Brain Music

02006-08-24 | Brain, Music, Musings | 2 comments

Wired News: Music Makes Your Brain Happy
From an evolutionary perspective, why have humans developed music?

There are a number of different theories. One theory is that music is an evolutionary accident, piggybacking on language: We exploited language to create music just for our own pleasure. A competing view, one that Darwin held, is that music was selected by evolution because it signals certain kinds of intellectual, physical and sexual fitness to a potential mate.

Animals in Translation – Dr. Temple Grandin
Some scientists… think music is just evolutionary baggage with no real purpose, but so many birds and animals create music that it doesn’t make much sense to me that music could simply be so much evolutionary baggage. And if music is just evolutionary baggage, then why does the brain have different areas to analyze the five different components of music? Studies of patients with brain damage have shown that the five distinct brain-processing systems for music are melody, rhythm, meter, tonality, and timbre. My hypothesis is that music is the language of many animals.

I think all language started out as music. Some languages retain more of that musical quality, e.g. Chinese and other Asian languages that depend on tone/melody to convey meaning. Over time, and as language became more abstract, music became an artform… one did not use music to order breakfast, because words were generally more efficient at that task… but to this day certain emotions are easier conveyed with music than words…

Wired News: Music Makes Your Brain Happy
Are there any myths about music that neuroscientists have exposed?

Daniel Levitin:
I think we’ve debunked the myth of talent. It doesn’t appear that there’s anything like a music gene or center in the brain that Stevie Wonder has that nobody else has. There’s no evidence that (talented people) have a different brain structure or different wiring than the rest of us initially, although we do know that becoming an expert in anything — like chess or race-car driving or journalism — does change the brain and creates circuitry that’s more efficient at doing what you’re an expert at.

Just because there may not be a single “Music Gene” does not mean that a certain combination of genes isn’t important or necessary for musical talent. How often do we deny the existence of one thing, only to find out later that that one thing is actually a complex array of many things


  1. AdamSolomon

    Nature or nurture? I think it can be assumed that SOMETHING biological is behind musical talent–how else do you explain virtuoso, for example? It is also interesting to note the connection between math and music–you’ll find a number of people incredibly talented at each. Time will tell what sort of complex array creates musical talent, to various degrees and in different portions (rhythm, meter, etc.). Interesting.

  2. Anna

    Adam, it is interesting that you mention the connection between math and music. Have you read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid? This book looks at the points of contact between the music of Bach, the artwork of Escher, and the mathematics of Gödel.


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