Music has long been called the universal language of humankind. New research supports the finding that music all around the globe shares universal features, despite many differences.
The concept of cultural universality allows defining culture in terms of what is intrinsic to it in human culture. While some of the features are specific for each culture, others are distributed across the cultures.
The study of ethnic music can be therefor reviewed from their socio-cultural traditions as well as from the universal perspective.
Human Music is Universal
Samuel Mehr and colleagues address this challenge by merging modern data science with musical recordings and ethnographic records from world cultures to map out the universals and variations in human song (vocal music).
Mehr et al. built a discography of audio recordings accompanied with detailed descriptions of around 5000 detailed descriptions of songs and their performances in 60 human societies from 315 cultures.
They created another database to analyze recordings taken of four types of music from 30 different regions, which included dance songs, healing songs, love songs, and lullabies.
The results of the study underscore the universality of music, suggesting humans might have an innate “grammar” for music.
Music is one of the aspects of human cognition
Cognitive biologists Tecumseh Fitch and Tudor Popescu of the University of Vienna suggest that human musicality unites all cultures across the planet.
They comment on the implications: “Human musicality fundamentally rests on a small number of fixed pillars: hard-coded predispositions, afforded to us by the ancient physiological infrastructure of our shared biology. These ‘musical pillars’ are then ‘seasoned’ with the specifics of every individual culture, giving rise to the beautiful kaleidoscopic assortment that we find in world music,” Tudor Popescu explains.
The new research suggests that human musicality is one of these shared aspects of human cognition. The results also show there is more variation in musical context within cultures than between them.