Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Music and Genes

Dusk in Autumn suggests here and here that human groups with high spatial intelligence will tend to produce music that is harmonic rather than melodic:

" Last year I wrote up some suggestive evidence that in order for a group's musical style to emphasize harmony (or the "vertical" aspect of music), a necessary but not sufficient condition was a cognitive profile that either was lopsided toward Spatial rather than Verbal IQ or was balanced. "

The Chinese are generally understood to have a high spatial IQ relative to verbal IQ, as Dusk in Autumn himself notes, and yet, as this article indicates:

" All traditional Chinese music is melodic rather than harmonic. "

Dusk in Autumn apparently recognises that the Chinese case does not provide evidence for his theory.

Another way of looking at the problem is to note that melody includes a " ... succession [which contains] ... change of some kind and [is] perceived as a single entity ... to be called a melody. Most specifically this includes patterns of changing pitches and durations ... " and, as already noted, Chinese music is " ... melodic rather than harmonic. Chinese vocal music probably developed from sung poems and verses with music. "

It is not hard to imagine that a tonal language like Chinese would predipose towards a melodic style of music. In fact, an interesting piece of recent evidence suggests that a capacity to speak using tonal languages like Chinese may vary to some extent based on some brain development genes. I wonder if this genetic tendency towards tonal expression might explain the melodic rather than harmonic emphasis of Chinese music.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?