Annuaire IPHC

DEPE | Séminaires BEEPSS / BEEPSS Seminars » Chimpanzee drumming: a spontaneous performance with characteristics of (...)

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

Last update: : Thursday 1 October 2015, by Catherine Berger


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.

JPEG - 742.7 kb
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).