The music of the universe? Of humanity? Or just of the West? – here’s the thing:

“The first three notes just happen to be: do-re-mi…”

What do you think of when you think of ‘music’? Bob Dylan? Bach? A piano? A guitar? If you were in the orchestra at school, maybe a stave? Sharps and flats? Minims and crotchets?

I bet you think of one thing pretty quick: the familiar structure of familiar note intervals, what music experts call the diatonic scale – do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti.

But if you’d grown up in Fiji, Japan, Ghana or Guinea, would you still think of these? Or of something else?

We think of ‘music’ as one of the great social, cultural and artistic forces of humanity. But is there really a ‘human’ music? Or is what we think of as human music really just Western music? Is there anything ‘correct,’ or universal, about middle C, the seven-note scale, major and minor chords? Or are these just one way of doing things? Between, say, C and C-sharp there are a million other possible gradations of pitch – why do we use the intervals we do?

Anyone with a subscription to Songlines magazine probably already knows the answers to these questions. But I didn’t, so, in need of some reading for the Christmas period, I resolved to find out. Conveniently, I’d recently borrowed a book – How Musical is Man? (1973) by John Blacking – which looked like it could help me.

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