Even a Birdbrain Can Understand Classical Music

And to continue our examination into the lighter side of classical music research, here’s a study by S. Watanabe and K. Sato:

Seven adult Java sparrows were trained to discriminate music by Bach and that by Schoenberg. In the Bach S + group perching response was reinforced when piano music by Bach was played but not when piano music by Schoenberg played. The Schoenberg S + group received reversed training. Five of seven birds reached the criterion. Novel orchestra music by Bach and that by Schoenberg were played in the first test after the discriminative training. They showed generalization to new music by Bach and Schoenberg. When Vivaldi and Carter were played in the second test, all five birds showed significant discrimination. Bach S + group responded to Vivaldi and Schoenberg S + group responded to Carter. Vivaldi and Bach belonged to the same category, namely classical music, while Carter belongs to the modern music properties common to humans and birds.


Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


What’s really interesting about this study, besides the fact that sparrows have similar discrimination capacity to that of pigeons, is the sparrows’ obvious preference for Baroque music. One wonders whether different birds with other call patterns might “culturally” prefer other types of music or whether this preference for Baroque music will generalize to all birds. In any case, here’s a sample of the Java sparrow’s song.

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