Can animals make music?

Posted by: Wendy C. Turgeon - St. Joseph's College-NY
Designed for: High School, Kindergarten, Lower School, Middle School
Topics Covered: Music, Animals, sound
Estimated Time Necessary: one class period or less
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Learning Objectives

  • Inquiry - The participants should ask questions, given examples, and reflect through discussion about what makes music to be music.

Tool Text

We all love music.  Some of us sing daily, if just to ourselves.  It could be our favorite tune from Frozen or simply a tune we made up ourselves.  What makes sound music?  Let’s start with ourselves.

The teacher/facilitator may wish to share this video and have the children sing along or they may choose to invite students to sing their own songs or simply offer examples of what music.

After the students have given examples of music, ask them to come up with some criteria that make sound music. List these on the board or a piece of paper.

What about animals?

OK, but what about animals? Can animals sing or make music as we do?  They clearly make sounds and some of them are quite beautiful.  Listen to the following two videos of whales and of birds. As you are watching and listening, think about whether the animals are performing music, making a song.

Are the whales singing?  Talking to one another?  Does the bird know that it is making music?  Would the students call what they heard here “music?”

The composer Alan Hovhanness wrote a piece about whales and included the whales themselves in the piece.  Are they members of the orchestra (via a recording–They were not actually at the concert.  Imagine that!) Was their “songs” part of the piece or just added to

Let’s think about animal sounds and what makes something to count as music.  Would we change our list of criteria now?


Can animals make music?

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. Do you have to know that you are making music for it to be music?
  2. Can any sound be music?  
  3. Can a single sound be music? But if yes, then what isn't music?
  4. And, is there a difference between what the birds are doing and what the whales are doing?  If yes, how so?  If not, why not?
  5. If animals do indeed make music, how might we now define what music is?

Resources for Further Study
  • The Musical Interconnectivity of Man and Beast - This is a fascinating article about music, its origins and how animals might indeed make music. This would be a helpful reading for the teacher/facilitator if you are working with young children. High school students might enjoy reading this themselves.

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