The Musical Animal

We know that humans are a musical species. We sing, we dance, we groove. But are we the only musical species?
Available on CBC Gem

The Musical Animal

Nature of Things

Search “animals making music” online and thousands of videos pop up. Dogs howling to Elvis. Parrots bopping to rock and rap.

In nature, rhythm surrounds us: the blinking light of the firefly, the loud sounds of the cicada,, even the rhythmic buzzing of a mosquito as it mates. Do humans and animals share musical traits? Does music have deeper roots than we have ever imagined? Scientists around the world are searching for evolutionary evidence of a biological basis to music.

In Kyoto, Japan, primatologist Yuko Hattori studies chimpanzees — humans’ closest relatives — to see if they too can keep a beat.

In Amsterdam, Henkjan Honing, a professor of music cognition, is convinced that there is a biological basis for music. Working with newborn humans, he’s shown that babies have a predisposition for perceiving beat.

When a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Snowball delighted the internet by bopping along to pop hits, neuroscientist Ani Patel wanted to know more. He showed that Snowball can adjust to different music speeds and invent new moves.

Fifty years after realizing that whales communicate with each other through haunting songs, we still aren’t certain what they’re saying. While investigating whale songs’ lengthy and complex themes, Scottish researcher Alex South found that the whales are listening to and learning from each other.

Watch The Musical Animal on The Nature of Things.