What is Music?
Solving a Scientific Mystery
The False Allure Of The Simple Verbal Definition
3 March, 2020
To ask the question 'What is the definition of "music"?' is to presume that an answer can be given. This is a mistake. Not because an answer can
be given, but because our ignorance of the nature of music is so total that we cannot currently give an answer.
Towards A Working Definition Of "Music"
29 February, 2020
Many search for a definition of "music" which is verbal, complete and objective.
But what we actually need to work with, right now, is a definition that is subjective, egocentric, and
The Eternal Honeymoons Theory Of Fast Cutting Music Videos
27 February, 2020
In which I suggest a possible explanation of the emotional effect of fast cutting in music videos.
The viewer's initial emotional response to a shot in a music video is very generic, and generic emotion "works" better with music than more specific emotion.
This initial "honeymoon period" doesn't usually last more than about two seconds.
If every shot cuts to the next shot before this period expires, then the "honeymoons" can be made to last for the full length of the video.
Hypothesis: Music Motivates Constancy Of Emotional State
19 February, 2020
I propose that the primary effect of music on emotion is to motivate the listener to maintain a fixed unchanging emotional state, for the duration of the tune (or at least for a substantial portion of that duration).
A Hypothesis About Two Perceptual Systems
21 January, 2020
The Dual Perception System Hypothesis: The perception of music depends on two distinct perceptual systems – an immediate but imprecise perceptual system and a slow but precise perceptual system.
Music generates feelings when the precise system perceives a change, and the imprecise system does not "understand" why the change occurred.
The "World" Hypothesis
15 January, 2020
There are things that happen in the world, and then there are changes that happen to the world itself. Dreams are all about responding to hypothetical things that could happen
the world, and music is more about responding to hypothetical changes
I propose that every item of music is perceived as a separate world, and this explains how it is that music can give rise to strong feelings of "world change".
A Unified Theory Of Music And Dreaming
12 January, 2020
Music and dreaming are similar, because they both involve feelings in response to hypothetical situations. But they are different in various ways. Music may have evolved as a means to process feelings about hypothetical situations that dreaming cannot effectively process.
Hypothesis: Music Lets Us Practice Feeling Strong Emotions
24 December, 2019
Hypothesis: the primary biological function of music is that it enables the music listener to practice responding to strong emotions, in advance of actually having those strong emotions.
Music Science, For People Who Don't Like Music
29 November, 2019
If you are one of the ~4% of people who don't like music, read this article. If you are one of the other ~96%, first
that you are one of the 4%, and then read it anyway.
Music And Machine Learning
28 November, 2019
Some thoughts on the application of Machine Learning to music science: (1) what do we hope to achieve? (2) the need to know
about the structure of the solution to your problem (3) a way to create more constrained musical datasets which might be
for an algorithm to learn against, in some sense.
Perhaps Amateur Theoretical Science Should Be Tweeted
14 November, 2019
The informality of Twitter might be the best option for those amateur theoretical scientists who are unable or unwilling to jump through all the hoops required to publish papers in proper academic journals.
The Fantasy Of Dance
10 November, 2019
fits the criteria for applicability of music-generated feelings,
we imagine that the dancing is necessary in order to achieve some important goal.
Why Are Music-Generated Feelings Weakly Bound?
9 November, 2019
Music-generated feelings are weakly bound to the music, because (1) musical quality is a global property of a musical item (2) musical quality is invariant under transformations of pitch-translation and time-scaling, but is computed from raw non-invariant inputs, and the intermediate stages in this computation are necessarily hidden from conscious awareness.
Music Generates Feelings That Are Only Weakly Bound To The Music
7 November, 2019
Music generates feelings that alter our perception of
. In effect this is a failure of
Music Creates A Feeling Of Salience
4 November, 2019
Hypothesis: The primary effect of music is that it creates a
, which can be applied to things that we imagine, even though those things are not real (and therefore not really salient).
Music, and the Relationship Between Fantasy and Reality
26 October, 2019
The act of
is subject to a
radically alters that reward function.
