Musical Universals are a field of research which focuses on aspects, mechanisms and functions of music from an anthropological viewpoint. Its objective is to bring to light what various cultural expressions of the musical phenomenon have in common, with a view to developing a general theory of music integrated into an overall understanding of humankind.
Deemed academic and outdated in the second half of the last century, the question of musical universals now appears repeatedly in some of the landmark contributions of the last decade, demonstrating its topicality. It would appear to be a crucial question inasmuch as it poses the problem of the bioanthropological conditions of musical systems, and more generally of the articulations of the biological, psychological, social and cultural aspects within the musical phenomenon, and of their mechanisms. Such a central account results from an inescapable trend towards the integration of the sciences of music into the life sciences from an evolutionary perspective, led in particular by the psychology and neuroscience of music.
In this view, which draw us from essence to process, from product to function, from actual to potential, from perception to intention, the approach to music which deals in terms of ‘universals’ aims to account not so much for the rigidity of structures as for the plasticity of the living, not to define the norm, but to open out onto the possible. J.-L. Leroy