Research ArticleECOLOGY

Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music

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Science Advances  28 Jun 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 6, e1602399
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602399

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Abstract

All human societies have music with a rhythmic “beat,” typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons. We show that drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles. Over 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at nonrandom, regular intervals, yet individual males differed significantly in the shape parameters describing the distribution of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles. Autocorrelation analyses of the longest drumming sequences further showed that they were highly regular and predictable like human music. These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance.

Keywords
  • biomusicality
  • evolution of rhythm
  • animal tool use

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