Music is a human universal. Still, a persuasive evolutionary explanation of its adaptive value is missing. In its refined forms, music can be paradigmatically seen as an exaptation or spandrel, serving no immediate survival or reproductive purpose in a “l'art pour l'art” fashion. Simultaneously, musical training is a model case for neural plasticity, with extended perceptual and motor skills having their morphological and functional imprints on the neocortex. This chapter exemplifies how music shapes the brain – from the early development of absolute pitch, to macroscopic changes in cortical specialization, to “strong experiences with music” and their supposed substrates. These phenomena can only be properly understood from the interplay of evolution, culture, and ontogenesis.
A HUMAN UNIVERSAL
In 1977, humans sent two spacecrafts, the Voyagers, into different angles of deep space. Aboard each vessel was, apart from technical gear, a small collection of human artifacts. Part of the collection was graphical, including a drawing of a woman and a man (greeting with his open palm) and a drawing representing the position of the Earth within our solar system. The other part was tonal, including a golden disk containing human speech and 27 tracks of music, such as a Glenn Gould recording of the C major Prelude and Fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2. Obviously, the team of scientists in charge found music to be an achievement sufficiently characteristic of our species to be put into an “information basket” about Homo sapiens: “Hi, we are humans living on earth, we have sexual dimorphism, we greet, speak, draw, construct, research, and we play Bach.