Monkey drumming may provide insights into origin of music

Monday, October 19, 2009

WASHINGTON - Monkeys drum to communicate messages about power and status - the louder the drumming, the bigger and stronger the animal likely is. However, researchers feel that the behaviour could provide insights into the origin of music.

In the wild, monkeys known as macaques drum by shaking branches or thumping on dead logs and a similar behavior is observed in non-human primates - for instance, gorillas beat their chests and clap their hands, while chimpanzees drum on tree buttresses.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in T├╝bingen, Germany believe that primate drumming might represent a precursor of musical abilities in humans.

Previous studies have found areas of brains associated with vocal communication in monkeys. It hints at the roots of vocal communications in primates.

The discovery of drumming in rhesus macaques offers a way to examine what brain regions were linked with nonvocal communication, such as music in humans.

During the new study, the researchers scanned monkey brains while the rhesus macaques listened to either drumming or monkey calls. They found overlapping networks activated in the temporal lobe, which in humans is key to processing meaning in both speech and vision.

“Humans convey information not only using speech, but also using other sounds that range in diversity from loud hand-clapping as applause, to the discrete knocking on a door before entering, to drumming that forms an important part of music,” Live Science quoted Christoph Kayser, a neuroscientist as saying.

“What is common between such sounds is that they are produced by repeated movements of the limbs so as to produce a structured sound made up of a series of periodic repeats, or beats.

Humans use very complicated beat patterns by drumming, often in conjunction with musical rhythms. It is well known that such percussive beat generation is ubiquitous across human cultures, even used by tribal cultures,” he added.
The fact that vocal and nonvocal communication have common origins in the brain in monkeys could support the notion that both co-evolved “to support the human faculties of language and music,” he added.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

Filed under: Monkey

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