SCIENCE

Here's What A Chimp Drum Solo Sounds Like

06/23/2015 02:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
John Foxx

It's definitely better than Nickelback.

A new paper published in Scientific Reports analyzes the rhythmic stylings of a chimp named Barney -- and shows that chimps may be more musically inclined than we previously thought.

Researchers at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands recorded Barney banging on a barrel back in 2005, but a scientific analysis of his performance wasn't published until last week. At the time of the recording, Barney, a "low-ranking" chimp living in a group of five adult males, was 24 years old.

Here’s a short clip of Barney’s drumming, which the paper notes was not prompted by humans in any way:

Though it’s not unusual for chimpanzees to beat on objects or their own bodies in the wild, the paper notes that this behavior “has, musically speaking, little in common with human drumming.” That’s because it's typically less rhythmic. According to the paper, an “essential characteristic” of human drumming is “beating at regularly spaced time intervals” that “makes the occurrence of the next beat(s) predictable.”

While he probably won’t win a Grammy anytime soon, Barney does indeed hit his barrel at regular intervals.

Analysis also showed that Barney’s drumming had an average tempo of 257 beats per minute, which, according to the paper, is “close to human tempo for rhythmic music.”

Humans already know that chimps use drumming to express aggression or impress a mate. However, Barney’s performance didn’t appear to serve any specific purpose or communicate any particular message. That’s similar to human drumming, which the paper notes does not need to have a “particular purpose or context.”

Additionally, while most chimps' drumming lasts only a few seconds, the paper says, Barney’s drum solo went on for around four minutes as he remained totally focused on the barrel.

Researchers believe that their analysis of Barney’s drumming could be the first piece of “strong evidence” that there’s an evolutionary link between the “wild beating” of chimpanzees and music performed by human beings.

“Barney’s performance confirms that the chimpanzee, our closest relative, could indeed be capable of drumming like a human,” the paper says.

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