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Despite its evident universality and high social value, the ultimate biological role of music and its connection to brain disorders remain poorly understood. Recent findings from basic neuroscience have shed fresh light on these old problems. New insights provided by clinical neuroscience concerning the effects of brain disorders promise to be particularly valuable in uncovering the underlying cognitive and neural architecture of music and for assessing candidate accounts of the biological role of music. Here we advance a new model of the biological role of music in human evolution and the link to brain disorders, drawing on diverse lines of evidence derived from comparative ethology, cognitive neuropsychology and neuroimaging studies in the normal and the disordered brain. We propose that music evolved from the call signals of our hominid ancestors as a means mentally to rehearse and predict potentially costly, affectively laden social routines in surrogate, coded, low-cost form: essentially, a mechanism for transforming emotional mental states efficiently and adaptively into social signals. This biological role of music has its legacy today in the disordered processing of music and mental states that characterizes certain developmental and acquired clinical syndromes of brain network disintegration.