Focus-Science and Technology - - Neuroscience -

Do an­i­mals make mu­sic? It’s a dif­fi­cult to say f for cer­tain. Many an­i­mals use com­plex forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but does th that qual­ify as mu­sic?


A study pub­lish­pub­lished ear­lier this year in the jour­nal Fron­tiers In BeBe­hav­ioral Neu­ro­science found that male mice ‘sing’ in ul­tra­sonic fre­quen­cies (sounds too high­hig for our ears to de­tect) to at­tract fe­males. What’What’s more, the re­searchers from Duke Univer­sity foun­found that the ro­dents pro­duce more com­plex calls tot at­tract fe­males they have never met but whom they have sensed by smelling traces of their urine.


Most an­i­mals vo­calise in some way. But to be con­sid­ered mu­si­cal, sci­en­tists ar­gue, the an­i­mals need to dis­play vo­cal learn­ing: they must have to learn how to sing in a spe­cific way through­out their lives. Gib­bons cer­tainly do: male and fe­male pairs duet loudly ev­ery morn­ing to de­fend their ter­ri­tory. And it’s a skill they have to learn: a 2013 study de­scribed how gib­bon moth­ers teach their daugh­ters to sing.


Un­til 1967, hu­mans had no idea that whales make com­plex songs with phrases, rep­e­ti­tions and co­das. Now we know that whale songs change over time and vary be­tween pop­u­la­tions, in­di­cat­ing that whales have cul­ture. We can also use whale song to iden­tify new species. This year, in Marine Mam­mal Science, sci­en­tists de­scribed a record­ing from Antarc­tica, which could be from a species of beaked whale un­known to science.


If any species of an­i­mal pro­duces ‘true mu­sic’, it’s most likely to be a bird: no other class of crea­tures pro­duce sonic com­po­si­tions that are so var­ied – or so sweet. Birds use songs to de­fend ter­ri­tory, at­tract mates, prac­tise riffs and show off. In 1924 a nightin­gale spon­ta­neously joined cel­list Beatrice Har­ri­son for the world’s first out­door broad­cast for an im­promptu duet. (Lis­ten here:


It’s un­de­ni­able that an­i­mals cre­ate com­plex, mean­ing­ful noises. But do they have rhythm? Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Ani Pa­tel claimed only hu­mans can keep a beat. And he was proved wrong. Snow­ball – tested in his lab – bopped to Michael Jackson, Back­street Boys and Queen in per­fect time, even when the tempo was sped up or slowed down. The cock­a­too be­came the first an­i­mal im­mor­talised in a sci­en­tific pa­per for his groove.

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