Bryan Higgins (bryan) Sun 19 Oct 08 15:00
Touche on the exceptions to orchestral instruments bending pitch, but as an orchestral musician for 40 years I can tell you that nonetheless orchestras don't play in strict equal temperament (this is especially noticable when a piano soloist comes along for a concerto). While as you say nothing can be done about the lowest note on a string instrument, this is one reason why players avoid open strings much of the time (that, and tone quality). (Tubas and trumpets do have slides they can pull on certain notes to at least flatten the pitch.) But back to the book (I confess I've only read through "Knowledge"). It seems clear that auditory discrimination in terms of direction, timber, volume, and relative pitch would be useful for finding prey or avoiding predators, and naturally selected for, but I found the song warning of the man-eating crocodile or the fear-inducing war drums to be a bit of a stretch. To justify some of the theories with illustrations from song lyrics seems to me to skirt the issue, since that's language you're talking about, not music. There are famous examples of setting different lyrics to the same tune, with completely different effect. And while music is a good memory aid as you point out, so are smells and visual things. So, while you're theories are plausible, aren't you guilty somewhat in the lack of scientific method you cite in the story about the researcher into psychic abilities?
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Sun 19 Oct 08 16:37
[50-51] We have evidence of ancient music from four primary sources. First, text-based music tells us about lyrics, and these reach back about 6,000 years, just around the time that biologists believe a new mutation occurred in the brain that gave us writing. (It is interesting to note that writing appeared almost simultaneously, at least in evolutionary terms, in many parts of the world.) Those texts don't preserve the melody, but they tell us something about the intent of the music. In that same category, I would also include ancient writing about music. Texts from 3,500 years ago and older talk of the sound of music, the effect of it, and the role of musicians (including the old testament). A second source comes from the music that is made by current pre-literate societies that have been studied by anthropologists and ethnomusicologists. They themselves tell us that their music, according to tradition, has changed little in thousands of generations, and much of it has to do with encapsulating knowledge-with-lyrics. Just the things I spoke of: an inventory of poisonous plants, how to build a water-tight canoe, oral histories of families, etc. A third source are the artifacts we find in ancient burial sites. No human-made artifact has been found that is older than the ancient musical instruments found, which date to around 50,000 - 60,000 years ago. Bone flutes from this era tell us something about the music - the scales that were used. A fourth source of evidence is current brain imaging studies, which find that musical pathways are older than speech pathways, that they stimulate primitive circuits we share with all mammals, and that they also invoke motor circuits - evidence that music and movement share an ancient evolutionary history. On the topic of orchestral instruments, I do agree that not all instruments are in equal tuning - violins are not, for example, nor are guitars. This can cause some unpleasant moments for the careful listener. (And it's why Steely Dan often retune their guitars during recording depending on the octave in which a solo is being played)
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sun 19 Oct 08 23:39
as a professional musician (London session musician of the second rank on bassoon - and professional band trainer and adjuducator) B flat and A shsrp are not the same note (except on permanently out of tune, ie compromised or "well tempered", frets or keyboards) you bend the notes according to context and emotion - the sharp is often a little bit "too" sharp - yearningly seeking resolution upwards as in blue notes flats are heavier and may lean downwards Pianos with strings also have stretched octaves to compensate for the weight and stiffness of the steel.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sun 19 Oct 08 23:54
musical memory is hydra-headed aspies with a musical gift may have the finest ability in this field as a music teacher one gives some thought to the subject:- photographic memory - playing, or conducting, from an image of the pages of notation physical memory - the sequence of muscular movements and finger patterns auditory memory - the sounds - hearing the notes befor yopu play or sing them, . . vocal memory the verses most musicians use a combination of these personally I emphasised sight reading - when I pick up a newspaper I read it aloud without hesitation or error - the same for sheet music is an essential tool for a session musician In a 3 hour session you create about 30 minutes recording of marketable or broadcastable quality Your technique has to be good enough too only amateurs need to take the sheet music home to practice
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 20 Oct 08 09:24
Dan, way back there I mentioned the Mozart Effect, which seems to have a checkered history. As I understand it, some serious research on the effect of music on spatial reasoning led to a series of somewhat diluted press accounts that painted Mozart as a magic pill that makes you smarter. This in turn led to a book, "The Mozart Effect (R)" (and now a cottage industry) with all the trappings of hucksterism and incredible claims. On the other hand, the work done by you and others indicates that there may be something there after all. What's the story, and has the Mozart Effect juggernaut been a help or a hindrance to your feild?
