Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Origins of Music: Theories and their Flaws

In the last decade, the study of music evolution has significantly increased. Ian Cross analyzes two papers on this subject, and points out how they could be stronger in certain areas.

The first paper, by Justus & Hustler, indicates that the capability to learn music is adaptive, and that inherent music talent is the basis for the exploration and reconceptualization of music. The other paper, by McDermott & Hauser is very broad-ranging, and gives a detailed check-list of what one would need to give an evolutionary view of music. While writing their paper, McDermott & Hauser referred to/were influenced by developmental & ethological essays.

Both papers seem to misinterpret the “Neanderthal Flute”, a bone that is mythically believed to be the first musical instrument. McDermott & Hauser suggest that the earliest preserved instruments date back to 6000 BC. This date is to late to be plausible. Justus & Hustler say the “Neanderthal Flute” was made by humans, when in fact, it is believed to be a product of an animals chewing. If it were to be a musical instrument, the date at which is was made is too early a period for music to have started.

Ian Cross also notes that both papers lack specificity when it comes to defining music. McDermott & Hauser state “… a definition of music is not particularly important at this stage.” Cross concludes that their lack of specificity limits their arguments greatly.

McDermott & Hauser end their paper by claiming that music lacks referential precision, because it expresses emotion and is “commonly used to produce enjoyment.” Cross believes that music must be characterized as fully as possible. Only then can you understand how music relates to other aspects of human life, and propose theories on the evolutionary roots of human musicality.


At 3/31/2007 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might wish to check the spelling of the author's names a bit more closely. Also, it looks as though you need to reread the Justus and Hutsler paper a bit more carefully. They never claim that music is adaptive. In fact, they question the bases upon which others have suggested that it is adaptive, while laying out the requirements that should be met before considering music behavior as a specific adaptation. In addition, they do not insist that the Neanderthal flute is genuine (although many authors still disagree on this point), but merely use this as a putative time stamp for how early music as a behavior, not as an adaptation, might possibly have appeared. Really a minor point in the overall paper.


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