That ape’s got rhythm! Chimpanzees play drums just like humans (with music goodness).

By Seriously Science | October 20, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

Photo: flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

Drummers may have a reputation as being the wildest members of a band, but apparently they have nothing on chimpanzees. In this study, the authors describe “an episode of spontaneous drumming” by a captive chimp named Barney that has many properties usually associated with human drumming. Barney’s instrument of choice was an overturned bucket, and his performance was unique particularly because of the evenness of his drumming (prior to this study, researchers thought that non-human primates did not display this kind of musicality). Click below to listen to Barney’s full album!

Chimpanzee drumming: a spontaneous performance with characteristics of human musical drumming.

“Despite the quintessential role that music plays in human societies by enabling us to release and share emotions with others, traces of its evolutionary origins in other species remain scarce. Drumming like humans whilst producing music is practically unheard of in our most closely related species, the great apes. Although beating on tree roots and body parts does occur in these species, it has, musically speaking, little in common with human drumming. Researchers suggest that for manual beating in great apes to be compared to human drumming, it should at least be structurally even, a necessary quality to elicit entrainment (beat induction in others). Here we report an episode of spontaneous drumming by a captive chimpanzee that approaches the structural and contextual characteristics usually found in musical drumming. This drumming differs from most beating episodes reported in this species by its unusual duration, the lack of any obvious context, and rhythmical properties that include long-lasting and dynamically changing rhythms, but also evenness and leisureliness. This performance is probably the first evidence that our capacity to drum is shared with our closest relatives.”

Audio recording from the main text:

Bonus figure from the main text:

"Illustration of Barney’s position when drumming manually on the barrel. The facial expression was neither tense nor playful, and the feet (and sometimes the mouth) were used to firmly hold the barrel. Illustration by Camille Martin (School of Decorative Arts, Strasbourg)."

“Illustration of Barney’s position when drumming manually on the barrel.
The facial expression was neither tense nor playful, and the feet (and sometimes the mouth) were used to firmly hold the barrel. Illustration by Camille Martin (School of Decorative Arts, Strasbourg).”

Related content:
Immigrant chimps adapt to the local language.
Gorillas, like people, have individual tastes in music.
Other primates can perceive the horror that is the “Thatcher Illusion”.

ADVERTISEMENT
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    “The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings – and this perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me.” Richard Feynman.

    • ejhaskins

      I am not a physicist, but after years of learning I am up to about Chimp standard on the drums!!! :-)

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+