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Mon 20 Oct 08 12:30
Mozart was programmed from his cradle by his father's violin playing
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Mon 20 Oct 08 17:45
I met Don Campbell a couple of weeks ago, the author of "The Mozart Effect." He is a musician and a well-intentioned one, but he is not (by his own admission even) a scientist. The Mozart effect was originally published in a scientific journal without careful peer review and the popular press jumped all over it. The press story was that listening to Mozart for 20 minutes a day will raise your IQ score. The actual article claimed pretty much that, except that rather than raising your IQ, they said that it would increase scores on a paper folding task that in turn was correlated with IQ (but not perfectly correlated). The paper folding was given before and after the experimental session. That original study was poorly conducted. The control group were put in a room with nothing to do for 20 minutes. Several follow up studies showed that the so-called Mozart effect was nothing more than an effect of boredom for the control group. If instead of giving the control group nothing to do you gave them something - anything - like a Stephen King book on tape, a crossword puzzle, or other music, the effect disappeared. My scientific colleagues and I were never taken in by the original claim, both because of the clear flaws in the original experimental design, but moreso because there was no putative mechanism described. The researchers never addressed the question of why Mozart would have effects that weren't found in Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven, for example, or how the music actually created this sudden IQ increase. There may be something to EARLY MUSIC EDUCATION, in particular, learning to play an instrument, as a way to enhance the development of attentional networks in the brain. We believe we understand some of the causal mechanisms of this, and they involve the anterior cingulate cortex. Music can have effects on mood and arousal, mediating blood flow, respiration, and neurochemistry, and so they may contribute to alertness which could affect IQ scores, but not actually raise IQ.
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Mon 20 Oct 08 20:37
I heard somewhere recently that there's a higher incidence of perfect pitch among Chinese, the reason being that their language forces children to pay attention to pitch. Can you confirm? Is it known how perfect pitch works? Have there been functional MRI studies on people with perfect pitch? Is it true that it can only be acquired young? I recall in your first book the interesting fact that most people seem to remember their favorite songs in the correct key, but most people don't have perfect pitch. So does that mean that perfect pitch is something other than just memory?
Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 21 Oct 08 01:04
I guess I've never read enough about the Mozart Effect to learn that it was focused exclusively on that one composer! I guess I always thought it was catchier than the "Classical Music Effect." You last paragraph suggests something I've imagined since reading your first book: an education model in which music was a central part of the curriculum. Hearing music from around the world and from different eras, playing a range of instruments, enhancing lessons with *aides memoire musicale* (a la Schoolhouse Rock), and so on. It's a fantasy, I know, but it seems like the major scale could sit easily alongside the ABCs, and by high school algebra should be an elective and music a requirement.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Tue 21 Oct 08 01:16
see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method ". . . . the movement is modeled on a concept of early childhood education that focuses on factors which Shinichi Suzuki observed in native language acquisition, such as immersion, encouragement, small steps, and an unforced timetable for learning material based on each person's developmental readiness to imitate examples, internalize principles, and contribute novel ideas. The term "Suzuki method" is also sometimes used to refer solely to the Suzuki repertoire of sheet music books and/or audio recordings which have been published as part of its music education method." 5 or 6 years old is too late
Daniel (dfowlkes) Tue 21 Oct 08 02:58
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Tue 21 Oct 08 05:24
 "a higher incidence of perfect pitch among Chinese." There are a couple of published reports that claim that absolute pitch (the preferred term) is more prevalent among speakers of tonal languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, and Swahili. But the explanation that it is required for their language doesn't make sense - they require relative, not absolute pitch to speak their languages. If all they had was AP, Chinese adults wouldn't be able to understand Chinese children who speak and octave higher. This finding is not well accepted among the scientific community. "Is it known how perfect pitch works? Have there been functional MRI studies on people with perfect pitch? Is it true that it can only be acquired young?" I've promoted the theory that AP requires two components: accurate long-term memory for pitches ("pitch memory") and then the ability to label those memories with meaningful labels such as G, Do, or 440 Hz ("pitch labeling"). Acquisition of AP appears to require early training of the tone-label associations. There are no reported cases of an adult successfully acquiring full AP. The critical period for acquisition seems to be about age 2 - 10. There have been fMRI studies of people with AP and they show that the neural locus of the ability is in just that area of the brain that is used for labeling things, in the dorsalateral pre-frontal cortex. Together with other fMRI studies, and behavioural studies, the weight of evidence is that AP is not a difference in sensation or perception (they don't necessarily have "super hearing" or "super discriminability"), rather, it is a difference simply in labeling. They know they labels, you don't. The finding that many people remember their favorite songs at the correct pitch, but can't name them, supports the two component theory of AP. They have "pitch memory" but not "pitch labeling."
