Is music the food of love?

 Musical instruments are some of the oldest human-made artifacts found in archeological sites. There are three major theories of musical evolution each with its own supporters and critics.

Music for mating
The first theory proposes that music evolved as a strategy to attract mates. Music is universal. It is found across races, cultures and seems to have a genetic basis. Types of Amusia, the inability to process pitch, runs in families. In early cultures, singing and dancing usually went together and therefore music signaled underlying physical fitness. Creating music demands mental agility and dexterity, traits desirable in a prospective mate. Proponents of the theory also cite species of birds where the more complex the tune, the greater the chance of wooing the female. On an evolutionary timeline, music for humans worked somewhat like the feathers for the peacock, a reproductive strategy.

Social bonding
The second theory is that music evolved to help social bonding. Music is akin to the grooming found in primates. It brings a feeling of solidarity. Proponents state that when group size exceeded a certain number, remote grooming (as in singing and dancing together) had to be done.

Music is thus seen as the precursor to spoken language in holding the group together. Even when spoken language emerged, music was used to preserve and convey information before scripts emerged. Information such as which fruit was poisonous, which stream ran dry and when etc could be accurately preserved in lyrics as structural constraints of music aid memory.

Happy accident
The third theory is that music evolved accidentally and that we bent it to suit our requirements. This theory posits that music followed speech. Music is not seen as an essential function for survival but as the byproduct of mental mechanisms that evolved for other processes.

We may now be moving away from the evolutionary purpose (whatever it may be) of music, but most of us will agree that life without music is indeed poor. In recent times, we have become consumers of music rather than producers. Technology has had a great role in this transformation. With easy availability of all types of music, an average teenager, it is said, will listen to more different music in a month than his grandfather did in his life time.

But whether all this listening is good or bad is another matter. For instance, hearing loss from abnormally loud music is on the rise.

Music is now being seen as an emergent property of the brain. Human beings seem to be hardwired for music. Researchers are studying the different emotions that different types of music elicit and their neural substrates. The role of music in academics, healing and many other mental processes are topics of research too.

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