THE ORIGINS and adaptive significance of music, long an elusive target, are now active topics of empirical study, with many interesting developments over the past few years. This article reviews research in anthropology, ethnomusicology, developmental and comparative psychology, neuropsychology, and neurophysiology that bears on questions concerning the origins and evolution of music. We focus on the hypothesis that music perception is constrained by innate, possibly human- and musicspecific principles of organization, as these are candidates for evolutionary explanations. We begin by discussing the distinct roles of different fields of inquiry in constraining claims about innateness and adaptation, and then proceed to review the available evidence. Although research on many of these topics is still in its infancy, at present there is converging evidence that a few basic features of music (relative pitch, the importance of the octave, intervals with simple ratios, tonality, and perhaps elementary musical preferences) are determined in part by innate constraints. At present, it is unclear how many of these constraints are uniquely human and specific to music. Many, however, are unlikely to be adaptations for music, but rather are probably side effects of more general-purpose mechanisms. We conclude by reiterating the significance of identifying processes that are innate, unique to humans, and specific to music, and highlight several possible directions for future research.
- Received August 20, 2003.
- Accepted June 16, 2005.
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