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Beats Common to All Music May Bring People Together

Study suggests a few basic rhythms underlie music from around the world, pulling groups closer

TUESDAY, June 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- From African drums to Viennese waltzes, people from around the world tune into common beats, a new study suggests.

The research also supports the notion of music as a means of unifying people socially, the researchers said.

"Our findings help explain why humans make music," study co-author Thomas Currie, of the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in a university news release.

"The results show that the most common features seen in music around the world relate to things that allow people to coordinate their actions, and suggest that the main function of music is to bring people together and bond social groups - it can be a kind of social glue," Currie explained.

In their research, the team spotted similar, basic features among various samples of music from across the globe. They also found that very different types of music perform a similar function: using music as a "social glue" that bonds groups together.

And even though musical styles may seem very different between regions, commonalities emerged.

The study involved 304 recordings of very different types of music from around the world. The music samples they used came from North America, Central/South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania.

After analyzing the songs, the researchers identified rhythms based on two or three beats in all of them, according to the study published June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

"In the old days, Western people believed that Western scales were universal," study author Pat Savage, a Ph.D. student from the Tokyo University of the Arts, said in the University of Exeter release. "But then when we realized that other cultures had quite different ideas about scales, that led some people to conclude that there was nothing universal about music, which I think is just as silly."

In the new study, "we've shown that despite its great surface diversity, most of the music throughout the world is actually constructed from very similar basic building blocks and performs very similar functions, which mainly revolve around bringing people together," Savage said.

Music often tends to be more about the group than the individual, the researchers added.

"In the West we can sometimes think of music as being about individuals expressing themselves or displaying their talent, but globally music tends to be more of social phenomena," Currie added. "Even here we see this in things like church choirs, or the singing of national anthems. In countries like North Korea, we can also see extreme examples of how music and mass dance can be used to unite and coordinate groups."

"My daughter and I were singing and drumming and dancing together for months before she even said her first words," Savage said. "Music is not a universal language... music lets us connect without language."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on the effects of music on the mind.

SOURCE: University of Exeter, news release, June 29, 2015.
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