When you’re bopping away to Justin Bieber (or not), have you ever wondered whether your cat enjoys your musical selections? Sure, they’re picky about food, but can felines be just as picky about music? That’s what David Teie, musician and composer, set out to discover when he began composing music just for cats.
It began with a theory Teie had about the effects of music on human emotions. He figured a good way to test his theory was to write music specifically for animals and see how they reacted as compared to people.
Teie had heard anecdotal stories about the effects of music on animals, but in the scientific studies he reviewed, the general conclusion was that that animals were indifferent to human music.
He was curious whether different results would be observed if he composed music just for animals. In the first study led by Charles Snowdon, Teie worked with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They used cotton-top tamarin monkeys.
Just as Teie had hypothesized, the monkeys showed no interest in human music, but the exciting music composed for tamarin monkeys riled them up, and the calming music calmed them down. The results were so significant that a cat study ensued, and that’s how Teie began writing music for cats.
We asked Teie why they decided to follow up with a cat study instead of working with other animals such as dogs. "Cats are very consistent in their vocalizations, size, and development across breeds,” he said. “That means that one kind of music should suit a large percentage of cats.”
“Dogs, as you know, are highly diverse. Chihuahua music will not sound like Great Dane music. It takes a very long time to research, write, and record this music, so I wanted to make my work available to as many animals as possible."
There were also a few surprises uncovered during the cat study. Teie was surprised to find that younger cats responded to the music more than older cats. As well, cats seemed to prefer the calming music to the perky music. He suggests, "I think cats, like us, prefer to pick their own time to be perky."
When Teie composes music for cats, he keeps human listeners in mind. "The truth is, my cat music contains music for humans as well," he says. "Cats probably don’t hear pitches well below middle C; they hear the sound but don’t recognize the pitches. We are the same; there are very low and very high frequencies that we can hear, but we don’t identify musical pitches very well when they are outside of our own vocal range. I put human music into this lower register to make the music more palatable for the cat owners. It probably sounds like insignificant traffic noise to the cats."
Teie referenced his “Kitty Ditties” music to explain further. "Human music contains pulse that we subconsciously recognize from our time in the womb. (It sounds far-fetched, but the science behind this is airtight.) The cat music uses musical sounds based on those that surrounded cats during their development, like suckling. The ditties use musical versions of sounds that I expect would enliven a cat’s attention, like the songs of birds and mice."
Being Catster, we had to ask if he had a soft spot for cats. Teie says, "I admire the cat’s ability to be solitary and content and the dog’s need for social contact. I love to watch and be around the highly social and excitable dogs, but I have shared some special moments with cats that I have not had with dogs. Once, when lying down, a very sweet cat, who I was hardly allergic to at all, came over lie down next to me and reached out to lay her paw on my arm before closing her eyes."
With Teie’s gift for creating music to calm and inspire the feline soul, you’d naturally assume he’d have a household of cats. He laments, "Sadly, I am allergic to most furry creatures. My daughter would love to have a dog, but she will have to wait until she is on her own."
You can listen to a sampling of cat music on Teie’s website. You might just discover that your cat is a music lover, too. Tell us in the comments below what sort of music makes your kitty happy!