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The origin of music and its implications in our lives

The origin of music and its implications in our lives

June 20, 2024

In one way or another, music is present in almost all spheres of our lives . It can be, for example, inserted in a scene from a horror movie to increase tension and anguish, or it can be used during a fitness class so that its assistants follow the appropriate rhythm.

On the other hand, in any social event worth its salt, a melody can not be missing, even if it is in the background. From the famous wedding march of Richard Wagner In a wedding until the bands and singer-songwriters who set the night bars, musicality is always present.

Individuals of all human societies can perceive musicality and be emotionally sensitive to sound (Amodeo, 2014). It is easy for anyone to know when a song pleases him, causes him sadness or even euphoria. And, like many other things present in our lives, we accept the existence of music as something natural. However, analyzed from a scientific point of view, the ability to create and enjoy music is quite complex and has attracted the attention of researchers from many different fields.

  • Recommended article: "What music do intelligent people listen to?"

Music could favor survival

For a few decades, the scientists who investigate evolution have proposed to find the origin of music in the biological history of the human being . This perspective starts from the theory of natural selection, affirming that it is the needs imposed by the environment that shape the design of all species, since individuals with the best adaptations (physiological or psychological) will survive at any given time.

These beneficial traits arise from various genetic mutations, which if positive for survival will be more likely to be transmitted from generation to generation. In the case of the human being, the pressure of natural selection has affected the structure and functions of the brain over thousands of years, surviving the design that allowed carrying out more functional behaviors.

However, our species is much more complex. Although natural selection has been the one that has molded the biological design of the organism, it's the culture and what we learn throughout life that ends up defining who we are .

Taking into account these ideas, there are many ethologists, neuroscientists, musicologists and biologists who agree that there was a moment in history when music helped our ancestors survive in a wild and hostile environment. In a review of the subject, Martín Amodeo (2014) affirms that the ability to appreciate sound art could even have an essential role in the emergence of the human species. These affirmations can surprise since, at the moment, the use that is given to the music is apparently ludic and it does not suppose a question of life or death, fortunately.

When did the music come?

The musicality would be prior to the appearance of art and language , these last two being almost exclusively property of Homo sapiens. The hominids before the human being would not have the mental capacity necessary to elaborate a complex language, having to stick to a pre-linguistic communication system based on sounds that changed rhythm and melody. At the same time, they accompanied these sounds with gestures and movements, representing as a whole simple meanings about the emotions they wanted to reach their peers (Mithen, 2005). Although to reach the current level there was still a long way to go in history, music and verbal language would have their primitive starting point here.

However, although music and verbal language have a common origin, there is a great difference between them. The sounds we assign to words bear no relation to the meaning of words in real life. For example, the word "dog" is an abstract concept that has been attributed to this mammal in a random way through culture. The advantage of language would be that certain sounds can refer to very precise propositions. On the contrary, the sounds of music would be in a certain way natural and could be said that: "music seems to mean what it sounds" (Cross, 2010) although the meaning of this sole is ambiguous and can not be expressed with exact words.

In this regard, researchers from the University of Sussex (Fritz et al, 2009) conducted a cross-cultural study in support of this thesis.In their research, they studied the recognition of three basic emotions (happiness, sadness and fear) present in various Western songs by members of the African Mafa tribe, who had never had contact with other cultures and, of course, had never heard the songs that were presented to them. The Mafas recognized the songs as happy, sad or that caused fear, so it seems that these basic emotions can also be recognized and expressed through music.

In summary, one of the main functions of music, in its origins, could be the induction of moods in other people (Cross, 2010), which can serve to try to modify the behavior of others based on some objectives.

We carry the music inside since we are born

Another of the pillars of current music can be in the mother-child relationship. Ian Cross, professor of Music and Science and researcher at the University of Cambridge, has studied the age of acquisition, by babies, of all the faculties that allow musical perception, concluding that before the first year of life and They have developed these capabilities at the level of an adult. The development of verbal language, on the contrary, will be more extensive in time.

