Evolutionary Benefit of Odd Music Rhythms

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Summary: what is the evolutionary benefit of human rhythm capability

It seems that most of the human capabilities and senses developed from some feature that had a survival benefit. But the capability to maintain complex rhythms doesn't seem to confer any benefits. For example a 4/4 rhythm might have come from walking. But a complex rhythms such as 11/7, jazz beats, and syncopation don't seem to offer any survival benefits. So where did this capability arise?
 

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  • #2
jim mcnamara
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This falls under adaptive (cultural) experience, language and human plasticity. Let's put it in Art, Music, History, and Linguistics.
 
  • #3
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In this Wikipedia article, the development of music may have come bipedalism.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_musicology
It seems it’s benefits are to improve our repetitive movement skills. This could include running, dodging, and combat. In some ways, it reminds me of the movie A River Runs Through It where Brad Pitt does a marvelous flycast that required great timing and rhythm and the physics of motion not to mention artistry.

 
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  • #4
pinball1970
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Summary: what is the evolutionary benefit of human rhythm capability

It seems that most of the human capabilities and senses developed from some feature that had a survival benefit. But the capability to maintain complex rhythms doesn't seem to confer any benefits. For example a 4/4 rhythm might have come from walking. But a complex rhythms such as 11/7, jazz beats, and syncopation don't seem to offer any survival benefits. So where did this capability arise?
Drums and music would have had spiritual and social content with ancient tribes.
Is there any evidence of these time signatures being used by extant tribes in Australia, Africa, south America or Island tribes?

I have only ever heard straight 4/4 types (from films, documentaries, news media)

I do not think I have ever heard waltz time either.

I have heard syncopation from a Iraqi/Kurdish bands (I have drummed in a few) and some of those roots I imagine are very old and go back to their tribal origins.

Same as per a Dervish concert I recently attended (In Manchester of all places)

Evolutionary advantage? Sexual ritual? Or just something to distinguish themselves from other tribes and re-inforce kinship as seen in other social rituals seems to be the indication from the wiki links.

A more complicated rhythm would stand out and attract a mate?

An analogy could be all those little trills and ornaments in some Asian traditional music, the guy with biggest range may get the pick of the crop.

Birds use the same technique.
 
  • #5
Bandersnatch
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Not every trait needs to have an evolutionary advantage. It might be a spandrel.
 
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I use to put it this way: I am no Tibetan monk. So music (rhythms) are an easy method to influence my autonomic nervous system.

This means: One can gain self-confidence, concentration, aggression, calming, etc. by certain kinds of music (rhythms). Something which otherwise would require a level of self-control I'm not capable of.

Soldiers sing tunes while walking, tennis players enter the arena with an earplug listening to music, couples talk about "their" song, etc. All these examples are in my opinions evidence for what I said.
 
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  • #7
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Soldiers singing and the power of music to inspire and alert reminded me of this scene from Gunga Din:

 
  • #8
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But the capability to maintain complex rhythms doesn't seem to confer any benefits.
Sometimes evolution just runs wild on a road it started, and this might lead to results without benefits (or even seems detrimental sometimes).
It is enough if it had benefit of some kind before, in its some previous state. Just think about some excess headgears on (male) mammals...
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
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Dave Brubeck did have six children.
 
  • #10
pinball1970
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  • #11
Vanadium 50
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That's actually the only track on that album not written by Brubeck. It was written by Paul Desmond.
 
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That was Take 5 and I'll keep 1.
 
  • #13
symbolipoint
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Dave Brubeck did have six children.
"Take Five" ---- and you see that some people ARE explorers, even in fields of Art.
 
  • #14
symbolipoint
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That's actually the only track on that album not written by Brubeck. It was written by Paul Desmond.
OKay, so maybe both of them were musical explorers.
 
  • #15
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Dave Brubeck did have six children.
JS Bach had more than that, but that was because his organ had no stops.
 
  • #16
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Okay folks, humor has its limits here lest we venture into more colorful territory so lets get back to the thread's main theme.
 
  • #17
berkeman
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Evolutionary advantage? Sexual ritual? Or just something to distinguish themselves from other tribes and re-inforce kinship as seen in other social rituals seems to be the indication from the wiki links.

A more complicated rhythm would stand out and attract a mate?

An analogy could be all those little trills and ornaments in some Asian traditional music, the guy with biggest range may get the pick of the crop.

Birds use the same technique.
That was my first thought as well.
 
  • #18
BWV
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Plenty of things justify their existence without recourse to evolutionary biology and natural selection 'just so' narratives.

The music of Baka and Mbenga ('pygmy') peoples of central africa is likely one of the oldest surviving musical systems. It is both polyphonic and rhythmically complex

 
  • #19
pinball1970
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Plenty of things justify their existence without recourse to evolutionary biology and natural selection 'just so' narratives.

The music of Baka and Mbenga ('pygmy') peoples of central africa is likely one of the oldest surviving musical systems. It is both polyphonic and rhythmically complex

It's old and it evolved
 
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  • #20
berkeman
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A related question worth investigating is, "what sounds in the natural world don't adhere to quadruple meter (4/4 time)?". Identify what they are, then evaluate whether being able to understand and/or mimic them provides an evolutionary advantage.
 
  • #22
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A related question worth investigating is, "what sounds in the natural world don't adhere to quadruple meter (4/4 time)?".
Do four-footed creatures prefer an evenly-timed gait ? That would be interesting, especially if they use 4/4's characteristic emphasis pattern (strong, weak, medium, weak).

As far as odd-denominator metres are concerned, I imagine artistic license, rather than a natural groove.

I've heard 5/ 7/ and 9/ done so smoothly it seems perfectly natural (right up until somebody tries to dance to it). For myself, I think 11+/ would require some effort on the part of the listener.

The Grateful Dead in concert had a song that technically would be a 17/, but that was really 4x4/ + a pause.
 
  • #23
pinball1970
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Do four-footed creatures prefer an evenly-timed gait ? That would be interesting, especially if they use 4/4's characteristic emphasis pattern (strong, weak, medium, weak).

As far as odd-denominator metres are concerned, I imagine artistic license, rather than a natural groove.

I've heard 5/ 7/ and 9/ done so smoothly it seems perfectly natural (right up until somebody tries to dance to it). For myself, I think 11+/ would require some effort on the part of the listener.

The Grateful Dead in concert had a song that technically would be a 17/, but that was really 4x4/ + a pause.
Horses canter straight but Gallop as a shuffle.

Tribes may have picked up on that sort of thing from nature, the human brain likes interesting patterns and history tells us these tribes like to imitate it whether it's cave art or animal rhythms.
 
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  • #24
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Tribes may have picked up on that sort of thing from nature, the human brain likes interesting patterns and history tells us these tribes like to imitate it whether it's cave art or animal rhythms.
Perhaps binary is the actual natural base : 5|10 being just some freak evolutionary sidetrack. It would explain why my cat sucks at arithmetic : her natural proclivity is towards base 2.
 
  • #25
pinball1970
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Perhaps binary is the actual natural base : 5|10 being just some freak evolutionary sidetrack. It would explain why my cat sucks at arithmetic : her natural proclivity is towards base 2.
There are some profound differences between shuffle and straight in terms of feel although they are both 4/4.
Dance music uses these rhythms and those tribal genes chiming could be one of the reasons why it was so popular.
The complex ones I think are a much later modification.
 

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