Sunday, December 06, 2009

Music and speech

Music and speech based on human biology, new evidence shows:
The two new studies found that the musical scales most commonly used over the centuries are those that come closest to mimicking the physics of the human voice, and that we understand emotions expressed through music because the music mimics the way emotions are expressed in speech. Composers have long exploited the perception of minor chord music as sad and major chord music as happy, now the Duke team thinks they know why.
Interesting article that relates speech patterns with musical scales.  They probably should do more research into cultures that use non-Western musical scales before they draw any more conclusions.


  1. From the article: Though they only worked with western music and spoken English, there is reason to believe these findings are more widely applicable.

    Perhaps, but more research is definitely called for, even within Western music. For example, Italian sounds great in operatic music, but English sounds stilted. That right there is a semester's worth of study, the comparison of English operas and Italian operas and which language more approximates the keys and modulations used in the composition.

    Fascinating, but, yes, it's just a beginning. More research in Western disciplines should be done, and then, of course, the Eastern music should be next.

  2. True, but of course the operas of either English or Italian or any other Western language still follow all the same rules of harmony. Perhaps English operas sound stilted because English is not really English anymore, but rather a bastardization of many tongues. I can't help but wonder how an opera would sound in true Old English, say of Beowulf's era.

    I also can't help but speculate how outré alien music will sound, if humanity ever gets to hear any.

    A speculation that is probably a waste of energy, but I still can't help but wonder.

  3. Oh, come on. You know alien music will sound something like this.

  4. I once heard Arlo Guthrie (I could be mis-remembering who) play "The City of New Orleans" (the train song) in a slightly faster tempo and with a happier tone of voice.


    It was like an entirely different song. Now, maybe he changed the actual notes around when he played it. Not being a musically inclined person, I probably wouldn't have noticed. Still, it was amazing.

  5. Other types of music would be a good study. In India for instance, their music scale is different; where our scale goes in half tones, theirs recognizes quarter tones.

  6. GunGeek: a slight tempo change can make a big difference.

    BobG: That's what I meant. They should study some cultures that have different scales and see how they relate to the language. For example the Indonesian gamelan scale, which has a wide variety of ways to tune the scale; anything from 5 tones per octave up to 16 if I'm not mistaken.

    Albatross: No, I had always imagined it as more of a hellish cacophony that fills the human soul with terror and dread. Oh wait. Yeah, you're right. [Alternate reply: So 500 years in the future they'll be ballroom dancing to p0rn soundtracks. I'm glad I won't live to see that.]