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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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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.

Julian

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