Study reveals human song is universal

A'ndrea Elyse Messer
December 09, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Holiday music pours out of speakers in elevators, department stores and even convenience stores at this time of year; now a team of researchers has shown that music, in the form of human song, is a human universal.

Certain styles of music — dance, healing, love songs and lullabies — are found in all cultures. The social functions of these songs are often recognizable to naïve listeners from other cultures with no musical training, according to Luke Glowacki, assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State.

The researchers reported in Science that "acoustic features of songs predict their primary behavioral context; that tonality is widespread, perhaps universal; that music varies in rhythmic and melodic complexity and that melodies and rhythms found worldwide follow power laws."

Their analysis of audio recordings shows that several acoustic features of song such as accent, tempo and pitch range predict the primary social function — lullaby, dance, healing or love.

The researchers found that vocal music existed in 100% of the worldwide cultures they sampled and that the types of song seemed also to be universal, including dance songs, lullabies, healing songs and love songs.

Coverage of this research appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 09, 2019