Monday, 19 October 2009

The Newest Just-So-Story: Monkeys Invented Music

Before anyone had heard of Mozart, I made music. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Music has its origins in monkey drumming, claims a new study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers came up with this not-so-novel idea when they noticed that rhesus monkeys used to bang the doors of their cage and other objects.

Recently, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen scanned the brains of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) while these monkey listened to either drumming or the calls of other monkeys. They noticed that the sounds activated the brain’s temporal lobe that in humans has been associated with speech and vision.

According to Christoph Kayser, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute, drumming was invented as a means of communication in the dawn of primate evolution.

Humans often use non-verbal communication. For instance, we clap our hands, knock on doors and drum. We use our limbs to form repetitious sound patterns or beats.

Kayser and colleagues thus conclude that as Darwinian evolution progressed, drumming became that for what we now need earplugs in order to preserve the remnant of our faculty of hearing.

However, the observed behaviour of monkeys does not necessarily say anything definite about the origin of music.

There seems to be nothing new under the sun. Charles Darwin already speculated that music evolved from the calls of ape men.

Monkey tales or Darwinian just-so-stories still flourish in science journals although it is questionable whether they have anything to do with real science.


Choi, Charles Q. 2009. Monkey Drumming Suggests the Origin of Music. LiveScience (16 October)