- If We Have a Music Instinct, for Which Music?: Book Review Essay of Philip Ball, The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It (London: The Bodley Head, 2010).
- Philosophy of Music Education Review
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 20, Number 2, Fall 2012
- pp. 177-190
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Philip Ball brings a cognitive-scientific perspective to the breadth of music theory in his work The Music Instinct. Whether or not music is a universal language, it is a cultural phenomenon found universally in the human population. In the debate as to whether humans evolved this tendency to make music as an essential adaptation or as non-adaptive “spandrel,” Ball maintains that music is crucial to what it means to be human. Without definitively explaining just how humans developed music, delimiting that “instinct” or saying such instinct dictates what kind of music answers to it, he explains how the many different aspects of musical structure—and indeed much music theory, Western or Eastern—may have correlates in cognitive structures. The predominant step and half-step tonal progression in melodies, the role of the octave, underlying rhythm, all such appear to have cognitive explanation. The problem, Ball brings out, is that whatever the cognitive musical structures may be are far from clear. Perhaps many kinds of music do appeal to these cognitive structures, but must all music meet even a certain minimum of them? Based on current cognitive knowledge, cases against modernist Western music are hard to make soundly.