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atommom Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-07-05 05:24 PM
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Why North America is not a rhythm nation
North American adults have problems perceiving and reproducing irregular rhythms. That's what past studies have shown, and some new research has addressed the question of whether our seeming inability to dance to a different tune should be chalked up to nature or culture. New findings point to a harmonious blend of both.

Music has a communal quality in virtually all cultures, inspiring dancing, clapping, instrument playing, marching, and chanting. Despite what seems to be a universal to coordinate movement, listeners are frequently challenged by the rhythmic patterns of other cultures. North American adults, for example, have difficulty perceiving rhythmic patterns in Balkan music.

Erin E. Hannon, Cornell University, and Sandra Trehub, University of Toronto, found that Bulgarian and Macedonian adults process complex musical rhythms better than North American adults, who often struggle with anything other than simple western meter. To gauge the significance of culture influences our ability to process musical patterns, the researchers also conducted experiments with North American infants and found that they too were better than North American adults.

It suggests that infants are capable of understanding complex rhythms but might lose that ability in a culture - like ours - that embraces a simple musical structure. The researchers also concluded that infants are more flexible than adults when it comes to categorizing different types of rhythms, but can lose this ability if they are exposed to only one type of rhythm when they are growing up. (Similar conclusions have been made about how people learn languages: Infants are more flexible in processing different word sounds and speech patterns from a variety of speakers, but it isn't long before they settle on those that are most common and meaningful to their culture.)
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gottaB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-07-05 08:49 PM
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1. right in their gross conclusion, but perhaps deeply ethnocentric
As I understand it, Macedonian music in particular is rhythmically organized around a concept of fundamental meter (takt?), and this is not inconsistent with the way rhythm is understood in Western European musics. The main distinction would be one of simple vs. complex meters.

I was surprised that the authors, Hannon and Trehub, cited works on Indian music, but did not note the difference between additive and divisive approaches to meter. Robert Garfias provides a good discussion of that distinction with reference to Indian talas in his online instructional chapter, How Music Organizes Time (pdf). Philip Glass once recounted a similar process of discovery and discovery yet again during his collaborations with Ravi Shankar. From personal experience I can say that whenever a Classical Indian musician has tried to demonstrate talas to me (and melodic construction in general), it truly has seemed like an additive principle, and not reducible to an "ordinary" concept of meter.

Nketia's The Study of African Music (1974), borrowing an idea from Brandel, argued that the additive principle was a hallmark of African music. As far as I know that has not been discarded, though it has been challenged, notably by Kofi Aguwu. Actually, I'm not sure I understand Agawu's point on this matter. I think he gives Nketia short shrift.

Be that as it may, I believe the proper scientific attitude towards meter should be that we do not know that it is a universal perceptual category. We have examples of what appear to be heierachical temporal structures in various music systems, but we do not fully understand the possibilities for interplay between these levels. It could be that the level which appears to be a fundamental category of perception in one system corresponds to a secondary level in another. Perception in terms of duration ratios may well be a universal, but beyond that the variation may be more extreme than the authors acknowledge.

Well, I haven't read all the cited works, and am by no means an expert on this topic. I would be glad to get an earful from somebody who is. It produced strong evidence for its main hypothesis. I should like to see further studies done along these lines.
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-07-05 11:22 PM
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2. I'm not an expert on ethnomusicology/cognition either.
And I've tried to play some Bulgarian music for classical guitar. That was a no-go; never figured out exactly how to do it (and if I could count it, there wasn't the mental wherewithall to actually put my fingers on the strings).

Check out language. Psycholinguists have noted that infants and toddlers categorize things in all sorts of ways, and it doesn't matter what the home language is--they do it the same. Check in when they're 4, and they categorize things the way that they need to. It's not that language forces categories on the kids; it's that the kids retain the categories necessary for language.

This is most salient in languages with classifiers that have some sort of semantic meaning, like Japanese, but also works in more subtle ways with English and European languages.

I don't know that the Cornell/Toronto folks have proven it (would need to see ... and hope to understand ... their article). But it's consistent with language data: as kids we're open to various possibilities, from which a culture makes a selection. Kids lose the categories that aren't reinforced or necessary.
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gottaB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 04:31 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. yes, that was their essential hypothesis and they made a good case for it
I was just quibbling with a bit of theory they offered by way of explaining it.

The full article is on the APS website (pdf):

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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 11:40 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Thanks for the reference and sorry about misconstruing
what you said.

I really dislike it when people do that to me. Sort of ashamed at doing it myself.
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 11:46 AM
Response to Reply #3
5. Actually, could you give a bit of advice?
(this is a separate post in case you've already seen the first one)

I'd really like to be able to play some of the Balkan music I have on paper. Do you know of any decent, practical references about metrical organization in these musics? (I don't much care if they're theoretically well-thought out, as long as they provide an idea how to "think Balkan" when listening/playing the stuff.)

Makes me wish that the Macedonians that taught my wife and me their language for a while had also taught us some music.
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gottaB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 01:50 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. May it Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music, by Timothy Rice
That's not going to do it for you, but I bet you'd find it interesting:

I just ordered a copy myself.

Sorry, I don't know of any good methods books. I could offer you some advice about how to internalize rhythms, but I'm afraid it would be dreadfully obvious.

You might try asking a specialist, Dr. Rice for instance:

Oh, and about your previous post. Pshaw. Chalk it up to the turbity of my writing. I myself only half-understood it.
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 02:50 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Another question:
Are you in UCLA's ethnomusicology program? (If so, did you know John Hajda? I guess he was actually in the systematic musicology part.)
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gottaB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-08-05 09:05 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. No, I am not.
I took some classes at another university many years ago so I have a vague sense of what the program there is like. I don't know John Hajda. Rice did his Ph.D at UW, but I have no idea who was on his committee.
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