Re: On the Grammar of Music (Martin Braun )

Subject: Re: On the Grammar of Music
From:    Martin Braun  <nombraun(at)POST.NETLINK.SE>
Date:    Thu, 26 Apr 2001 13:29:05 +0200

Dear Robert, thanks for your reply. You raised interesting questions. You wrote: "Surely you don't need an ERP study to tell you that there is some sort o= f grammar of chords in tonal music, or more generally a rule-based system i= n music. All you need is to demonstrate that people are able to notice a "wrong note" in a passage of music they have never heard before. (This ha= s been shown many times by lots of different people) When that happens, doesn't it demonstrate that there's an underlying structure or syntax whi= ch the nervous system is able to abstract, and therefore notice when it has been violated?" Answer: No, it doesn't. 1) A "grammar of chords in tonal music" does not exist. Concerning the functions of chords in European tonal music there are as many views as th= ere are music theorists. If we had the same situation concerning the grammar = of languages, we would not be able to talk to each other. 2) You are right, we can detect a "wrong note" in an unknown piece of mus= ic. But why can we do so? I once detected a wrong note in a piece of Mozart t= hat had been unknown to me before, when I started playing it myself. In this case it was even possible to see that it was not a misprint but an error = of Mozart himself. The wrong note was logical in a close-range context, but utterly wrong in the given long-range context of the piece. Mozart often wrote at such an incredible speed that things like that were bound to happen. The answer to your question is that we detect "wrong notes", because they are wrong within one particular piece, not because they are wrong within European tonal music in general. 3) The authors of the study did not detect a violation of chord-grammar rules, because such a grammar does not exist. In fact they detected a violation of tone material. Two of the three tones in a "violating" chord were new in a given sequence of chords, and also, they were not part of t= he tone scale used for the sequence. You wrote: "Actually, their results seem to suggest that there may be two parallel systems with similar localization of critical regions, but with different hemispheric weightings, which is very interesting." Answer: In fact, the authors collected data from only six subjects. In four of th= e six subjects there was a stronger effect above the right hemisphere. Taki= ng the average of all six subjects there was no hemisphere effect. You wrote: "To what extent these results are specific to rule-based systems in speec= h and music, as opposed to more general sensitivity to patterned events and violations of expectancies remains to be seen, in my opinion." Answer: I can only support this opinion. Martin Martin Braun Neuroscience of Music Gansbyn 14 S-671 95 Kl=E4ssbol Sweden nombraun(at) ----- Original Message ----- From: Robert Zatorre To: AUDITORY(at)LISTS.MCGILL.CA Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 11:33 PM Subject: Re: On the Grammar of Music

This message came from the mail archive
maintained by:
DAn Ellis <>
Electrical Engineering Dept., Columbia University