What Makes Music Special to Us?

We are all born with a predisposition for music, a predisposition that develops spontaneously and is refined by listening to music. Nearly everyone possesses the musical skills essential to experiencing and appreciating music. Think of “relative pitch,”recognizing a melody separately from the exact pitch or tempo at which it is sung, and “beat perception,”hearing regularity in a varying rhythm. Even human newborns turn out to be sensitive to intonation or melody, rhythm, and the dynamics of the noise in their surroundings. Everything suggests that human biology is already primed for music at birth with respect to both the perception and enjoyment of listening.

Human musicality is clearly special. Musicality being a set of natural, spontaneously developing traits based on, or constrained by, our cognitive abilities (attention, memory, expectation) and our biological predisposition. But what makes it special? Is it because we appear to be the only animals with such a vast musical repertoire? Is our musical predisposition unique, like our linguistic ability? Or is musicality something with a long evolutionary history that we share with other animals?

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