Thus, given that human calls developed as symbolic communicators of emotion and feelings, it is more than likely that melody – particularly instinctive vocal discharges of notes linked in relation to one another -preceded language (as Charles Darwin speculated) in symbolically conveying states of mind and emotions. Coupled with human rhythmic drives, the phenomenon of extended vocal incantations as pre-language – in essence, the human being’s first language – could be why it is often thought that humans are genetically pre-programmed to process music as symbolic communication of human emotional experiences. (Mc Adams et al 1999) As evolution progressed, vocalizations became extended and amplified through various instruments, such as bone or hollow reed flutes, animal horns, and other vibration-producing wind and percussion instruments, precisely imitating and expanding on human calls.
Just as some of the most fundamental principles of physics derive from concepts of periodicity, so do some of the most fundamental principles of cerebral information-processing, including the Gestalt laws and the fear spiral, derive from the human brains affinity for tracking and linking pitches in search of meanings that could make the difference between safety and danger. Deacon (1997) argues that, millennia before speech evolved to its present state, and before the neocortex evolved to its current size, the uniquely human form of social communication, and the symbolic expression of feelings and needs, took the form of extended vocalizations. Yet, however strange this may seem, of all animals, humans are the most limited in their repertoire of vocal "calls." As Deacon points out, two of the basic human calls are laughter, which involves a rhythmic exhalation of breath and vocal sound, and sobbing, a rhythmic inhalation of breath and sound. He conjectures that perhaps these two calls are two sides of one coin.
Melody, as an element of music, undoubtedly is the symbolic extension of these calls- laughter being encoded in music as an expression of joy, and sobbing being reflected in music as an analogue for sorrow. For example, the musicologists among our readers will note that analyses of the liturgical works of S. Bach are found to contain melodic and rhythmic patterns that are deliberately repetitive, composed precisely to simulate the rhythmic breathing and intoning of sobs and moans that lament the sorrow of the crucifixion. Or, as in some of Bach’s other works, similar patterns represent the despair of sinners, human misery, or contemplation of death, depending on the text or nature of the work (Marshall 1989).
Along with laughter and sobbing, the limited repertoire of human calls include: screaming with fright; groaning in disapproval; sighing as an expression of sadness and weariness, fatigue, or relief; and crying with pain, fear, and/or remorse. These six human calls and their variants are exclusively available to all human animals. Given the extensive enlargement of the human neocortex, it is strange that the human species is still limited to only these six calls. Diagnoses and dysfunctions of any kind seem not to impede employment of these basic symbolic calls, except in cases of severe damage to the amygdala, one of the brain’s emotional regions, which can impair a victim’s ability to react emotionally (Damasio 2003).
The element of melody, as with rhythm, also embodies at least four interrelated characteristics (four more "P" words), and their influence on the function of the human auditory system. Melody’s inherent characteristics include:
• prosody (literally, "speech song," conveying rhythmic patterns, pace, and other features that characterize the emotion inherent within a series of linked pitches)
• phrase (a musical sentence)
• profile (the shape of a melodic flow, referred to as melodic contour). (Mc Adams et al 1999)
These four characteristics interplay with the element of rhythm by superimposing onto rhythm’s overall panorama those additional patterns which are inherent in a melodic stream. The processing of melody by the brain depends directly on the manner in which the human auditory system (described below) functions and transmits auditory information, which introduces a fifth and most important "P" – perception. (Mc Adams et al 1999) How the brain and body receive and perceive tonal information is directly related to the accuracy with which the attributes of melody are distinguished, organized, and coded by auditory mechanisms, by ancillary subordinate sensory processes, and by the brain. These are by no means simple, straightforward processes. Indeed, the subject could, in and of itself, fill several textbooks, assuming one even knows all there is to know about it (another area for
Sound processing and pitch discrimination take place entirely within one’s head and body Neither the intake of pitches, nor their perception and discrimination, are observable to the eyes or ears of the onlooker. It is only through self-reporting and reiteration (accurate reproduction) of a pitch through one’s voice or instrument that an approximation of accuracy in pitch processing can be ascertained; which is to say, whether the pitch that was perceived resembled the pitch that was sent. It is expedient to make no assumptions regarding anyone’s pitch discrimination process.