Music in the form of singing and clapping seems to be universal among humans today, even if accompanying instruments may be as simple as tree-trunk drums, rattles, or sticks that are banged together. In The Descent of Man, Darwin was puzzled by this universality, saying ‘As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.’ For some scientists, music is just a by-product of our language capacity and our ability to recognize patterns even in sounds such as a howling wind, running water or human chanting. For others, despite Darwin’s negative views about its usefulness, music was closely linked to the evolution of language and of complex modern human societies, where it would have played a critical role in cementing social relationships and in group rituals and ceremonies. In conveying meaning, music as a form of communication would then have formed an important part of the symbolic revolution. Its importance to humans seems to be confirmed by neuro-imaging of the human brain, where areas of importance in language, memory and emotion are activated, and endorphins – feel-good hormones – are released.
Chris Stringer, The Origin of Our Species