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 Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School

nachricht Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier

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: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The dawn of a new era for genebanks - molecular characterisation of an entire genebank collection

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Fish recognize their prey by electric colors

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Ultrasound Connects

13.11.2018 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>