Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Prosody and Music

Some may wonder who follow me on Twitter why I re-tweet posts from music therapists like Kimberly Moore and others who study the brain. The simple truth is that I am convinced that to speak about music is to talk about how our brain interprets the music it hears. In a sense, if a tree falls in the forest it really doesn't make a sound. It will vibrate air molecules but in order for sound to be heard, it must be perceived by our minds and this is especially true of music. Music also has a great deal to do with the language processing of our brains. Not exclusively (studies have shown this) but in part.

Prosody is a study of the rhythm, stress and intonation of speech. If you have ever read Trevor Wishearts work:


You will see that much of what he does is using concepts of linguistics (i.e. of language). In language, meaning is conveyed not only by the basic building blocks called "phonemes" but also the intonation, inflection of speach which when you think about it in terms of synthesis, is really just the pitch bend wheel when applying these principles to music.

Certainly genres like the blues have made extensive but specific use of note bending to create a certain feel to blues. One example that convinced me of the important of inflection was when I wanted to create music with a Celtic sound. I actually used a Middle Eastern instrument but bend the notes upward which is a technique often used in Celtic music. Surprisingly, one comment on that song was that it sounded Celtic. Yes, it was intended to but what is surprising is that it had nothing to do with the notes but the way I bent the pitch.

Getting back to the brain, this has a lot to do with how mirror neurons. The brain mirrors what it thinks of as Celtic by hearing pitch. Perhaps, this is because the brain is also hard wired for this in terms of language.

This characteristic of how notes are perceived in terms of there intonation can be heard especially well in the AP-Synthesis of the Roland V-Synth which can take sounds that are not all that close in timbre sound like another instrument by basically borrowing that instruments pitch phrasing, a simply but powerful idea. If I am leaving something about about AP Synthesis, I leave those who know more to comment here.

So that all on this for now but I just wanted to blog about this while the idea of fresh in my mind.

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