Music, and Other Things that have Meaning
20 October, 2019
In which I compare music to three other things that have meanings: a sentence, a baby's cry, and morphine.
Music Is About Possible Goal Achievement
15 October, 2019
Music is about goals, and about considering, in an imagined situation, the possibility or probability of achieving those goals.
Music And Humour Are Partial Opposites
5 October, 2019
The Situation Hypothesis
1 October, 2019
The primary effect of music is that there is a
, and the music changes how you think about that situation. Or it changes how you
to think about that situation.
Focus, Opposition And Deletion
29 September, 2019
Here I restate the
– that music motivates the deletion of considerations from how a listener thinks about a situation – in terms of a
. The things to be deleted from consideration are identified as those things that
the focal thing.
The Fundamental Meaning Of Music (Simplified Version)
28 September, 2019
Music creates a motivation to think about a situation in a fantasy world.
That fantasy world is just like the real world,
, certain considerations have been entirely deleted.
The Fundamental Meaning Of Music (Deletion Hypothesis)
28 September, 2019
Music has one fundamental meaning: it motivates the listener to imagine that certain considerations can be completely ignored, as if they did not exist at all.
What Is The Meaning Of Music?
21 September, 2019
Hypothesis: Music has meaning,
that is the only thing it has. But the meanings of musical items are expressed indirectly, appearing in our brains only as
to alter other meanings, according to certain criteria. This makes it hard to identify the exact meanings of specific musical items.
Music: A Vestigial Innate Language Extension
18 September, 2019
Possibly music was never a complete system of language, and actually evolved as a temporary and ultimately redundant
to an earlier form of spoken language.
If Music Was Communication
27 August, 2019
to be communication. But what if it
What Music Expresses
24 August, 2019
Music expresses, or at least attempts to express, an emotional feeling about a situation that someone is in.
Music-Based Language And Song Lyrics
24 August, 2019
What can the hypothesis of music-based language tell us about modern song lyrics, and what can song lyrics tell us about how meanings were expressed in music-based language?
Music Is A Vestigial Trait
18 August, 2019
Music evolved to provide a major biological function. Then it "unevolved", and it no longer provides that function.
The Characteristics of Musical Perception and Musical Pleasure
15 August, 2019
A list of characteristics of our perception of music, and our enjoyment of music, against which music may be compared to all other things that we perceive and/or enjoy.
The Non-Perception Of Musical Scales
11 August, 2019
Most music is constructed from
. Yet the music listener's brain seems not to be consciously aware of these scales, or of the identities of the notes within the scales.
The Identity And Qualia Of Music
11 August, 2019
Strong musical items have strong
, which correspond to strongly perceived
. This can be explained, if we assume that music used to be a form of language where the
units of meaning
were whole melodies.
Hypothesis: Music Was A Language System
20 July, 2019
a language system. But now it isn't, because one critical component of the system has been disabled. As a language system, music was both limited and inefficient - each tune had one specific meaning, and there was no way to combine simpler meanings into more complex meanings. Eventually word-based language would evolve as a system that is much more efficient and productive. However, the evolution of word-based language was constrained by the prior existence of music, and initially it had to develop
music, ie effectively as song lyrics. As a communication system, music has now been fully replaced by word-based language. Yet music still exists, because it interacts with our sense of "meaningfulness" – and sometimes this can help us to think about the deeper meanings of things.
"Organized Sound" Is A Terrible Definition Of Music
21 September, 2018
The definition of "music" as "organized sound" is both circular and incomplete.
Music Was For Sharing Thoughts, Before Language
9 September, 2018
Music originally existed as a form of communication for sharing thoughts, without providing any means to communicate the
of those thoughts – signalling to the listener only a
to determine what the speaker/performer was thinking.
Music then later evolved to
be a form of communication, persisting only as a means for temporarily altering the listener's state of mind and motivation.
Music Tells Us To Look For Meaning
26 August, 2018
The meaning of music is not about music – it is about the meaning of everything else.
A Language Acquisition Device Without Universal Grammar
17 January, 2017
Language Acquisition Device
How To Compose Music: Daily Repeated Random Variation
30 October, 2016
A method for composing music: possibly the
method for composing music. Based on your brain's natural
and the concept of a
local theory of music.
