Songs have a similar function all over the world, scientists from Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States confirm after extensive research of music from 315 different cultures. The findings were published on Thursday in the scientific journal Science .

The premise that music is a human universally used thing is not new. According to the scientists, this research is the first time that it has been systematically demonstrated that music has the same applications everywhere in the world.

Music to dance to, as love expressions, to appease children to sleep or to heal occurs in all 315 cultures, the scientists conclude. This concerns both songs with and without singing, from areas in all directions, from Scotland to Polynesia or Ghana.

The scientists were also able to predict, based on the characteristics of the music, such as the tempo and pitch, whether a song is intended for dancing or to declare someone's love.

Click here to listen to the various sound recordings.

Performance of music mainly differs

Although music occurs everywhere in similar ways, there are differences in the performance of songs. For example, numbers differ in complexity. Melodies, for example, are very extensive or simple.

On audio files, for example, you can hear how a 'healing' song is sung by one supposedly male voice, in combination with a single instrument. Another healing song is played together with drums, flutes and different voices.

A dance song from northeastern Siberia is mostly quiet, while a similar song from Brazil is a lot faster.

Each number measured with three measures

Numbers differ in complexity and are used in at least fourteen different ways. The scientists assessed the music with three different criteria. These criteria are: to what extent the song is used for formal occasions, to what extent the song is used religiously and to what extent the music is exciting.

In this way a song can be sung to a large audience, without religious intentions at a high pace with many different voices.

The research was split into two parts: theoretical research into the background of music in different cultures and the descriptions of performances, as well as the analysis of dozens of sound recordings of healing music, love, sleep and dance music.


  • Want to know what you missed at night? And an update on the most important news around lunch? Subscribe now to our daily newsletter!