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#1321954 - 12/09/09 04:29 PM The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales
Andromaque Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/08
Posts: 3886
Loc: New York
An interesting article was just published in a scientific journal about the biology of musical scales. I have copied the abstract. The jourmal is PLOS One and the article is in the public domain if you are interested (Link below). I read through it quickly and noted a comment from someone about omission of some intervals characteristic of Indian Music. The article is a bit outside my interest/knowledge base in its experiemntal detail but it addresses a very interesting question. Great bedtime reading for music theory aficionados!!

The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales (Gill and Purves, Duke University)
Scales are collections of tones that divide octaves into specific intervals used to create music. Since humans can distinguish about 240 different pitches over an octave in the mid-range of hearing [1], in principle a very large number of tone combinations could have been used for this purpose. Nonetheless, compositions in Western classical, folk and popular music as well as in many other musical traditions are based on a relatively small number of scales that typically comprise only five to seven tones [2]–[6]. Why humans employ only a few of the enormous number of possible tone combinations to create music is not known. Here we show that the component intervals of the most widely used scales throughout history and across cultures are those with the greatest overall spectral similarity to a harmonic series. These findings suggest that humans prefer tone combinations that reflect the spectral characteristics of conspecific vocalizations. The analysis also highlights the spectral similarity among the scales used by different cultures.


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#1321963 - 12/09/09 04:38 PM Re: The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales [Re: Andromaque]
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012

Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 18121
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Thanks, Andromaque! This one is going into my file for the next time I revise my psych of music course. thumb
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

#1321987 - 12/09/09 04:59 PM Re: The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales [Re: Monica K.]
Frozenicicles Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/09
Posts: 1325
Loc: Canada
Sounds like an interesting read. Maybe it'll explain why atonal music sounds like $#@!@ to me...wonder if it's something that I can eventually get used to and find beautiful.

#1322411 - 12/10/09 03:51 AM Re: The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales [Re: Frozenicicles]
wr Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 8812
Fascinating stuff, but can somebody do a layperson's version?

Also, regarding the abstract, a scale doesn't have to be the division of an octave, although most are. They can be the division of any range - it's entirely possible to create a scale over a range of a fourteenth, for example.

#1322413 - 12/10/09 03:57 AM Re: The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales [Re: wr]
Mark_C Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 21248
Loc: New York
Thanks for posting this!! I'll be very interested to take a good look at this when I can.

#1322422 - 12/10/09 05:20 AM Re: The Biological Rationale of Musical Scales [Re: Mark_C]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Accordingly our analysis does not depend on intervals and scales precisely mimicking a harmonic series, but evaluates degrees of similarity. The average similarity of all intervals in the scale is then used as a measure of the overall similarity of the scale under consideration to a harmonic series. In this way we assess whether the scales with the highest degree of similarity to a harmonic series are in fact the scales commonly used to make music.
This is a bit cart before the horse. The difference in intonation is at least of equal if not more interest.
One historically important theory was suggested by Helmholtz [19], who argued that dissonant musical tone combinations are produced by inadequate harmonic overlap. In other words, when the harmonics of two musical tones fall within the minimum frequency distance at which two pure tones can be individually resolved by humans (the critical bandwidth), an unpleasant perception of “beating and roughness” occurs (see also refs. 11, 39–42).
I think this makes more sense - a what is left out of the scale being the more important approach.
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.


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