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    A Songbird That Uses Music Theory


    The tweet you hear from a certain bird is more than just a beautiful noise. This small, chunky bird is applying rules of music theory just like you.

    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study found that the hermit thrush employs a harmonic series that’s remarkably similar to a woodwind instrument. The research team, including a composer, a biologist and statisticians, gathered and analyzed more than 100 songs from the male hermit thrush.

    In all, they found that more that 80 percent of the time, the hermit thrush created music in the harmonic series. Yes, this unique bird is singing scales!

    The hermit thrush’s song-like ability bird has been noted for years with bird experts claiming that it can sing in major and minor scales and pentatonic scales as well. Yet other researchers dismissed the idea. The birds’ lovely tweets, shrills and songs couldn’t use music theory because so many mathematical principles are involved (to understand the foundation of music theory, check out this blog post).

    The fact that a certain bird uses mathemtatical principles also reveals insight into our music. According to Smithsonian.com:

    “‘If an aspect of music is found not only in humans, but also in a variety of non-human species, this would suggest that there may be something in our shared biology that predisposes us to find that aspect interesting, or attractive, or easy to sing,’ research Emily Doolittle says. The thrush study reinforces the notion that human music is a product of both biology and culture—but perhaps there’s more biology at play than we thought.”

    Why are these birds so musical? Well, it appears it is all for love. According to Nature World News:

    “Rather, the researchers argue that the thrushes are intentionally choosing to sing in these patterns, as they somehow know that it will be most appealing to female thrushes (and human ears) – creating catchy tunes both easy to remember and easily measured.”

    That is music to our ears!

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