I Predicted The Existence Of Component Five
27 February, 2016
The discovery of a "music area" in the human primary auditory cortex by
Norman-Haignere et al
was accompanied by the discovery of a "language area", one which responds to language
independently of specific language
. This response to language is very similar to the response to "speech-like sounds" which I hypothesised as both an evolutionary pre-cursor to the response to music, and as an important component of the early stages of infant language acquisition.
23 December, 2015
Academic research which touches on similar ideas to my own hypotheses.
On The Difficulty Of Music
17 December, 2015
"Difficulty" appears to be an actual feature of Music, and one which distinguishes it from Language.
Language, Displacement, and the State of Mind Induced by Music
2 December, 2015
, which motivates us to partially disconnect from
, evolved from a component of the human
language acquisition instinct
, a component that helps infants learn to understand language which refers to things
in their immediate reality. Also, music evolved to
be usable as a language.
Music Videos: Daydreamish, But Not Actually Daydreams
15 October, 2015
How music videos are "daydreamish", even though they're not actually daydreams.
The Modern Daydreamish Music Video: Four Ds And Two Other Things That Don't Start With D
11 October, 2015
Disconnection. Daydreaming. Daydreamable. Dancing. Also, Performance, and Cutting to the Beat.
The Ultimate Daydreamish Music Video: Daydreaming, and Daydreamable
8 October, 2015
Daydreaming about life past and life future, while simultaneously being awesome ...
Daydreamable Moments In Music Videos
7 October, 2015
Music Videos. Helping you to feel what it would really feel like if your wildest daydreams could come true.
How To Make A Low Budget Daydreamish Music Video
12 August, 2015
An example of a low-budget music video that successfully achieves
A Testable Theory Of Frisson: Music That's Better Than Expected
26 July, 2015
can be a function of the
violation of musical expectations
– but I hypothesize that this can be better stated as: frisson is something that happens when music turns out to be
The Mystery Of Chord Sequences
22 July, 2015
Some thoughts and wonderings about
, and how well they fit into a hypothesis that musicality is the result of a cortical 'steady state' of activity patterns.
How to Enjoy a Music Video
19 July, 2015
If you think that music videos are
something to keep you visually entertained while listening to the music, you may be missing out on the full pleasure of watching a music video.
Music, Language and Group Performance
19 July, 2015
Comparing Music and Language, the musical preference for
is something that needs explaining. Firstly, a group of singers sounds more in-tune than any of the individual singers. Secondly, being in a group is
, which may be important if the primary purpose of music is to
disconnect from reality
Music Videos Versus Narrative Films
15 July, 2015
are different things. But it is interesting to read an article by a film-maker who bemoans the non-narrative nature of most music videos.
A Possible Explanation For Earworms
11 July, 2015
Earworms could be a side-effect of how infants first learn to speak.
"Daydreamish" Content in Music Videos
28 June, 2015
acts more on our emotional responses to certain types of
scene than others. So we would expect many
to be constructed mostly or even entirely from those same types of film scene.
The Differences Between Music and Language
21 June, 2015
have obvious similarities. Almost certainly they are related somehow. But we shouldn't convince ourselves that they are more similar than they really are. For example, it would be a mistake to assume that music necessarily has "meaning", or that it "communicates".
Music: The Third Reality
14 June, 2015
Music is the
. The second reality is
, but mostly when we are very young and learning our first language. The first reality is everything else: ie all the things that we perceive in the world which aren't language or music.
Music and the Language Prototype in a Venn Diagram
11 June, 2015
defines a subset of the
Universal Set of All Possible External Stimuli
which (mostly) contains within it any actual spoken language.
is also contained within the
, and is distinct from any spoken language.
Music, Twin Speak and the Language Prototype
7 June, 2015
What can 'Talking Twins' tell us about the nature of music?
Music and Daydreaming
6 May, 2015
Music interacts strongly with emotions in daydreams. A plausible hypothesis is that this is the primary function of music.
