Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

I'm singing in the rainforest: Researchers find striking similarities between bird song and human music

Date:
October 16, 2013
Source:
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
Summary:
The musician wren is aptly-named, because these birds use the same intervals in their songs that are heard as consonant in many human cultures. This is a what composer and musicologist and a biologist found out in their zoomusicological study. Consonant intervals are perceived to fit well together. They sound calm and stable, and are the basis for keys in Western Music. It is because Musician Wrens preferentially produce successive perfect octaves, fifths, and fourths that their songs sound musical to human listeners.

The song of the musician wren shows remarkable parallels to human compositions: song frequency over time (1.), transcription of the notes of the song (2.), opening melody of the second movement of Haydn‘s Symphony #103 (3.), the opening of Bach’s fugue XX in A minor (4.).
Credit: Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies, 2013

The Musician Wren (Cyphorhynus arada) is aptly-named, because these birds use the same intervals in their songs that are heard as consonant in many human cultures. This is what composer and musicologist Emily Doolittle and the biologist Henrik Brumm found out in their zoomusicological study. Consonant intervals are perceived to fit well together. They sound calm and stable, and are the basis for keys in Western Music. It is because Musician Wrens preferentially produce successive perfect octaves, fifths, and fourths that their songs sound musical to human listeners.

Related Articles


In fact the researchers found passages in the songs of the Musician Wrens with striking similarity to passages of e.g. the composers Bach and Haydn. "However, this does not mean that the musician wren is singing in a key the way a human musician might. Rather, the bird's preference for consonances leads to occasional conjunctions of pitches which sound to human listeners like they are drawn from the same scale," says Emily Doolittle.

In 2011, Emily Doolittle was composer-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, where she collaborated with ornithologist Henrik Brumm in researching song of the musician wren, gathered birdsongs for future musical use, and presented a concert of her birdsong-related works, performed by members of the Bavarian State Opera.

The now published study reveals that the song of the "Uirapuru" (the Portuguese name for the Musician Wren) is often a part of Brazilian music. The composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a symphonic poem in 1917 called "Uirapuru." Other closely related birds did not receive such an honor: although they have pleasant songs, they lack the harmonic intervals of the musician wrens. Doolittle and Brumm tested 91 human listeners by asking them to compare successions of intervals taken from the musician wrens' songs with computer-generated songs in which the contours and durations remained the same but the intervals were slightly altered. The results were clear: human listeners considered the birds' interval choices to be more "musical."

"Our findings explain why this bird species plays such a prominent role in mythology and art. However, it does not mean that birdsong in general is constructed like human music -- there are around 4000 different song bird species and each has its own way of singing. Some are not very musical at all," says Henrik Brumm, research group leader in Seewiesen.

It remains mysterious whether and how musician wrens perceive musical intervals and how they think about structuring their songs, though this would be an excellent subject for further study. The perception of intervals and other aspects of human music by non-human animals are of considerable relevance with regards to the origin of human music.

The song of the musician wren can be heard here: http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Cyphorhinus-arada?view=3


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Emily Doolittle and Henrik Brumm. O Canto do Uirapuru: Consonant intervals and patterns in the song of the musician wren. Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies, 15 October 2013 [link]

Cite This Page:

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. "I'm singing in the rainforest: Researchers find striking similarities between bird song and human music." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016100307.htm>.
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. (2013, October 16). I'm singing in the rainforest: Researchers find striking similarities between bird song and human music. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016100307.htm
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. "I'm singing in the rainforest: Researchers find striking similarities between bird song and human music." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016100307.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins