What’s the purpose of music?
No culture lacks music—some of the oldest human-made artefacts are musical instruments—but what evolutionary purpose does it serve? Researchers think that the key is in the fact that humans are social creatures, and so music is first and foremost a social tool. Verbal communication is heavily influenced by the pitch, rhythm and timbre of human vocalizations, and music can help us encode and remember information, but we use it for more than language—it comforts infants, seduces mates, stirs armies and sports teams, defines social groups and makes people feel connected. It’s curious, however, that there are billions of ways to group and arrange tones, and yet humans only tend to use a small number of scales over and over. This is due to the fact that the most important and appealing tones in our lives are the vocalizations of other humans—and not surprisingly, researchers have found the closer that scales are to human vocalizations, the more popular they are. (Rock n’ Roll, for example, is especially popular.) In today’s society, many people shy away from the ‘frivolity’ of our tribal roots, but music was incredibly important in our evolutionary history—so tell that to the next person who shouts at you for blasting your speakers at full volume.