Learn to Sing In-Tune with iPhone Apps (Update: Pitch Primer)
22 March, 2015
, which, as my singing practice has progressed, I now find to be more useful as a practice app.
Design of a 'Sing In-Tune' App
28 September, 2014
Features that one might want to add to an iPhone (or other platform) app for learning to sing in-tune.
Learn to Sing In-Tune with iPhone Apps
23 September, 2014
The ideal learn-to-sing-in-tune iPhone app does not yet exist, but I have found six apps that are useful.
Music Is Not Communication
20 September, 2014
Music is not communication, and the content of music has no meaning.
Music Creates An Altered State of Mind - and That Is All It Does
14 September, 2014
An alternative hypothesis about music: music is a means of inducing a temporarily altered state of mind. The content of the music has no intrinsic meaning, and is entirely the result of an evolutionary accident, because music perception evolved, possibly by a single mutation, from a system which was previously a component of speech perception.
Music and Surprise: Which Causes Which?
24 May, 2013
Is music musical because it's surprising? Or is music surprising because it's musical?
How to Build and/or Buy a Cheap Good Quality Music Keyboard
28 March, 2013
How to construct a high quality music keyboard, starting with an iPad or an iPhone.
Composing Music is Like Climbing Mountains in the Fog
28 May, 2011
Composing music is an
, like searching for the peak of a very high mountain.
Composing Music is Like Learning to Ride a Bicycle
26 May, 2011
An explanation of why you can't just learn to "compose music". The reason being that the composition of each new musical item must be a separate learning experience in itself.
How to Write Song Lyrics, Maybe
8 June, 2010
In which I propose a
about the interaction between
, and based on that hypothesis I devise a strategy for the writing of
Things You Need and Don't Need To Compose Music
22 February, 2010
You might think that
need to have
music composition software
how to play a musical instrument
and that they need
. But actually all these things are
How To Compose Music
22 January, 2009
Some ideas about how to
about music by improvising, let tunes and rhythms
"pop" into your head
, mix and match the
A Seventh Symmetry of Music Perception
8 December, 2008
seventh symmetry of music
frequency-dependent phase shift invariance
A Multi-Protein Theory of Music Perception
13 November, 2008
An alternative to the
model. And by
, I don't just mean
, I mean
A Single-Protein Model of Music Perception
3 September, 2008
An attempt to define a
minimal biological model
, involving just
one human-specific variant protein
expressed on the
of one particular group of
Researching the Genetics of Music, on OMIM
27 August, 2008
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man
Online Music Perception Tests and the Perception of Musicality
23 July, 2008
I compare various online
music perception tests
to what I believe would be the most scientifically interesting music perception test: a
musicality perception test
We Have Not Yet Discovered "True" Congenital Amusia
20 July, 2008
is sometimes equated with
. But this equates
. Even if we add other components of music perception, such as
, it seems very unlikely that music perception is a simple combination of these individual components.
studying amusia should make more effort to discover
whose amusia is not simply a function of more basic perceptual deficits.
may be much rarer than the relatively common
"Music Theory" is not the Same Thing as a Theory of Music
16 January, 2008
in the sense that it is distinct from musical
, but it is not theory in the sense of being a
Music: The Hidden Sense and the Three Ways of Knowing
23 December, 2007
reveals to us an otherwise
three ways of knowing
. Cultural learning can be
is a hidden sense that increases the reliability of
unverified cultural learning
The Evolutionary Implications of Amusia
4 November, 2007
have to deal with the problem of
, amusia is a
of music itself, and the problem is to explain how music helps long-term reproduction. In the case of
, there has to be some
associated with amusia, i.e. other than the inability to create and appreciate music.
Musical Immunity and Auditory Super-Cheesecake
24 October, 2007
is like a
, then the brain's response to it is analogous to how the
responds to germs. Another useful metaphor is Steven Pinker's
, but if music is a very powerful
, then a better phrase might be
Musicality and Behavioural Modernity
17 October, 2007
The development of the human ability to perceive
may have triggered one of the most important events in
: the appearance of
Music: A Drug, Which Used To Be Stronger Than It Is Now
16 October, 2007
is like a
, then why haven't we
to it? Or have we indeed already evolved resistance? In which case, the emotional and pleasurable effect of music may have been much stronger in the past than it is now.
