The surprising connection between a mockingbird’s song and Kendrick Lamar

New study explores how the mockingbird structures its song, using techniques of timbre change, pitch change, stretch, and squeeze. These are similar strategies used in Tuvan throat singing, Beethoven, Broadway musicals, and hip hop.

What do the remarkably complex songs of the mockingbird have in common with Tuvan throat singing, Beethoven’s FIfth Symphony, the song “Show Yourself” from Frozen 2, and Kendrick Lamar‘s “Duckworth“? According to a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the mockingbird follows similar musical rules to those used in human music when composing its songs.

“When you listen for a while to a mockingbird, you can hear that the bird isn’t just randomly stringing together the melodies it imitates,” said co-author Tina Roeske, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. “Rather, it seems to sequence similar snippets of melody according to consistent rules. In order to examine this hunch scientifically, however, we had to use quantitative analyses to test whether the data actually supported our hypotheses.”

Mockingbirds are known for their ability to mimic other birds and certain sounds from their surrounding environment, provided those sounds fall into the mockingbird’s acoustic range. For example, the birds can mimic blue jays but not ravens, tree frogs but not bullfrogs. Over half of the mockingbird’s songs are mimicry, and the species boasts an impressive repertoire comprised of hundreds of types of phrases.

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