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A Feline Sonata: Why Cats Love Sliding Notes

Mar 03, 2015 03:29 PM EST

If cats could buy records and EPs, what do you suppose would be at the top of the charts? In a new study linking various musical tempos and styles with cat attention, researchers found that they could compose music that felines would find pleasing - heavy with sliding notes and "purring" tempos.

The study was recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science and details how composer David Teie, from the University of Maryland, and researchers Megan Savage and Charles Snowdon, from the University of Wisconsin, were able to craft music that both calmed and pleased domestic cats to a far more obvious effect than human music.

"The basis of the theory of species-specific music was formed from ideas that were to be included in a series of lecture demonstrations that David was preparing on musical interpretation," the team wrote on their Music for Cats website. "In an investigation of the subject, he discovered that much music is tailored to human perception, limbic response, vocalizations, and environment."

So the researchers set out to do something similar for felines.

"We looked at the natural vocalizations of cats and matched our music to the same frequency range, which is about an octave or more higher than human voices," Snowdon explained in a recent interview with Discovery News.

The study details how the music does not boast any actual recordings of cat, mouse, or bird calls, but is characterized by tempos that cats likely would find relaxing, such as the tempo of purring or the tempo at which kittens often suckle at (both associated with calm and contentedness).

"And since cats use lots of sliding frequencies in their calls," Snowdon added, "the cat music had many more sliding notes than the human music." (Scroll to read on...)

The researchers then played these specially composed songs for 47 domestic cats in their respective homes with owners present. The cats were almost always instantly drawn towards the speakers, acting both relaxed and even happy - often rubbing against the speakers to mark this thing they liked as theirs.

Conversely, when the researchers played popular Bach or Fauré pieces that humans find relaxing, the cats simply ignored them - not showing any agitation but also not giving the speakers any love.

As most of the cats in the study were mixed breeds, the researchers are unsure if preference for this "cat music" varies among breeds or subspecies. However, it's not the first time the team has tried this approach with success.

In work published in the journal Biology Letters five years ago, the researchers also attempted to make music specific for tamaran monkeys - a species who had shown an unusual preference for the band Metallica.

They composed both a "tamaran ballad" to induce calm and several other songs to induce excitement.

"Our predictions were supported," Snowdon said, through a Teyus Music announcement. "Music composed for tamarins had a much greater effect on the behavior... Tamarins displayed significant behavioral change only to the music that was specifically composed for them and were unaffected by human music."

"To the best of our knowledge, this marks the first time that an art form has been shown by scientific test and observation to engender the measurable appreciation of any species other than human," the researchers concluded.

As the culmination of their success, you can now listen to the "Kitty Ditties, Cat Ballads," and more for yourself here. Just be prepared to find your speakers covered in happy cats.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).


- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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