My last post showed a video of Bobby McFerrin at the 2009 World Science Festival. McFerrin demonstrated how his audience intuitively understood the pentatonic scale: CDEGA, a scale that leaves out dissonances. Carl Orff, the composer of Carmina Burana, used this scale to construct musical instruments for children so they could play music together that always sounded pleasant. Such harmonic group music encouraged them to continue playing because the experience was so enjoyable.
The question at the World Science Festival was this: Is music inherent in humans, and therefore genetic? Or is music learned? According to Bobby McFerrin, his little experiment works everywhere in the world where he has tried it. It seems as if humans all over have an instinctive sense of the pentatonic scale.
On the other hand, said others on the panel with McFerrin, hearing develops by week eighteen in the human embryo. Could it be that embryos “learn” about music while still in the womb? Do they hear the music their mothers are listening to and become acclimated to scales in this way?
I believe it must be a little of both. All humans, everywhere, make music. Humans invented music. That makes music seem inherent. Some linguists even believe that music came before speech, and led to it.
But if we develop in utero with some kind of genetic predisposition toward music, that would probably make us more receptive to the music we hear before and just after we are born. With no examples, my grandchild spontaneously began dancing to music as soon as he could walk. He turned in circles in time to the beat, and frequently asked for music to be played.
I think music is one of the top ten wonders of the universe. And I also think that playing music together in duets, trios, quartets, etc., in bands and orchestras, is one of the most civilized activities humans engage in. So if we are genetically programmed for music, we are genetically programmed for civilized behavior. How wonderful it would be if we would lean more and more away from strife and more and more toward our musical genetic gifts.