Commentary on "The Distance Geometry of Music"
30 May, 2007
A commentary on the paper
The Distance Geometry of Music
E Demaine et al
) in relation to the
super-stimulus theory of music
Advice on Making Experimental Music, based on the Super-Stimulus Theory
25 March, 2007
should be able to inform the
scientist. Here I show how the
of music can suggest better approaches to
Why do Song Lyrics Sound Significant and Profound When We Hear Them in Songs?
23 February, 2007
than they really are. Is this an
, or is it due to the operation of an
adaptive brain system
estimate the signficance and profundity
of what is being said?
Is Music a "Puzzle" or a "Mystery"?
13 January, 2007
, which requires access to special
to be solved, or is it a
, where we already have enough information, and we just need to work out how to use that information?
The Definition of "Automobile" (by a Music Theorist)
25 November, 2006
Every introduction to the study of
must start with the question of
. Here, using techniques of discourse and analysis borrowed from the academic study of
, I derive a complete and satisfying definition of the word
in three steps. A special challenge to the student's thinking about automobiles is included at the end of the article.
Are Musical Items Intrinsically Musical?
18 November, 2006
, then perhaps music is not
musical. But we often talk about our subjective judgements as if they were
, or at least
independent of the beholder
as a property of musical items is intrinsic in the sense of being
, this has important consequences for
Music is Things that Happen and Things that Don't Happen
10 November, 2006
is defined by
what happens within it
happen within it
, and by the
between the things that happen and the things that don't happen. This "things that happen"/"things that don't happen" contrast is the
, which accounts for both
Is There Musical Syntax Like Language Syntax?
2 November, 2006
Is there a
which is analogous to the
? Some recently published scientific studies explore this analogy, and identify the
of music with
. However, musical items may be
constrained by certain rules
because they are
. I suggest an
which tests this hypothesis by looking for
Musical Genomics and the Musical Astrocyte Theory
25 October, 2006
Combining recent advances in identifying
human accelerated regions
with the possibility that music perception involves
), it may be sooner rather than later that a strong candidate for a
can be identified.
Three Questions That Music Scientists Need To Ask
18 October, 2006
Which is the
listening to music
(or both)? What makes some music
than other music? Would what I am saying about music make sense if I said the same thing about
Music Perception: What Is It That We Perceive When We Perceive Music?
15 October, 2006
One of the things that
is something that we
don't know what it is
. In fact, music appears to be something created entirely so that
we can perceive it
. Which is all
Dina Paucar: Peruvian Huayno Singer With An Unusual Singing Style
15 August, 2006
The Peruvian singer
in a very distinctive style which achieves a strong emotional effect.
Some Questions that the Music Mathematicians Forget to Ask
11 August, 2006
There are some people out there investigating the
using quite sophisticated concepts from
. But is this mathematics really telling us anything interesting about what music
? I highlight some
music mathematicians forget to ask
Why Bird Songs Sound Musical To Us
26 July, 2006
If bird "songs" are not
, then why do they
Limitations of Statistical Methods for Analysing Music
14 November, 2005
promises to deliver
that can distinguish "good" music from "bad" music. But analyses disconnected from
are unlikely to lead to any major improvement in our understanding of what music
, even if they result in the discovery of significant correlations between observed characteristics of music and its popularity.
Please Help Me Find the Musicality Brain Cells
18 October, 2005
theory of music predicts the existence of a specific type of brain cell whose sole purpose is to detect musicality. It should be possible to detect these cells anatomically, and maybe someone already has. Can you help me to find them?
The Irrelevance of Absolute Pitch to Music Science
9 July, 2005
The phenomenon of
may not be completely irrelevant to the scientific study of music, but it is much less relevant than some people think it is.
Is Music a Drug?
3 July, 2005
acts on our emotions and feelings.
act on our emotions and feelings. We generally recognise that the feelings created by drugs are not "real". Does the same apply to music? Is music a drug?