Songbirds get singing tips from humans

A new research from the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany, explains how songbirds could use their brain power to learn and sing human melodies more correctly.

While music performance is considered one of the most demanding and complex cognitive challenge to the human brain, songbirds make use of their brain power to achieve a melody similar to that of humans.

Gathering and analyzing data recorded for 15 bullfinches, all of them hand-raise by late Jürgen Nicolai, the researchers studied how these songbirds managed to memorize and recall the note sequences of melodies.

They attempted to find out if the bullfinches achieved this mastery by breaking up the melodies in smaller sub-units and then memorizing them, as humans do, or in a simple liner chain, which is quite difficult to master.

They also considered the accuracy of the bullfinches sing; right after the human partner pauses.

Requiring accurate control of different pitches, durations of consecutive notes and prescise timings of several actions, melody singing is a complex task to achieve for humans themselves.

But the songbirds, when they sing solo, managed to awe the researchers with the ability to recall the entire melody by breaking it up into smaller chunks, similar to how humans do it.

The researchers speculate that this may have something to do with the cognitive processes of the songbird, which allows it to resume singing exactly when its human partner stopped.

The researchers also revealed that as soon as the human partner starts singing again, the songbirds match the melody they hear to the memorized melody in their brain.

Bullfinches can cope with the complex and demanding cognitive challenges of perceiving a human melody in its rhythmic and melodic complexities and learn to sing it accurately," the authors concluded.

This new study has helped researchers gain an important insight on how the brains of bullfinches work, and how their ability to remember a tune is much similar to that of humans.

The study is published online in the journal Animal Cognition.

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