Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Solving the mystery of musical harmony

06.08.2003


For over two thousand years, musicians and scientists have puzzled over why some combinations of musical tones played together sound more harmonious than others. Now, Duke University perception scientists David Schwartz, Catherine Howe and Dale Purves have presented evidence that variation in the relative harmoniousness, or "consonance," of different tone combinations arises from people´s exposure to the acoustical characteristics of speech sounds. Schwartz and Howe are postdoctoral fellows, and Purves is Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the George B. Geller Professor of Neurobiology.



The researchers said that their findings, reported in the Aug. 6, 2003, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, constitute an important advance in understanding the biological basis of music perception. The work also extends to hearing the theoretical framework about brain organization that Purves and his colleagues developed in earlier work on visual perception.

Those studies of vision led to the idea that evolution -- as well as individual experience during development -- created a visual system in which perceptions are determined by what a given visual stimulus has typically signified in the past, rather than simply representing to an observer what is presently `out there.´ That work is summarized in a new book entitled Why We See What We Do (Sinauer Associates, 2003).


In their Journal of Neuroscience paper, the neurobiologists present a statistical analysis of the patterns of frequency and amplitude in human speech sounds, based on a collection of recorded utterances spoken by more than 500 people. They found that the points at which sound energy is concentrated in the speech spectrum predict the chromatic scale -- the scale represented by the keys on a piano keyboard. Moreover, the difference in the amount of sound energy concentrated at these points predicts the relative consonance of different chromatic scale tone combinations.

These results suggest that certain pairs of tones sound more harmonious than others because they are physically similar to the patterns of sound energy most familiar to human listeners from their exposure to speech, said the researchers.

In deciding to analyze speech as a natural basis for tone perception, the researchers were faced with a very different challenge from that of exploring visual perception. In the work on vision, Purves and his colleagues concentrated on analyzing the perception of visual illusions.

"After studying the research literature on psychoacoustics, we discovered several phenomena in tone perception that, despite having been investigated for decades, remained unexplained," said Schwartz. "Our general framework is that the way to understand why somebody perceives anything the way they do -- whether the stimulus is light or sound-- is to consider the possible real world events that could have given rise to that particular stimulus.

"This work on music perception represents a natural extension of the work on visual perception," said Howe. "Hearing presents many of the same challenges as vision, in that the physical world cannot be known directly; we only know about objects in the environment because of the energy associated with them, such as light waves or sound waves.

"Determining the actual state of the environment on the basis of this indirect information available to our senses is a real challenge. The solution we have evolved is evidently to respond to ambiguous optical and acoustical stimuli by taking account of the statistical relationship between stimuli and their sources. That seems to be the reason we hear music the way we do."

Contact: Dennis Meredith, dennis.meredith@duke.edu

Dennis Meredith | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>