A new analysis of music from diverse cultures around the globe reveals that …all music shares certain universal features, such as having a simple beat. And these characteristics tend to be those that bring people together, the researchers said.
…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.
Some of these characteristics were not surprising, such as the music’s tendency to use discrete pitches (rather than ones that slide from one tone to the next like the way a voice rises to ask a question), and equally timed beats and short musical phrases.
Other music universals were more unexpected, like the discovery that two-beat rhythms predominate over three-beat rhythms (think of a military march compared with a waltz). “It fits that we have two legs, so the music is probably related to the natural rhythms of movement,” said Savage. “And also, two is simpler than three, so maybe it’s easier to process and coordinate.”
Men as well as bands dominate music around the world, …Some people, as far back as Darwin, have believed that singing evolved as a way for males to gain mates (whale song and bird song are dominated by males). In humans, Savage said, the fact that females are less likely to be involved in music-making is likely more tied into a patriarchal cultural structure than a biological reason — something that he said requires more study.
The finding that most music happens in groups, however, points to the evolution of group bonding and social cohesion through music. Before iPods and smartphones (and before that, CDs and records), multiple people were required to bring music to life; simple repetitive beats brought people together to collaborate on one activity.