Music is the language we all share


Category:  Entertainment

Via:  buzz-of-the-orient  •  9 months ago  •  7 comments

By:   Lindsey Reynolds

Music is the language we all share
"Music is the universal language of mankind." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Music is the language we all share

A 5-year Harvard project reveals how music is truly universal.


Music infuses our social lives, no matter where we are. (Photo: Maurizio De Mattei/

Versions of the Tower of Babel origin myth exist in many cultures as a way to explain why we humans speak   so many different languages   around the globe. While there's still no common tongue to unite us all, there might, perhaps, be another way to communicate with our fellow Earthlings: music.

Along with his colleagues,   Samuel Mehr of Harvard University   set out to discover if music really is universal across all languages. Harkening back to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1835 declaration that "music is the universal language of mankind," the team wanted hard evidence of this conventional wisdom.

Gathering the music of the world, both ancient and modern, both love songs and mournful ballads, was no small task.

For the past five years, Mehr and his team have been hunting down hundreds of recordings, from public libraries to obscure private collections. Their project, dubbed   The Natural History of Song , is a database of almost 5,000 descriptions of songs and song performances from 60 human societies.

"We are so used to being able to find any piece of music that we like on the internet," said Mehr, who is now a principal investigator at   Harvard's Music Lab . "But there are thousands and thousands of recordings buried in archives that are not accessible online. We didn't know what we would find: at one point we found an odd-looking call number, asked a Harvard librarian for help, and twenty minutes later she wheeled out a cart of about 20 cases of reel-to-reel recordings of traditional Celtic music."

Sing us a song


An Australian brass band in 1906. (Photo:  Unknown [public domain] /Wikimedia Commons)

This is the team's largest and most ambitious study to date, with the full results recently published in   Science .

The study was truly universal, with musicians, data scientists, psychologists, linguists and political scientists all participating in this international collaboration.

More than just music, the scientists drilled down, sorting the songs and song performances into 60 variables for easy cross-referencing. The variables included the demographics of singers and audience members; the presence of instruments and special costumes; the duration of the song; and the time of day. Keywords were also assigned to events leading up to a song performance, as well as its behavioral context, function and lyrics.

A second database focused solely on four categories of songs: lullabies, love songs, healing songs and dance songs. Despite their differences, songs in each category shared underlying structural concepts, which could be considered the " grammar " or building blocks of music.

"As a graduate student, I was working on studies of infant music perception and I started to see all these studies that made claims about music being universal," Mehr explains. "How is it that every paper on music starts out with this big claim but there's never a citation backing that up ... Now we can back that up."

Test your ears


A screenshot of Harvard's Music Lab world music quiz. (Photo:  Harvard Music Lab )

If you'd like to test your own musical acumen, the folks at Harvard's Music Lab have kindly put together some   interactive quizzes   for your listening pleasure (and that link takes a few seconds to build, so be patient). The world music quiz plays snippets of songs in one of the four aforementioned categories, then asks you to guess if the crooning is for a baby, a sickly person, a lover or those just wanting to dance.

From a lullaby sung by the Native American Hopi tribe to a dance song from the Maasai people of Tanzania to a healing song performed by a member of the Anggor people of Papua New Guinea, you might be surprised to see how many songs you can correctly categorize.

Mehr, who began his academic studies in music education, looks forward to further studies on "musical grammar," and breaking down age-old assumptions.

"In music theory, tonality is often assumed to be an invention of Western music, but our data raise the controversial possibility that this could be a universal feature of music," Mehr adds. "That raises pressing questions about structure that underlies music everywhere — and whether and how our minds are designed to make music."


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Buzz of the Orient
1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient    9 months ago

"If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it..."   (Shakespeare - Twelfth Night)

"If turkey be the food of Thanksgiving, eat on, give me excess of it..."    (Buzz of the Orient)

1.1  Enoch  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    9 months ago

Nothing exceeds like excess.

2  Kavika     9 months ago

Music transcends time/race/religion/culture/language..It is the universal language. 

There is a large number of ''Playing for Change'' on youtube with musicians from around the world playing a single song. Here is ''The Weight''...I hope that possibly from the title ''playing for change'' you can find it on one of the websites available to you Buzz.;_ylt=AwrE18.NFOVd1RUAxQxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyYWRkM2FjBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjg3NDVfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=youtube+playing+for+change&fr=mcafee#id=2&vid=e8a3381e7f5d51881413c97a9ad17178&action=view

Jeremy Retired in NC
2.1  Jeremy Retired in NC  replied to  Kavika @2    8 months ago
Music transcends time/race/religion/culture/language..It is the universal language.

That is such an understatement.  The music I listen to does not get radio play - NONE.  But if you go to a show, the audience is made up of the entire spectrum of people.  All differences are left at the door.  Even those physical handicaps are accepted in ways that are nothing short of amazing.   

3  Kavika     9 months ago

Here is another ''Playing for Change'' Otis Redding ''Dock on a Bay''.

4  Kavika     9 months ago

If you love the ''Blues'' this is for you Buzz. ''Playing for Change''  Keb' Mo' Walking Blues

5  Kavika     9 months ago

  Music doesn’t lie . If there is something to be  changed in this world , then it can only happen through  music .  – Jimi Hendrix


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