To cope with this, the child's parents resort to a peculiar form of communication. As described by Amodeo (2014), when a mother or father speaks to a baby, they do it differently than when they establish an adult conversation. When speaking to the newborn while rocking rhythmically, a sharper voice than normal is used, using repetitive patterns, somewhat exaggerated intonations and very sharp melodic curves. This way of expressing oneself, which would be an innate language between the son and the mother, would help to establish a very deep emotional connection between them. The parents who in hostile times had this ability would have facilitated the care of their descendants since, for example, they could calm the crying of a child, preventing him from attracting predators. Therefore, those with this pre-musical ability would be more likely to have their genes and their characteristics survive and be propagated over time.

Martín Amodeo argues that the rhythmic movements and the singular vocalizations performed by the parent would give rise to song and music. In addition, the ability of babies to grasp this would be maintained throughout their lives and allow them, in adulthood, to feel emotions when listening to a certain combination of sounds, for example, in the form of musical composition. This mechanism of maternal-filial interaction is common to all cultures, so it is considered universal and innate.

Music makes us feel more united

There are also theories based on the social function of music, since it would favor the cohesion of the group . For ancient humans, cooperation and solidarity in a hostile environment was key to survival. A pleasurable group activity such as the production and enjoyment of music would cause the individual to secrete a high amount of endorphins, something that would occur jointly if the melody is heard by several people at the same time. This coordination, by allowing music to transmit basic feelings and emotions, would allow obtaining a "generalized emotional state in all the members of a group" (Amodeo, 2014).

Various studies affirm that group interaction through music favors empathy, consolidates the identity of the community, facilitates integration in it and, as a consequence, maintains its stability (Amodeo, 2014). A cohesive group through activities such as music, would therefore be facilitated by its survival since it would promote cooperation among large groups of people.

Applying it also to our days, the beauty of music when enjoyed in a group would be based on two factors. On one side, There is a biological factor that allows us to elicit shared emotions before, for example, the same song . This favors the feeling of mutual affiliation (Cross, 2010). The second factor is based on the ambiguity of the music. Thanks to our complex cognitive abilities, human beings have the ability to attribute meanings to what they hear based on their personal experience. Because of this, in addition to promoting basic emotions, music allows each person to give a personal interpretation to what they hear, adjusting it to its current state.

The musical practice improves our cognitive abilities

The last factor that seems to have helped the development of music as such a complex cultural factor is its ability to influence other cognitive abilities. Like almost any skill you learn, Musical training modifies the brain in its functions and structure .

In addition, there is a solid base that indicates that musical training has a positive influence in other domains such as spatial reasoning, mathematics or linguistics (Amodeo, 2014).

Similar in other species

Finally, it should be mentioned that animals such as belugas and many birds have followed similar evolutionary processes. Although the main function of singing in many birds (and in some marine mammals) is to communicate states or try to influence other animals (for example, in courtship through song or to mark the territory), it seems that sometimes they sing only for fun. Further, some birds keep an aesthetic sense and try to make compositions that, analyzed musically, follow certain rules .


As a conclusion, given that music seems to be something as natural as life itself, knowledge of it should be encouraged from childhood, although unfortunately it has lost weight in the current educational system. It stimulates our senses, it relaxes us, it makes us vibrate and it unites us as a species, so those who label it as the greatest heritage we have are not far from reality.

Bibliographic references:

  • Amodeo, M.R. (2014). Origin of Music as an Adaptive Trait in the Human. Argentine Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 6 (1), 49-59.
  • Cross, I. (2010). Music in culture and evolution. Epistemus, 1 (1), 9-19.
  • Fritz, T., Jentschke, S., Gosselin, N., Sammler, D., Peretz, I., Turner, R., Friederici, A. & Koelsch, S. (2009). Universal recognition of three basic emotions in music. Current biology, 19 (7), 573-576.
  • Mithen, S.J. (2005). The singing Neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind and body. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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