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Music Developed to Bring Us Together, Says New Study

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Why did humans start making music? Some say it was a sort of mating call. Others suggest we used rhythm and loud noise to scare off predators. But a new study found songs from all over the world share many common features, like rhythm and pitch, lending some validity to another theory: music developed as a way to bring communities together.

"It may be a little bit of a no-brainer, but for a long time, I think, people had this idea of music being an individual expression," says Pat Savage, a PhD student from the Tokyo University of the Arts and the lead author of the new study. "But throughout the world, it’s almost always in groups and seems to almost always be about bonding these groups together."

Using the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, an online repository for global music research, Savage listened to and scrutinized 304 very different songs from nine regions: Africa, South America, east Asia, south Asia, southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Oceania. He classified each song based on 32 musical features, including the number of beats, the kind of singing voice, and even the sex of the performers. This had to be done manually. "Technology has a long way to go," Savage says. "It’s not anywhere near as good as human ear."

Savage identified 18 features that are predominant throughout the world’s songs. These include discrete pitches (where each note is expressed individually, rather than sliding from one note to another) and equally timed beats.

Listen to an example: a Palestinian line dance called "Sahjih" contains all of these features. And on the other end of the spectrum, here’s a song from Papua New Guinea that is an extreme outlier because it has no discrete pitch or timed beat.

Male performers tend to dominate throughout the world, the research showed, reflecting the restrictions on women in many cultures. "We don’t think this is biological or wired into our genes that women can’t make music," Savage explains. "Certainly women are great at making music when they’re allowed to. It’s a cultural thing."

Savage also found 10 features that appear together. "These individual features themselves are not always there, but when they are, they appear in tandem," he says. For example, dance doesn’t appear frequently, but when it does, it’s almost always accompanied by simple repetitive phrases, percussion, a regular beat, and group performance.

"The results show that the most common features seen in music around the world relate to things that allow people to coordinate their actions," says co-author Thomas Currie, of the University of Exeter, "and suggest that the main function of music is to bring people together and bond social groups. It can be a kind of social glue."

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History
When Chuck Yeager Tweeted Details About His Historic, Sound Barrier-Breaking Flight

Seventy years ago today—on October 14, 1947—Charles Elwood Yeager became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. The Air Force pilot broke the sound barrier in an experimental X-1 rocket plane (nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”) over a California dry lake at an altitude of 25,000 feet.

In 2015, the nonagenarian posted a few details on Twitter surrounding the anniversary of the achievement, giving amazing insight into the history-making flight.

For even more on the historic ride, check out the video below.

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Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
8 Stellar Facts About the Most Accomplished Female Astronomer You’ve Never Heard Of
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German woman who made great contributions to science and astronomy. 

1. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO DISCOVER A COMET.

Herschel spotted the comet (called 35P/Herschel-Rigollet) in December of 1788. Because its orbital period is 155 years, 35P/Herschel-Rigollet will next be visible to humans in the year 2092.

2. SHE INITIALLY WORKED AS A HOUSEKEEPER.

In her early twenties, Herschel moved from Germany to England to be a singer. Her brother William (the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation) gave her singing lessons, and she was his housekeeper. She later became his assistant, grinding and polishing the mirrors for his telescopes.

3. BUT SHE LATER TURNED HER REAL PASSION INTO A PAYING GIG.

Herschel was the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Starting in 1787, King George III paid her £50 per year to reward her for her scientific discoveries.

4. SHE WAS TECHNICALLY A LITTLE PERSON.

Herschel was only 4 feet 3 inches tall—her growth was stunted due to typhus when she was 10 years old.

5. SHE BROKE BARRIERS, EARNING RESPECT FROM THE HERETOFORE MALE-ONLY SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY.

Herschel was the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 1828. The second woman to receive one was well over 150 years later, in 1996.

6. SHE CHEATED AT MATH ... KIND OF.

Because Herschel was female and thus wasn’t allowed to learn math as a child, she used a cheat sheet with the multiplication tables on it when she was working.

7. EARTH'S MOON HONORS HER LEGACY.

By NASA / LRO_LROC_TEAM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A crater on the moon is named in honor of Herschel—it’s called C. Herschel. The small crater is located on the west side of Mare Imbrium, one of the moon's large rocky plains.

8. SHE GARNERED AWARDS WELL INTO HER NINETIES.

For her 96th birthday, Prussian King Frederick William IV authorized that Herschel receive an award: the Gold Medal for Science.

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