Volume 17: pp. 13-32

The Links Between Pitch, Timbre, Musicality, and Social Bonding From Cross-Species Research

Bernhard Wagner

Acoustics Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Marisa Hoeschele

Acoustics Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, University of Vienna

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Music has been proposed as a “coevolved system for social bonding” (Savage et al., 2020), emphasizing a role of biology in human music. Cross-species studies can help us gain insight into the phylogenetic, behavioral, and/or physiological constraints of the biological abilities underlying music, known as musicality. Cross-species research of past years has focused largely on rhythmic abilities and vocal learning in nonhuman species. By surveying the existing literature, this review shows that spectral aspects of musicality—such as octave equivalence, consonance preference, and saliency of timbre—remain understudied, yet appear crucial to social bonding. We delineate how these abilities may facilitate social bonding and propose the four biological traits of vocal learning, vocalizations with clear harmonics, differing vocal ranges, and simultaneous vocalizing, which primarily appear to constrain the abilities. We illustrate how these traits interact in shaping musicality and make suggestions and predictions regarding future research on the connection between spectral musicality traits and social bonding.

Keywords: musicality, vocal learning, octave equivalence, consonance, timbre

Author Note: Bernhard Wagner, Acoustics Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Wohllebengasse 12-14, A-1040, Vienna, Austria.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bernhard Wagner at bwagner@kfs.oeaw.at.