Listening: ♫ Bobby McFerrin singing with 12 other voices: three basses, three tenors, three altos and three sopranos. From the album Circlesongs (1997).
The building blocks of music are to be found in human speech.
“Scientists have always been intrigued by the connection between music and language. Yet over the years, words and melody have acquired a vastly different status in the lab and the seminar room. While language has long been considered essential to unlocking the mechanisms of human intelligence, music is generally treated as an evolutionary frippery — mere “auditory cheesecake,” as the Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker puts it. But thanks to a decade-long wave of neuroscience research, that tune is changing.
Musicologists have long emphasized that while each culture stamps a special identity onto its music, music itself has some universal qualities. For example, in virtually all cultures sound is divided into some or all of the 12 intervals that make up the chromatic scale — that is, the scale represented by the keys on a piano. For centuries, observers have attributed this preference for certain combinations of tones to the mathematical properties of sound itself.
This music-is-math idea is often accompanied by the notion that music, formally speaking at least, exists apart from the world in which it was created.
According to David Schwartz and colleagues, human musical preferences are fundamentally shaped not by elegant algorithms or ratios but by the messy sounds of real life, and of speech in particular.
Far from being abstract, music presents a strange analog to the patterns created by the sounds of speech.
In music we hear the echo of our basic sound-making instrument — the vocal tract. The explanation for human music is simpler still than Pythagoras’s mathematical equations: We like the sounds that are familiar to us - specifically, we like sounds that remind us of us.”
via Boston.com: Songs of Ourselves