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Hermit thrush favors harmonies like those in human music

By Tim Sandle     Nov 9, 2014 in Environment
According to a new report, hermit thrush songs “use pitches that are mathematically related by simple integer ratios and follow the harmonic series.” This is the same as with human music.
That hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) prefers to produce harmonic sounds is the outcome of a new science paper, where a mix of composers, cognitive biologists, and neuroscientists analyzed the song structure. The paper is published in the journal PNAS, and the study is titled "Overtone-based pitch selection in hermit thrush song: Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music."
The sound can be heard here:
The bird song is described by one biologist as "ethereal and flute-like, consisting of a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches."
The hermit thrush is a medium-sized North American thrush. The breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed woods across Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern and western U.S.
As a conclusion, University of Vienna’s Tecumseh Fitch and his colleagues write: "Our findings add to a small but growing body of research showing that a preference for small-integer ratio intervals is not unique to humans and are thus particularly relevant to the ongoing nature/nurture debate about whether musical predispositions such as the preference for consonant intervals are biologically or culturally driven."
According to New Scientist magazine, the results are fascinating. However, it is unclear what they mean. Why does this bird, among the thousands of bird species, produce a sound so close to that produced by people when they make music (and one so pleasant to the human ear)?
More about hermit thrush, bird song, Music, Harmony
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