Ravignani, A., Thompson, B., Grossi, T., Delgado, T., & Kirby, S.
(2018). Evolving building blocks of rhythm: How human cognition creates music via cultural transmission. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1423(1), 176-187. doi:10.1111/nyas.13610.
Why does musical rhythm have the structure it does? Musical rhythm, in all its cross-cultural diversity, exhibits
commonalities across world cultures. Traditionally, music research has been split into two fields. Some scientists
focused onmusicality, namely the human biocognitive predispositions formusic, with an emphasis on cross-cultural
similarities. Other scholars investigatedmusic, seen as a cultural product, focusing on the variation in worldmusical
cultures.Recent experiments founddeep connections betweenmusicandmusicality, reconciling theseopposing views.
Here, we address the question of how individual cognitive biases affect the process of cultural evolution of music.
Data from two experiments are analyzed using two complementary techniques. In the experiments, participants
hear drumming patterns and imitate them. These patterns are then given to the same or another participant to
imitate. The structure of these initially random patterns is tracked along experimental “generations.” Frequentist
statistics show how participants’ biases are amplified by cultural transmission, making drumming patterns more
structured. Structure is achieved faster in transmission within rather than between participants. A Bayesian model
approximates the motif structures participants learned and created. Our data and models suggest that individual
biases for musicality may shape the cultural transmission of musical rhythm.