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If you take a look at the evolution of electronic music, it’s becoming increasingly clear that rhythm plays a massive role. In some cases more so than melody!
But what causes us to be so obsessed with big beats? So seduced by some sweet syncopation? Quite simply – why do we got rhythm?
Let’s find out…
What is Rhythm?
First, we need to define exactly what Rhythm is. Dictionarily, (that is totally a word) it’s the variation of length and accentuation in time of a series of sounds. But in terms of how humans perceive it, there are a few cool things our brain has adapted to do (Music cognition, if you’re into your unnecessary jargon). One of the most important is called “Beat Induction”
Beat Induction – Where a beat is not actually there but humans perceive it, a complex rhythm that has no pulse, but the human mind is capable of feeling a pulse.
Have you ever knocked on someone’s door musically? That “da-da-dada-da….da-da” rhythm? This is a great example of beat induction – the silence always feels like there should be a beat there, even when you’ve listened to it a thousand times.
People also find themselves instinctively wanting to finish it, and even though there is a large silence before the final two beats, the brain is capable of determining when those last two beats should be. This is called rhythmic expectation.
Why do we got Rhythm?
Scientists still argue about this question (They tend to argue a lot, come to think of it). As of yet, there is no irrefutable answer, but there are a few really strong theories:
Happy Accident Theory
I remember reading an article where someone referred to this with the fantastic metaphor of “audible cheesecake”. Where, just as cheesecake is pleasant to the sense of taste, music is pleasant to the sense of sound.
Some scientists believe there is no evolutionary advantage of musical ability and that it is just a case of certain sounds vibrating our ears in ways that we enjoy. Though that doesn’t explain why we have abilities like beat induction, which clearly require complex thought processes to work.
As you probably know, there are other things than music which involve a rhythm. Ahem.
Some scientists, including Darwin, have surmised that in order to impress females, early man would charm them with his musical abilities, similar to a peacock impressing a female with his Technicolor tail. This would basically show a female how… capable he is with respect to other rhythmic activities.
This can also be seen in modern society, with musicians, particularly ones in tight trousers, traditionally getting all the girls. This would explain it in the sense that if there was a genetic inclination to music, then it would be passed down the generations as only musically inclined people would reproduce.
This is the theory that states an innate understanding of rhythm and music can bring social groups together, allowing them to more effectively communicate and, thus, survive.
This is another evolutionary theory which says the ability to use music to communicate may have pre-dated language and thus allowed larger groups of humans to work together.
Is rhythm innate?
To the people who believe that rhythm is learned, that is pretty much refuted now. Firstly with the example that different cultural societies the world over created music independently of each other, and if that wasn’t enough proof, newborn babies have been scientifically proven to be able to sense and predict rhythm – this proves it’s either innate or learned in the womb, either way it’s an intrinsic part of being human.
I say it’s just human – some animals have rhythm. A popular YouTube video of a cockatoo dancing to the backstreet boys proved that the long-held belief that humans are the only species capable of feeling a beat is fully refuted. Parrots and even an elephant have also shown the ability to keep in time to a beat.
So we don’t know for sure just yet why we have rhythm – but considering how fast technology is evolving, chances are it won’t be long before we have an answer!