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 21 Oct 08 08:56
>>There are no reported cases of an adult successfully acquiring full AP. Not disputing you, but I'd always heard that Paul Hindemith, when he was teaching at Yale, required his students to acquire AP, and you could always tell one of his students because they'd pull out a tuning fork on the bus or something to check the note they were humming. And I seem to remember that his insistence that it could be learned -- even at that late stage -- was born out.
Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 21 Oct 08 10:03
I read somewhere (Oliver Sacks's "Musicophilia"?) that there are no tone-deaf Chinese. I know little of Chinese beyond the idea of a four-tone system, but it seems unlikely that even the relative pitch of the tones is consistent across dialects and individuals. There must be the relative equivalent of sing-song-y and monotone speakers. (I know we have some folks following this discussion who might not know these terms, absolute pitch and relative pitch. Absolute (or perfect) pitch refers to the ability identify a single note with its name. That is, if I play the middle C on a piano, that person can identify it, and any other notes, flawlessly. This is a rare talent, and few people have it, even professional musicians. Relative pitch refers to the distance between two notes. The distance from a C to a G (or D to A, and so on) is a fifth, and many musicians can identify that relationship even if they aren't sure which notes are being played.)
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Tue 21 Oct 08 10:32
I've gotten to where I can pick up a guitar and tell whether or not it's tuned to pitch. But then, I spend much of my day picking up guitars and checking the tuning.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Tue 21 Oct 08 10:52
Ed that is called relative pitch (working from a fork for example) and is standard training for any professional musician not gifted with perfect pitch
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Tue 21 Oct 08 11:23
Relative pitch means getting from one note to the next, and is indeed something you can practice and get good at by learning to identify or produce all the possile intervals reliably. The Hindemith story could be true, with the student testing his recall of an A, but I'm skeptical about how well it worked. I can, with effort, conjure up an A from memory with a fairly good rate of success, or guess the key of something I'm hearing by imagining that I'm playing it and figuring it out from that. But that's not absolute pitch, which is effortless and almost unconcious, and indeed I'm often a half step or more off. People with absolute pitch have described each different pitch as having a completely different character, almost like the difference between red and blue, while most of us hear gray. My 86-year-old father-in-law, an amateur musician all his life, is now losing his absolute pitch. Any idea what might be going on there, Daniel? He has some hearing loss, but not profoundly, and no dementia. He has relied on his absolute pitch in making music, so now is suffering for it. (My ear training teachers would devise exercises for my fellow students with absolute pitch to force them not to rely on it--they would have to sight sing in a different key from what was written, for example.)
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Wed 22 Oct 08 11:52
There are many reports of adults acquiring perfect memory and labelling for a single tone, such as the A that they tune to. But this is not the same as true absolute pitch, which is the ability to name or produce any tone from memory, without reference to an external standard. The Hindemith example is probably that his students internalized one tone, but not all 12. They could then use relative pitch to navigate from there. It is well documented also that people who do have true absolute pitch begin to lose it as they age. Stiffening of the hair cells in the cochlea causes those nerve firings to change, so that the brain gets information that is different from what it usually got. Most report that their sense of pitch shifts by a semitone or more and they find it very, very disturbing.
Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually (rik) Wed 22 Oct 08 11:59
Happening to a friend of mine who's in his mid-50s, who used to repair guitars for us. He was our standing joke when we'd take a guitar down for a customer. You'd yell, "Tom, give me an E!", and he'd hum one over the PA from the repair shop for us to tune to. Always got a laugh. He's at another store now, and tells me he's losing his edge.
Stuart (sjs) Wed 22 Oct 08 12:52
Thank you for joining us, Daniel. May I go back to a statement <bryan> made in <51>, please, and follow up? <bryan> said: "To justify some of the theories with illustrations from song lyrics seems to me to skirt the issue, since that's language you're talking about, not music." Very early in the book, I enjoyed the scenario you set up about the highschool kids smoking out on the school grounds. The scene described the tunes playing and how there was some relatively low-key interaction between the kids up until "Smokin' in the Boys' Room" came on -- and then there was unity in the group. Wasn't that ALL about the words (the "poetry" to go back several posts) because of the content? The melody/instrumentation absent the lyrics wouldn't produce the Friendship the chapter is about. (even if the theory is the connection between the lyrics and the music, in this case doesn't that still leave the music -- by itself -- as the secondary element to the Friendship?)
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Wed 22 Oct 08 15:01
 The book is ABOUT songs - about music with lyrics. Although I spend some time talking about music without lyrics, the whole thesis of the book is about the special thing that happens when the two are wedded together. So I think that Bryan is off-base when he says that I'm skirting the issue by discussing lyrics - lyrics ARE the issue. Listen: perform a thought experiment. If those kids in Missouri out behind the dumpsters were listening to music and someone came on the boom box and simply recited the lyrics to "Smokin' In the Boys' Room" do you think the reaction would be anywhere near as intense? It is the combination of the lyrics with those dirty, distorted, rule-breaking guitars, the sloppy who-the-fuck-cares drum track, and the tobacco-scratched vocal cords of the singer that come together to make it work.
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Wed 22 Oct 08 15:43
I didn't realize you were limiting yourself to songs with lyrics. If you do, though, "How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature" is probably too ambitious a thesis statement. What I want to know is, what is it about the music itself? Perhaps it's impossible to say, but that's what made the book ultimately disappointing to me. I agree that music makes the lyrics more powerful. The same is true of a movie soundtrack. By how does music do that? You can divide the plots of movies into six categories, but I don't think you learn much about why the soundtracks have the effect that they do.
Daniel Levitin (daniellevitin) Wed 22 Oct 08 16:06
The mechanics of how music causes emotional reactions is covered in my first book "This Is Your Brain on Music." The evolutionary role that music played in helping our ancestors to form social bonds, preserve knowledge and information, signal mental and physical fitness for mating, is the subject of TWISS. The subtitle is not ambitious if you consider the thesis I lay out, that certain specific changes to the brain led to the formation of music, language, art and science. Clearly the book didn't work for you. It's not for everyone.
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 22 Oct 08 17:58
#68/69 explains why I used to have perfect pitch, but after I stopped playing and listening to music for several years everything went down a semitone. As you say, it is quite disconcerting.
Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 22 Oct 08 23:51
I see the connection between the two books and can intuit (but not articulate) a connection to music that is seemingly not accounted for in a developmental model, like classical and jazz. It's doubtful our early ancestors were using music in the ways that modern humans of the last few hundred years (let alone the past few decades) have been, as intellectual and aesthetic exercises. As an analagy, I think of native American "art" -- it wasn't art to the people who made it, and they oppose the works of their ancestors being shown in museums. Those objects were part of their life, not creations set to one side as special. Similarly, songs with lyrics (and likely dance) were an integral part of existence, not a separate effort. On the subject of emotional reactions heightened by soundtracks, surely this is a recent cultural learning. I doubt a 1935 audience would have reacted to "Vertigo" or even "Star Wars" the way a contemporary audience does. Our movie-watching history has trained us to expect tension or resolution with particular musical passages.
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