My husband Karl was gone all last week, which meant that I had drop off and pick up duty for Rob’s rehearsals. (He’s making his debut in Aladdin Jr. this week!) Rather than fight traffic without a carpool buddy (my remaining children were at camp with Karl), I opted to sit in the air conditioned, quiet library in a comfy chair with public wi-fi for 3 hours and wait for him. Otherwise known as heaven to this busy, never-alone momma.
I spent some time researching and reading about a dancing bird, a sizzling tidbit of data I had squirreled away for such a peaceful moment. It actually was pretty fascinating. The article was from a science journal, after all, so there had to be a bit of boring stuff. But I’ll skip all that and only share the interesting parts.
There was a 2009 study done by Patel (he’s from the Neurosciences Institute of San Diego), Iverson, Bregman and Schultz, inspired by a YouTube video of a dancing sulfer-crested cockatoo named Snowball. (You can him perform at the World Science Fair below.) Apparently, this was the first time scientists had noticed a species other than humans who had BPS – beat perception and synchronization.
BPS means that you have the ability to perceive the beat in music and move your body to that beat. I admit, not everyone does it well. But every human can do it, every culture does it, though I actually heard something about “beat deafness” a while ago. That bit of data is also squirreled away for a looksee later, too.
The scientists, being the thorough researchers that they are, poured over thousands of YouTube videos looking for other examples of animals that had BPS. Surprisingly (or maybe not), they found only a couple of other species of birds and one Asian elephant.
They did some further hands-on research with Snowball, and found he could also adapt to changes in tempo. His BPS and adaption to tempo change percentage of accuracy was around 60% – approximately the same as young children.
Trying to find commonalities between the birds and the Asian elephant and the non beat-deaf humans, the scientists found that we all have a rare trait in common – complex vocal learning. This simply means that we learn to produce complex sounds by imitation. Think about it, that’s how babies learn to speak – by mimicking the sounds of other people.
There is just a small group of animals that have complex vocal learning – parrots, songbirds, hummingbirds, dolphins, seals, elephants, some bats and some whales. The researchers wondered if those animals would have BPS, too. (Imagine the funding required to find out if whales can dance!)
Now to me, here’s the really interesting part. BPS requires auditory (hearing) motor (moving) to integrate in the nervous system, and vocal learning helps create this interface.
Not only that, the circuits in the brain that deal with vocal learning overlap with those that involve BPS. The ability to keep a steady beat with our bodies and vocal learning are connected.
The researchers went on to note that young children are better at synchronizing to a steady beat in a social versus non-social context.
Now, I’m not qualified by a series of letters after my last name to draw any amazing conclusions from this research. And personally, I’m not titillated by the thoughts of piping Sousa into a dark cave and standing knee deep in guano, trying to see with my flashlight if the bats will move in time to Stars and Stripes Forever, but the info from this study is a no-brainer to me.
Why? It’s exactly what do we do in Kindermusik class. Those neuroscientists should check us out.Vocal play (another way to say complex vocal learning), steady beat work in a social context. Moving to music while we sing, speak, talk, and play. It’s what we do. And learning has never been so much fun. The long term benefits? Great athletes, musicians, scientists, actors, thinkers, creators and problem solvers develop the beginnings of wings to soar in a Kindermusik classroom. Baby sulfer-crested cockatoos should be so lucky.
-posted by Miss Analiisa, who is off to try and convince her 10 year old actor to hold still while she gets his stage makeup mascara on without jabbing him in the eye with it.