From apes to aliens: the evolution of music | Michael Spitzer

From Big Think.

What do aliens, apes, and orchestras all have in common? Professor Michael Spitzer explains how they each help us understand the origins of music.

Subscribe to Big Think on YouTube ►
Up next, Music’s power over your brain, explained

Humans are not the only species with music, but we are the only ones who had to make music completely from scratch.

According to Michael Spitzer, Professor of Music at the University of Liverpool, humans are not inherently musical. In fact, we come from a lineage less musically inclined than birds or even insects. This means that when it comes to our musical abilities, we had to rely on both cultural and biological evolution to make music a fundamental aspect of human life.

Our ability to create music is also partially due to how our bodies have developed over time. Contrary to our ape-like ancestors, we have dexterous fingers that allow us to use instruments, and a descended larynx that allows for a wider variety of vocal sounds. These developments paved the path toward human musicality, which eventually distinguished itself from animal vocalizations, transitioning into an art form that serves as a medium for social connection and identity expression.

Spitzer explores the emotional resonance of music, which tends to set us apart from other music-making species, emphasizing its power to express and evoke deep sensations through patterns and rhythms that mirror human experiences. This connection between music, emotion, and human identity highlights music’s role as its own universal yet deeply personal language.


Go Deeper with Big Think:

►Become a Big Think Member
Get exclusive access to full interviews, early access to new releases, Big Think merch and more.

►Get Big Think+ for Business
Guide, inspire and accelerate leaders at all levels of your company with the biggest minds in business.


About Michael Spitzer:

Michael Spitzer is the author of The Musical Human and professor of music at the University of Liverpool, where he leads the department’s work on classical music. A music theorist and musicologist, he is an authority on Beethoven, with interests in aesthetics and critical theory, cognitive metaphor, and music and affect. He organized the International Conferences on Music and Emotion and the International Conference on Analyzing Popular Music and currently chairs the editorial board of Music Analysis Journal.