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Re: Pitch learning

I agree with Ed Large that we should be careful of setting topics off limits because of the provincialism of past theorists. But I do observe a good deal of provincialism whenever I go to a music perception conference (though not so much, actually, in the current discussion of pitch learning!). Empirical musicologists could learn a lot from working like ethnographers (e.g. field linguists or ethnomusicologists), working intensively with individual informants and trying to get a handle on (a) precisely what they're doing and (b) what they think they're doing and why. Of course there's a fair amount of (a) out there, but as empiricists we usually set (b) off limits. That (b) is off limits is perhaps the main reason why musicologists and ethnomusicologists tend to dismiss empirical musicology -- along with an out-of-date suspicion of the notion that there are any perceptual or cognitive universals. That's their provincialism. A real meeting of the minds would be a good thing. We'd have to learn more, and so would they.

Allowing that generalizations are a good thing, I would argue that the common model that Ed reiterated--scales around the world being divided into 12, 22, 24 tones, depending on whom you read--isn't the best sort of generalization. In most of those musics, practitioners conceptualize the scales in terms of 7 or 8 basic pitches, but even those might be further reducible if, for example, you get modes (i.e. melodic patterns, not scales) that outline an ambitus of a perfect fourth. So--ironically in our discussion--we might make a stronger claim for the widespread use of harmonic intervals if we paid less attention to scales.

In my own training and experience as a violinist in the Western classical tradition, a 12-note pitch universe would be a distortion. For example, I was taught that at times I should play degree 7 of the major scale quite high ("raise the leading tone") to push toward the tonic. I was also taught that at times I should play it low, to harmonize with the dominant. And I was taught at times to fit it into a more-or-less equal tempered chromatic scale. (Case-by-case decisions among these options are made all the time in high-level orchestras and other ensembles.) For historical and artistic reasons related to the principles I just stated, I am likely to play G# equal to or above Ab in music after 1800, but before 1800 I put G# below Ab. I was also taught to find pitches by listening to emergent timbres rather than attending to or "matching" pitch. I don't know whether empirical measurements would confirm whether I actually do what I think I do. But I do think the distinction between "harmonic" intonation and "expressive" intonation is not adequate. Different ways of conceptualizing pitches, intervals, and scales produce different patterns of intonation. It's probably true that they average out to an equal-tempered chromatic scale, but there's more to learn than that.

Finally, I think folks like Arnold Schoenberg and Ferrucio Busoni, as much as anybody, are responsible for the notion that any interval could be harmonically primary. (See James K Wright's recent book _Schoenberg and Wittgenstein_.) So it's a Western idea...

Thanks to all who have sustained this discussion.

Alfred Cramer Assoc. Prof. of Music (Music Theory) Pomona College

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