Universals of Musical Scale in Ethnomusicology and Psychology of Music. Cover Image

Darnos universalijos etnomuzikologijoje ir muzikos psichologijoje
Universals of Musical Scale in Ethnomusicology and Psychology of Music.

Author(s): Rytis Ambrazevičius
Subject(s): Customs / Folklore
Published by: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas

Summary/Abstract: Discussion of universals in music emerged in the 1970s, mostly under the influence of Schenker and Chomsky. The application of the issues raised in the discussion to the research on musical scales is based on the following idea: if certain universals of intervallic thinking exist, then they can explain certain features of musical scales and their development. The present paper aims to overview the universals and problems of their manifestation in various musical cultures. Typical list of the universals contains: octave equivalence, logarithmic dependence of pitch on frequency, pitch categorization, mostly from 5 to 7 sounds in a scale organized in unequal intervals, hierarchies of pitch stability, melodic contour as means of organization, and significance of perfect consonances. However, psychological studies reveal the phenomenon of consonance/dissonance to be quite multifaceted. Consonance/dissonance is of cathegorical nature. Moreover, it depends not only on fundamental 109 frequency ratios, but, for instance, on spectral qualities of sounds (i.e. perceived timbres), as well as on exposure of an individual to a certain soundscape, and so on. Thus the Pythagorean numerological rule of “simple ratios” appears to be a crude oversimplification. Yet several cases should be mentioned when the natural intervals really appear. These are so-called instrumental scales inbuilt in the design of certain musical instruments. The natural scale also inherently appears in overtone singing since it is based on the successive exaggeration of separate partials of the voice spectrum. Quite a few musical cultures favour dissonances (in terms of physiological acoustics) rather than consonances in their polyphonies. This is described as various types of psychoacoustically based “diaphony of beats” (Schwebungsdiaphonie) in many places throughout the world. Moreover, dissonances are exploited in the music of idiophones. Beats between their partials occur due to inharmonicity of their spectra. This effect, as well as deliberate mistuning is used, e.g., for producing the distinctive “shimmering” quality of gamelan music. Equivalence of sounds separated by “mathematical” (2:1) octave(s) is found to be the general principle of scale structures. There are some notable exceptions to the rule, however. First, the phenomenon of “stretched octaves” or “stretched intervals,” all in all, is common for different cultures and different cases. Second, some musical cultures do not care about the octave at all. For instance, certain musical cultures in Central Africa do not treat the exact octave “better” than the seventh, the ninth, or any intermediate interval (Arom, Voisin). Also, significance of this universal is dubious in the case of oligotonic cultures, i.e., where the octave does not appear or almost does not appear in music. All in all, the octave equivalence probably plays an important role in the scales based on division, but not on addition.

  • Issue Year: 2006
  • Issue No: 31
  • Page Range: 90-109
  • Page Count: 20
  • Language: Lithuanian