Music: Common Beat Runs Through All Music

First Posted: Jul 01, 2015 09:19 PM EDT

New findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) show how people from around the world like to tune into similar beats.

After analyzing data from clear across the globe, researchers discovered that certain songs tend to share similar features, including a strong rhythm that may, in turn, trigger coordination in social situations and boost group bonding, as well, particularly in certain societies.

"Our findings help explain why humans make music. The results show that the most common features seen in music around the world relate to things that allow people to coordinate their actions, and suggest that the main function of music is to bring people together and bond social groups -- it can be a kind of social glue," researcher Dr Thomas Currie from the University of Exeter, said in a news release. "In the West we can sometimes think of music as being about individuals expressing themselves or displaying their talent, but globally music tends to be more of social phenomena. Even here we see this in things like church choirs, or the singing of national anthems. In countries like North Korea we can also see extreme examples of how music and mass dance can be used to unite and coordinate groups."

During the study, researchers analyzed 304 recordings of stylistically diverse music from all over the world. 

Findings revealed dozens of statistical similarities, including interrelationships between musical features, rhythm, pitch and social context, including interrelationships between musical features, rhythm, pitch and social context; these similarities were found in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, North America, Central/South America and Oceania.

"In the old days, Western people believed that Western scales were universal. But then when we realized that other cultures had quite different ideas about scales, that led some people to conclude that there was nothing universal about music, which I think is just as silly. Now we've shown that despite its great surface diversity, most of the music throughout the world is actually constructed from very similar basic building blocks and performs very similar functions, which mainly revolve around bringing people together," lead study author Pat Savage, a PhD student from the Tokyo University of the Arts, concluded. "My daughter and I were singing and drumming and dancing together for months before she even said her first words. Music is not a universal language... music lets us connect without language."

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