Listening to Traditional Nigerian Music Can Help You Pick a Ripe Watermelon

Traditional Nigerian drums have matching tones to ripe and unripe watermelons.
Jessica Miley

Have you ever seen someone at the fruit shop walking around tapping all the watermelons before picking their fruit?

This savvy customer is using an age-old trick to determine a ripe watermelon - listen for a nice hollow sound that will indicate perfect ripeness.


If fruit acoustics seem daunting, listen to some Nigerian traditional music to get your ears attuned - at least that the advice of an international group of physics and music researchers.

Nigerian researcher Stephen Onwubiko found a link between the drumming sounds in traditional Nigerian music and the sound of and the sound of shoppers drumming on watermelons in the markets.

Watermelon and drum connection

He has teamed up with researchers from Britain and Australia to quantify the watermelon-drumming phenomenon. The findings from the research will be presented this week at the 177th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, which takes at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Most people don't have much idea about the noises around them or how they affect them," Onwubiko said.

"Everyday experiences, even decision-making, are influenced by the sounds around us."

International team find ripe fruit answers

Onwubiko is spending time with watermelon sellers and hungry consumers across Nigeria to find out about their perception of sounds. This area of research is known as psychoacoustics.

Tracianne Nielsen, from Brigham Young University in Utah, is analyzing the frequency spectrum of the traditional drum, the igba, while music researcher Andrea Calilhanna from the University of Sydney in Australia is working with a mathematical approach to music theory to quantify these sounds.

Matching pitches

The trio theorizes that the of traditional Nigerian music is the perfect ear-training for watermelon identification.

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"The sounds of ripe and unripe watermelons are heard in traditional music. An African drum pattern is made from the same two sounds," said Nielsen.

The team says they can match the internal ripeness and quality of watermelon with the pitch from a Nigerian drum. This method allows identification at a 60% level of efficiency. Sounds play a huge role in culture Onwubiko insists.

"People do not realize the amount of important information that is conveyed in the sound around us and how these sounds impact cultures.

In order to preserve cultures, we need to analyze traditional sounds and their impact on everyday life experiences."

But why do watermelons sounds different? According to sound and vibration experts BKSV, ‘As watermelons ripen, their natural frequency drops, and so does damping. If a watermelon is overripe, the damping increases dramatically, resulting in a dull thud when you tap it.’

If your access to traditional Nigerian music is limited try and look and listen for a watermelon that gives a hollow, ringing sound when you tap it. However, a very hollow sound probably means a watermelon that's about to be all mushy inside. A dull thud means the mush is already there.

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