Research Article

Universality and diversity in human song

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Science  22 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6468, eaax0868
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0868

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  • Comment on the research article, “Universality and diversity in human song” : On exploring musical practices of the distant past

    The impressive research article, “Universality and diversity in human song” (1), investigates the characteristics of songs associated with a range of behavioral contexts in societies around the world. The authors present compelling evidence of the intercultural universality of certain characteristics, even though expressions of music within individual cultures show considerable variation in terms of formality, arousal, and religiosity (2). According to the research article, four common song categories, viz. dance, lullaby, healing, and love, “tend to have distinctive musical qualities worldwide,” which suggests that “universal features of human psychology bias people to produce and enjoy songs with certain kinds of rhythmic or melodic patterning that naturally go with certain moods, desires, and themes” (3).

    I would like to point out that a work published in 2018 reaches an analogous conclusion about the intrinsic nature of human musical behavior (4). However, the 2018 work employs an entirely different scholarly approach, one based on the methods of historical ethnomusicology (5).

    The research described in Ref. 1 is geographically broad, as it spans the entire planet, but temporally narrow, in that it analyzes songs across a period of only somewhat more than one century, which is brief in comparison with the extent of human musical activity. Greater temporal breadth and attention to historical developments would be desirable, of course, but perhaps difficu...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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