Music is part of our identity as human beings. We have built in apparatus in our heads that allow us to discriminate between pitches of different frequencies. There must have been some evolutionary advantage bestowed by this capability but I’m not sure what it is. The topic is a hot topic for study but there are some interesting theories. Let’s have a look at some of them.
One theory is that people make music to attract a mate. It certainly is an important part in modern mating rituals. People often plan their courting activities around musical events. They go to festivals and concerts to meet people of similar musical taste. Many an adolescent boy has learned to play the guitar solely to attract female attention. And what adolescent girl can resist the emotional rush of having a song written exclusively for her.
Another theory sites the need to synchronize activities among participants, for example rowing, or marching. This seems to me to be a side effect noticed by people exercising their musical impulses for other reasons. It isn’t that music isn’t a good technique for synchronizing activity, it’s just not a survival trait.
Another theory asserts that music arose as a way of establishing a tribal identity. That seems like more of a survival trait than synchronization but it doesn’t have the feeling of truth that the mating song theory does.
A theory that I relate to strongly is that music helps people induce trance like ecstatic states in themselves and others. Having experienced these feelings first hand I am willing to give the idea some credence. It doesn’t seem like an actual survival trait but it does represent a large enhancement to our life style.
Music is particularly effective at arousing emotional responses. While that also wouldn’t account for why our musical acuity evolved it seems like it might potentially have more direct effect on inspiring people to take action for emotional instead of rational reasons. This is probably tightly related to some of the other ideas of why we developed our musical abilities.
The strangest theory that I came across while researching the topic is that music was used to intimidate large predators. I’m not sure how such a practice might have first been advanced. “No, really George. We get out there with our lutes and our timbales and the tigers will freak out and run away from us.” It seems like the early experimenters might just as well have been eaten.
What ever the reason, it is undoubtably true that music is an inherent part of our psychology and our culture. It is as necessary to our existence as fresh air and sunlight. We can survive without either of those but it would be a drab existence. Perhaps it is an expression of our mental predilection for exploring complex patterns of any type, be they visual, auditory, olfactory, or gastronomic, or some combination of the above. It is part of what makes us uniquely human.
Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.