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The cardinal error of Maess et al.
Pierre Divenyi wrote:
"I want all the participants to realize that we, as a group, are unlikely to
solve the problem of rules in music, ............... So, let's be modest..."
Pierre, that was my intention all along. We can learn immensely from the
similarities AND the differences between speech and music. But we should try
to be aware of what we are doing. That's why I pointed at a serious problem
in the study of Maess et al., "Musical Syntax is processed in Broca's area:
an MEG study."
These authors tried to find evidence in support of their highly
controversial concept of a general syntax of musical chords. The data,
however, which they recorded can much easier be explained by a simpler
concept of tonal habituation.
The cardinal error was this: They considered two different major chords, say
C-E-G and Db-F-Ab, as "physically (!) identical" and then attributed
brain-response differences to different grammatical functions of these
chords. This is not justified. The intervals of the two chords are the same,
but the acoustic frequencies are different. This means that at ALL levels of
the auditory system the chords are processed by different neuron
populations. We know this from numerous physiological studies.
The brain potentials recorded by Maess et al. signaled expectancy
violations. The crucial question in this study is, WHICH expectancies were
violated. The authors - in line with their concept - concluded that
expectancies concerning a grammar of chord progression were violated.
A much simpler interpretation, however, would be that TONAL HABITUATION was
violated: The tones Db and Ab (concerning the example above) had not
previously appeared in the given chord sequence (which was based on the
C-major scale in this example).
It's a "rule" in science to focus on the simplest explanation of an
observation. The authors here didn't do that. This is a "violation" of a
rule that has got nothing to do with arts. It can cause a lot a avoidable
confusion and can delay progress in understanding hearing.
----- Original Message -----
From: Pierre Divenyi <pdivenyi@MARVA4.NCSC.MED.VA.GOV>
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2001 8:15 PM
Subject: Re: On the Grammar of Music and rules