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Rhapsody in Mew: The music scientifically composed for kitties

Scientists have developed a trio of tunes specifically designed to appeal to feline ears, to inspire interest or calmness.

Image by Puci, CC BY 2.0

Exactly how appealing human music is to cats seems to vary from cat to cat. Some seem to quite like it -- although perhaps what they really like is the vibrations produced by speakers. Some seem to loathe it. The vast majority seem fairly indifferent -- but a team of researchers have found a way to write music that makes felines felicitous.

Dr Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his team examined the sounds important to cats to craft three tunes, composed by musician David Teie.

"We looked at the natural vocalisations of cats and matched our music to the same frequency range, which is about an octave or more higher than human voices," Dr Snowdon told Discovery News.

"We incorporated tempos that we thought cats would find interesting -- the tempo of purring in one piece and the tempo of suckling in another -- and since cats use lots of sliding frequencies in their calls, the cat music had many more sliding notes than the human music."

The team then tested their music on 47 domestic cats. First, they played the cats two pieces of "human" music that have been described as "pleasing and affiliative to humans": Gabriel Fauré's Elegie and Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on the G String.

As expected, the cats were indifferent to the human music, but when the researcher's played Teie's compositions, they reacted differently -- rubbing their heads on the speakers, a gesture that transfers the cat's scent on to the object from scent glands in the head, thereby conveying the cat's "ownership" of that object -- in this case, the speakers that were playing the special cat music.

This research, the team believes, could have benefits beyond simply pleasing your best feline friend. It could, for example, be played in cat shelters to keep the residents calm, to help settle adopted kitties into their new homes, or to relax sick or hurt cats.

The three pieces -- samples of which have been embedded below -- are also available for sale via the Music For Cats website for $0.99 apiece, and the team plans to develop the music further with feedback from users playing the tunes to their own cats.

"We think of cats as highly independent of their human servants, but there is some research showing that cats experience separation anxiety, which is greater in human-raised cats than in feral cats," Snowdon said.

The full study, "Cats Prefer Species-Appropriate Music", can be found online in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

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