiently.”

Development:  Could playing Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” help your child’s brain development?  Science Daily thinks so, based on a study at the University of Vermont.  “In a study called ‘the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development,’ a child psychiatry team has found that musical training might also help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety.”  It almost seems that music is necessary for normal brain development, and the more musical training, the more it helps develop multiple beneficial traits.

Music is a gift of God to man.  It is evolutionarily useless.  In other animals, such as birds and whales and monkeys, the tweets, grunts and screeches are linked to sexual display, alarm signaling and group identity.  As complex as some bird songs and whale songs are, they follow no mathematical theory of harmony, and no rules of melody.  Some birds can mimic very well; there are YouTube videos of parrots singing opera; but parrots do not compose operas.  Humans will hum and sing to themselves just for the joy of it, with no apparent survival value.  Music can elevate the spirit, rouse a mind to alertness, and calm a baby to sleep.  The complexities of a Berlioz Requiem or Beethoven Symphony vastly exceed the capabilities of any animal, including our supposed nearest common ancestors, the great apes, who show little interest or comprehension of what moves us so.  Music is “useless beauty” that our Creator made possible by giving us brains equipped for it, vocal chords to produce it, and souls to compose it and enjoy it.  Think of how drab a world it would be without this gift from a loving heavenly Father.  Choose to appreciate sublime music that elevates the soul.

 

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