Here is a link to a great New York Times conversation with Aniruddh D. Patel, author of “Music, Language, and the Brain,” fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, and self-proclaimed Neuroscientist of Music. One insight, following the discovery of a parrot named Snowball who dances to the beat of a Backstreet Boys song:
“What do humans have in common with parrots? Both species are vocal learners, with the ability to imitate sounds. We share that rare skill with parrots. In that one respect, our brains are more like those of parrots than chimpanzees. Since vocal learning creates links between the hearing and movement centers of the brain, I hypothesized that this is what you need to be able to move to beat of music.”
“Before Snowball, I wondered if moving to a musical beat was uniquely human. Snowball doesn’t need to dance to survive, and yet, he did. Perhaps, this was true of humans, too?”
The question, of course, remains why? Why do we, along with parrots, respond instinctively to music?
My take: it could be that music provides the same “neuro-catharsis” during daytime hours as dreaming does while we’re asleep, stimulating our brains and escaping our analytical reality. Music (and through association, dance) may be a vestigial “sanity check,” a screensaver of the mind, to bring us out of our day-to-day and prevent our mental processes from becoming to static and habitual.