Since the discovery of whale song in the mid 1900’s, the concept of animal sentience has weighed heavily on the minds of scientific community. A great number of researchers have explored the concept of an animal’s comprehension of complex stimuli that humans experience daily. Of course, this study included an animal’s understanding of music.  Charles Snowdon, an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is such a researcher.

Snowdon found evidence that animals possess the capacity to understand music, which is widely believed to be a man-made concept and practice.  Snowdon wanted to discover if a household pet truly did enjoy listening to music, a belief that has many pet owners leaving the radio on for their pets during the day. However, what Snowdon found that animals do not enjoy rock, jazz, or even classical. They instead enjoy something called “specific-specific music”.

Specific-specific music are tunes designed using pitches, tones, and tempos that are similar to the sounds used in an animal’s species. The music that we humans listen to falls within our acoustic and vocal range, uses tones that we can understand, and possesses a progression at a tempo similar to heartbeat. Animals, who have a very different vocal ranges and heart rates, are incapable of understanding our music and show a lack of interest. It is because of this that Snowdon worked with David Teie, a cellist and composer, to compose music that is suited for animals.

In 2009, they were able to create music for tamarins, monkeys with higher octaves of vocalization. To humans, the music sounds shrill and unpleasant, but seemed to be enjoyed as much as we enjoy our music to the tamarins. One of the song modeled the excited tones and fast tempo made by tamarins and earned a visible agitated reaction from the primate listeners. In contrast, the other song created possessed “happy” monkey tones and a slower tempo, caused the tamarins to calm down.

After this, Snowdon and Teie have moved on to developing music for other animals. Through both their study and creation, the duo has found that dogs are the tougher audience. As there are many breeds of dog, this means there is a much larger array of vocal range and heart rate, making it difficult to pin point a sound that is loved by all breeds. They also found that larger dogs, such as Labradors or mastiffs, possess a vocal range and heart rate similar to that of an adult human male, leading to the belief that, while other animals cannot process human music, these dogs can.

It is interesting to learn that music can be for every species. While we humans have coined the concept and creation of music as our own, it would appear that it is not just for us.  Snowdon and Teie have created something that not only changes the music world but our own understanding of animals. With all these advances in science that we see every day, its still amazes me that music still plays such an important role.