Music skills evolved 30 million years ago
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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 18:25
Washington: Music skills evolved at least 30 million years ago in the common ancestor of humans and monkeys, scientists have found.

The findings also help explain why chimpanzees drum on tree roots and monkey calls sound like singing, researchers said.

The study also suggests that music came even before language.

"Musical behaviours would constitute a first step towards phonological patterning, and therefore language," lead author Andrea Ravignani told Discovery News.

Ravignani, a doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna's Department of Cognitive Biology, and his colleagues focused on "dependency detection."

This has to do with recognising relationships between syllables, words and musical notes. For example, once we hear a certain pattern like Do-Re-Mi, we listen for it again. Hearing something like Do-Re-Fa sounds wrong because it violates the expected pattern.

Normally monkeys don't respond the same way, but this research grabbed their attention since it used sounds within their frequency ranges.

In the study, squirrel monkeys sat in a sound booth and listened to a set of three novel patterns. The researchers fed the monkeys insects between playbacks, so the monkeys quickly got to like this activity.

Whenever a pattern changed, similar to our hearing Do-Re-Fa, the monkeys stared longer.

The squirrel monkeys demonstrated that they understood sound patterns - and when they changed.

This ability, central to language and music, therefore evolved at least 30 million years ago in the small and furry tree-dwelling primate that was the last common ancestor of humans and monkeys.

It's likely that all primates today share the skills, researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Biology Letters.


First Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 18:25

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