This adorable donkey was delighted with the sounds that emanated from his young owner’s violin. As soon as she touched the strings with her bow, he lit up with joy. He perked his ears and started braying, trying to sing along to her melodic playing.
Most of the time though, animals don’t respond to music we play or listen to because they generally don’t appreciate or understand music the way we do. Animal’s vocal ranges and hearts are completely different from ours. They’re simply wired differently, making human music largely incomprehensible and unrecognizable to most animals.
Charles Snowdon, a professor of psychology and zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, claims that animals enjoy “species-specific music”—melodies organized using pitches, tones, and tempos familiar to their particular species.
“We find that cats prefer to listen to the music composed in their frequency range and tempo rather than human music,” Snowden told Life’s Little Mysteries.
Snowdon, along with his colleague, composer David Teie, created a series of songs titled Music For Cats which, according to their research, should produce a positive response for our pet cats– which they defined as purring, walking toward and rubbing against the speaker. The cat songs are now for sale online at $1.99 per song and Teie’s Music for Cats Album One has four stars on Amazon.
But even with music specially crafted for their specific species, it’s unlikely animals are capable of appreciating music the way humans do. According to Snowden, they don’t have relative pitch, an essential musical ability.
Without relative pitch and perfect pitch, there is zero comprehension of what you’re listening to and the understanding of music is bleak and blurred. In the music world, a “great ear” is an ear that understands pitch.
“We can recognize that a sequence of notes is the same whether it’s in the key of F or A flat,” he said. “I have found that animals have very good absolute pitch, but they don’t have relative pitch. They can learn to recognize a sequence of notes, but if you transpose the notes to a different key, so that the sequence uses the same relative notes but the key is different, they can’t recognize the relationships between the notes anymore.”
“To that extent, we understand music in a different way than animals do,” Snowden added.