Music Linked With Behaviors, Universal Across the World’s Societies: Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Music Linked With Behaviors, Universal Across the World’s Societies: Study

Human songs from different cultures are linked with behaviors, such as love, dance, healing, infant care, among others. Music likewise exhibits universal patterns, a new study finds / Photo by: Nutthaseth Van via Shutterstock

 

Human songs from different cultures are linked with behaviors, such as love, dance, healing, infant care, among others. Music likewise exhibits universal patterns, a new study finds.

The Universality of Music

Samuel A. Mehr from Harvard University’s Data Science Initiative and his colleagues wrote in their study that music is often considered universal and emerges from people’s adaptation to certain songs or as a result of adaptations for auditory perception, motor control, and language. However, the universality of music across the world’s societies has never been demonstrated systematically. Instead, such a notion of universality has been challenged by the vast diversity of songs played by different cultures.

This led the team to conduct a systematic analysis of the different features used in vocal music from around the world. The analysis comprises studying the ethnographic (relating to culture and customs) text on the musical behavior based on a representative sample of small-scale societies as well as the catalog of published audio recordings. 

The group has also applied computational social science tools, which help minimize biases and the influence of music sample error. The purpose of using these tools is to determine whether music appears universally, how songs vary among cultures or societies, what behaviors are linked with music, how the rhythmic and melodic patterns of music differ systematically, whether the music features of a song indicate behavioral context, and how prevalent tonality is across the song idioms.

The universality of music across the world’s societies has never been demonstrated systematically. Instead, such a notion of universality has been challenged by the vast diversity of songs played by different cultures / Photo by: REDPIXEL.PL via Shutterstock

 

Mapping Out the Variations and Universals of Vocal Music

Mehr and his team mapped out the variations and universals of vocal music by building a discography of recordings of lullaby, love, healing, and dance songs from a total of 315 cultures. Their discography also included a detailed description of the song contexts. About 5,000 descriptions of songs were collected by the group. They now refer to their discography as the Natural History of Song database.

The result of their study shows that there is both diversity and universality in human songs. They said that music is present in every culture they observed. The song variation is likewise well-characterized by these three dimensions: religiosity, arousal, and formality.

Human Behavior and Songs

Mehr said via science platform Sci-News that while people are now so used to finding any music that they like on the internet, there are still thousands and thousands of recordings that remain buried in archives and are not accessible through the internet. He shared that at one point, their team found a call number that looked odd, they asked a librarian at Harvard. A few minutes later, the librarian wheeled out a cart that contained 20 cases of reel-to-reel recordings. They found that the said tape recordings contained traditional Celtic sounds.

The team also combined digital recordings, CDs, cassette tapes, and vinyl from ethnomusicologists’ and anthropologists’ private collections. Details about the audience members, singers, duration of a song, time of day performed, passages about the music, and the presence of musical instruments were also logged in the database. The group found that music is linked with behaviors, including love, dance, healing, infant care, ritual, processions, warfare, and mourning, among others.

By examining love songs, dance songs, healing songs, and lullabies, in particular, the team found out that songs have the same behavioral functions and also tend to have the same features. Overall, it underscores the universality of music and it shows how music is connected with predictable social contexts and functions, such as love and dance. The identifiable acoustic features of music they refer to are pitch range, tempo, and accent. 

By examining love songs, dance songs, healing songs, and lullabies, in particular, the team found out that songs have the same behavioral functions and also tend to have the same features / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via Shutterstock

 

Music Industry: Statistics

Statistics portal for market data Statista shared that the United States has one of the most influential markets in the world. In 2018, the country’s recorded and live music industry reached nearly 20 million dollars in revenue. As of August 2019, the US’ share of global recorded music industry revenue was at 37% from audio streaming and subscription.

The shares of total music album consumption in the US in 2018 are as follows: Hip-Hop/Rap (21.7%), Pop (20.1%), Rock (14%), R&B (10.6%), Latin (9.4%), Country (8.7%), EDM (3.9%), Religious (3.2%), Stage and Screen (2.7%), World (1.5%), Jazz (1.1%), and Reggae (1%).

Statista details that the reason some genres are more popular than others is because of the familiarity and the catchiness of music, making it more appealing to a wide range of music fans. This particularly applies to pop music, which is easy to remember and listen to because it features simple and snappy lyrics.

Music is intrinsically connected to people’s cultural identity. It acts as a time capsule as the song captures what was going on culturally at a certain period. It is also one of the first methods of communication learned beginning in the mother’s womb in the form of a lullaby. Genres, though ranging in popularity, can be so powerful, they build solidarity across countries, age groups, and decades, making the music timeless and truly universal.