Songs of the hermit thrush related to human music

The North American hermit thrush.

For about 100 years, bird lovers and musicologists have claimed that the songs of the North American hermit thrush followed the same principles found in human musical systems. But the claim was not backed by scientific research.

Now a new study by a team of researchers from the University of Vienna, the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany and the Cornish College of the Arts in the US have determined that the hermit thrush does use notes that are related by simple integer proportions, like much human music.

To reach their conclusion the researchers analysed recordings of the songs of 14 male hermit thrushes, using two different statistical methods. Their results strongly suggest hermit thrushes select the pitches they sing, and that they follow a harmonic series.

The report lends support to the idea that some features of human music systems may be based, at least in part, on biological principles shared with other animals.

The paper, "Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music" was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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