• Austria's news in English

Hermit thrush uses harmony like humans

The Local · 6 Nov 2014, 14:18

Published: 06 Nov 2014 14:18 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Researchers from the University of Vienna, the Cornish College of the Arts, USA, and the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany, have been able to demonstrate note selection from the harmonic series in a non-human animal.

The study is published in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

There’s a long-running debate about the extent to which the structure of human musical scales derives from biological aspects (such as our auditory perception and vocal production) or as the product of historical, cultural accidents. In other words, is the origin of human music more biological or more cultural?

One way to answer this question is to study animal ‘song’ - if the vocal displays of some animals, such as birds or whales, follow some of the same principles that characterize human musical systems, this might suggest a biological basis for these musical systems.

Early 20th-century studies claimed that hermit thrush song follows the same principles found in human musical systems, but these were anecdotal reports which were not supported by a rigorous analysis.

However, this new study shows that the hermit thrush song indeed uses notes that are generally related by simple mathematical ratios, like much human music.

The scientists analyzed high-quality recordings of the songs of 14 male hermit thrushes and then used two different statistical methods to demonstrate that the notes of the hermit thrush song were, in most cases, simple integer multiples of a base frequency, corresponding to an overtone series.

Their results strongly suggest that hermit thrushes actively select the pitches they sing.

Although further research is needed to explain why hermit thrushes choose to sing pitches whose relationship follows the harmonic series, one possibility, mentioned by the authors, is that female hermit thrushes may evaluate a male’s singing accuracy by its ability to follow the overtone series.

For more news from Austria, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Verdict on swimming pool rape case overturned
The Theresienbad swimming pool in Vienna. Photo: Wikimedia

An Iraqi refugee who was jailed after claiming it was a sexual emergency when he raped a boy in a swimming pool has had the sentence overturned.

Vienna Comic Con promises to be 'bigger and more galactic'
Cosplay star Yaya Han. Copyright: Yaya Han/Bryan Humphrey

Comic Con returns to the Austrian capital on November 19th-20th at the Messe Wien.

Three refugees arrested on drugs charges
Cannabis plants. Photo: J. Patrick Bedell/Wikimedia

A gang of three Afghani drug dealers has been busted in Vienna.

Hungarian woman crushed by snowcat piste machine
Snowcat machine. Photo: Melensdad/Wikimedia

A young Hungarian woman has died after being crushed by a snowcat piste machine on the Dobratsch mountain in Carinthia.

Austrian policeman sentenced over 'Heil Hitler' salute
Photo: Flickr

A policeman in Austria was sentenced on Thursday for shouting "Heil Hitler" at a driver during a traffic check at the Hungarian border in April.

Scary clown craze endangers crucial work of clown 'doctors'
Photo: Bojan Tavcar

Within the last couple weeks, disturbing events involving masked individuals has caught public attention in Austria.

Chimney sweep rescues lost mushroom picker
Photo: James Lindsey/Wikimedia

A 76-year-old Austrian man who went out mushroom picking almost froze to death after getting lost and spending the night in the forest.

Refugees sold into forced prostitution
File photo: UNHCR

Female refugees are being sold into forced prostitution in Austria, a police investigation into human trafficking has found.

Driverless bus takes a spin around Salzburg's old town
The Arma driverless shuttle bus. Photo: Navya

A driverless minibus has made a test journey in the city of Salzburg.

No jail time for asylum seeker who dumped baby in road
Photo: Paul Gillingwater

A man who grabbed his own child and dumped her in the middle of a busy road has been given a nine-month suspended sentence.

12 brilliant German words you won't find in English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Five films which will change your mind about Austrian cinema
Those surprising Austrians!
100 years since the last emperor's death
Afghani family's new home in Austria
Der you learn Deutsch?
Delighted by the light
Beware these passport scams
Of course we skipped Oarsch
Foodies rejoice at the choice!
Travel & Tourism
10 years after her escape from captivity
Surviving the Brexit for British expats
Day 2 of the World Bodypainting Festival 2016
Is Islam hostile to Western society?
Bodypainting festival in southern Austria
Europe's ice cream capital
Best Austrian beauty spots
Travel & Tourism
Three days in Vienna as a tourist
How to make friends in Austria
jobs available