Monday, August 22, 2022

Even novices intuit complex music theory,

Bridget Alex does a nice summary of work by Weis and Peretz showing that people without musical training naturally improvise melodies that have hallmarks of tunes composed by professionals. Most individuals follow the arcane rules of music composition, even those who are unaware those rules exist. Here is the research article abstract:
Humans spontaneously invent songs from an early age. Here, we exploit this natural inclination to probe implicit musical knowledge in 33 untrained and poor singers (amusia). Each sang 28 long improvisations as a response to a verbal prompt or a continuation of a melodic stem. To assess the extent to which each improvisation reflects tonality, which has been proposed to be a core organizational principle of musicality and which is present within most music traditions, we developed a new algorithm that compares a sung excerpt to a probability density function representing the tonal hierarchy of Western music. The results show signatures of tonality in both nonmusicians and individuals with congenital amusia, who have notorious difficulty performing musical tasks that require explicit responses and memory. The findings are a proof of concept that improvisation can serve as a novel, even enjoyable method for systematically measuring hidden aspects of musicality across the spectrum of musical ability.

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