MUSICAL RHYTHM, LINGUISTIC RHYTHM, AND HUMAN EVOLUTION
ANIRUDDH D. PATEL
The Neurosciences Institute
Report: Shauna Garelick
This article addresses the conflict between two beliefs as to whether musical rhythm is an innate human quality or whether the ability is a cognitive ability that is adapted. In order to determine this, Patel raises the question as to “whether there are fundamental aspects of music cognition which are innate and which cannot be explained as byproducts or secondary uses of more clearly adaptive cognitive abilities such as auditory scene analysis or language.” (Patel, p. 1). Patel begins by attempting to determine whether musical rhythms exist in relation to linguistic-rhythm. Patel identifies areas of overlap between these two concepts. He concludes that “grouping in music may well be an offshoot of prosodic grouping abilities” (Patel, p. 1). Parallels are drawn between musical and linguistic rhythm and their relationship to meter and its significance to both of these concepts. This supports the idea that musical rhythm is perhaps an offshoot of linguistic rhythm. However, the discrepancy between music and language and beats is discussed and Patel draws attention to the uniqueness that exists in music and how humans anticipate beat whereas this anticipation is not present in language. This is identified as Beat Perception Synchronization (BPS) which is unique to music. In addressing whether BPS is an innate human quality, Patel looks at infants and then proposes that the best way to determine if animals could learn BPS. If this is the case then it would be clear that natural selection is not required for rhythmic music perception. Patel concludes by hypothesizing that it will not be possible to teach animals Beat Perception Synchronization.
This article discusses several aspects of music perception in a very short space. Patel succinctly introduces the concepts being discussed. However, this article does not draw any new conclusions about the questions asked. Instead, it suggests ways in which to answer these questions and in addition provides hypotheses for potential outcomes should this research be completed. The comparisons drawn between music and language provided excellent insight into how different parts of the brain function to contribute to musical cognition and ability. Drawing the parallels to language were interesting in that both are common to all cultures in some form of another and thus some part of it must exist innately in the human disposition.
As musicians and music educators, we are constantly advocating for students claiming music is for everyone. An incredible amount of research has been done in an attempt to draw connections between how music can help brain functions in terms of mathematics, reading/literacy and overall educational achievements. However, if studies concluded that music was innate and we as humans are pre-wired to be able to perform various musical tasks, then the argument for music education would be strengthened. While it always pains me to be required to fight for music education based on everything that has nothing to do with music, it seems as if for the foreseeable future, this is the inevidible truth. If there is an aspect of the brain that would not get used or exercised should music not be a part of the curriculum, then it would be critical that music continue to be a part of education. An interesting piece of information discussed in this article is the fact that nobody has ever attempted to determine whether animals would be able to achieve BPS. In wracking my brain to figure out why this is, I believe that people do not associate music with animals because they lack vocal control. However, pitch perception is not synonymous with this, and pitch is only half of what exists in the fundamentals of music. Patel makes an excellent point in stating that several questions could be answered if it is determined whether or not animals are capable of anticipating beat. In better understanding where the ability of music originates and if it is innate, perhaps the entire approach to music education could be revolutionized.
Aniruddh D Patel (2006). Musical rhythm, linguistic rhythm, and human evolution. Music Perception, 24(1), 99-103. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1150648221).