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 Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

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)

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>