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Universality and diversity in human song

Science (New York, N.Y.) | 23 Nov 2019

SA Mehr, M Singh, D Knox, DM Ketter, D Pickens-Jones, S Atwood, C Lucas, N Jacoby, AA Egner, EJ Hopkins, RM Howard, JK Hartshorne, MV Jennings, J Simson, CM Bainbridge, S Pinker, TJ O'Donnell, MM Krasnow and L Glowacki
Abstract
What is universal about music, and what varies? We built a corpus of ethnographic text on musical behavior from a representative sample of the world’s societies, as well as a discography of audio recordings. The ethnographic corpus reveals that music (including songs with words) appears in every society observed; that music varies along three dimensions (formality, arousal, religiosity), more within societies than across them; and that music is associated with certain behavioral contexts such as infant care, healing, dance, and love. The discography-analyzed through machine summaries, amateur and expert listener ratings, and manual transcriptions-reveals 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 elements of melodies and rhythms found worldwide follow power laws.
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