If you leave a radio on for your cats when you’re not at home, they probably appreciate the “white noise.” But a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist Charles Snowdon shows that whatever they’re listening to isn’t exactly music to their ears.
Turns out that species other than humans can enjoy music, but it has to be in the frequency range that species use to communicate and with tempos they would normally use.
Snowdon first tested this theory, suggested by musician David Teie, on cotton-topped tamarin monkeys. While they showed little interest in music written for humans, Teie says they “displayed a marked increase of activity” when they heard the music he composed just for them.
As he explains it on his website, “all mammals are born with templates of sound in the brain that govern emotional response. Many of these templates come as ‘standard equipment’ and are not always learned…
“If someone were to scream in your presence your heart rate would increase; there is no way for you to prevent it. You would not, however, respond similarly to the alarm call of a squirrel.
“Studying the characteristics of a given species gives us a basis for music for that species,” he says.
So what about music for cats? Since catcalls are about an octave or more above human voices, Teie wrote pieces that use sliding notes and high pitches. He based the tempo of the music on suckling and purring sounds.
Researchers played his compositions for 47 cats in their homes. On the playlist: “Cozmo’s Air” and “Rusty’s Ballad.” The cats also heard Gabriel Fauré’s “Elegie” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String.” The music written for humans was pretty much ignored. But when the cats heard the pieces Teie composed just for them, they were likely to wake up from their naps, turn their heads towards the music, walk towards it or even rub their heads against the speakers.
When we tried a kitty concert here, Soda woke up from a deep sleep and sat up in his favorite chair to concentrate on the music. Boccelli wandered around my office trying to figure out where it was coming from, but he seemed to like it. Honey just continued sleeping on the top perch of the cat tree.
To see how your cats react to Teie’s “mewsic,” you can play it on his Amazon author’s page. We’re listening to Katey Moss Catwalk now. Soda and I are really enjoying it. The other cats are sleeping.