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Musicing for survival?

Music and evolution

I have often wondered how we as humans have come to engage, use and need music.

Many of our human traits evolved because they solved problems of survival or reproduction, but how does music fit into this? From an evolutionary-reproductive position, music could be associated with many advantageous skills such as greater self confidence, extraversion and rhythmic prowess which could all suggest an attractive superior physical ability.

When considering the survival aspect of music and evolution it can be assumed that ‘musicing’ promotes group cohesion, co-operation, social bonds and attachments. Thus, It is far more effective hunting and defending against predators in groups compared to the endeavours of an individual. Another theory linked to the survival aspect of ‘musicing’ dates back to our primate days on the planet. As primates we would use the physical grooming of each other not only to promote cleanliness but also to promote social bonds and status. This physical grooming later evolved into a type of vocal grooming with the development of primal vocalisations (a combination of language and music) which pre dated language. The ‘vocalisational’ grooming was far more efficient as it enabled a nurturing of bonds with many individuals at the same time.

Over time these vocalisations developed into two distinct systems of both the language and music we know today. When further evaluating the split between language and music it is obvious how singing is louder than talking and can co-ordinate moods with much greater authority. Music can also provide social cohesion (mentioned above) and can prepare a group to act in unison. War cries, hunting chants, work song etc can all increase our alertness, energy and feeling of community.

One other survival based theory of music is that it evolved as a source of parental communication for social bonding. To formulate attachments (necessary for survival) and regulate their emotions an infant relies solely upon the primary care giver. An infant has no means of self regulation or soothing at such an early age so they are entirely dependent on an ‘other’ to process what they can’t manage emotionally. This bonding is formed through vocalisations, body movements, and facial expressions. It is this pre-verbal relationship which soothes, stabilises and regulates their emotions. The vocal element of this emotional regulation like music, can convey affective meaning through the use of speed, duration, intensity, rhythm and variations of pitch.

If we are then to assume that a vital role of music is for emotional management it can be seen that

perhaps music is indeed both a core aspect of our survival and a way to ‘attach’ to something or a ‘someone’…….

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